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by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


Let's Make Christmas Simple!

Every year when December arrives many of us start to feel excited about Christmas. Children especially. For adults the excitement of Christmas also means a lot of hard work needs to be done. Tree, cards, food, presents, clothes, parties; the list is endless and the cost is high. So too is the stress.

As the annual pressure intensifies we find ourselves bombarded with images and adverts that tell us how to make things even better this year! Magazines display fantastic Christmas feasts that only the most dedicated and talented chef could hope to aspire to. Children beg for bigger and more costly presents to compete with their friends, so that the 'wish' list is replaced all too frequently by the 'demand' list. The amount of pressure on parents can feel overwhelming.

And then, on the big day, the pressure is released. The Christmas family row is now traditional.

This year why not try to make things simpler? In the end, what everyone really wants is a day of fun and good food with minimal stress.

Lets start with the food because it's here that expectations just seem to rise and rise. No-one really cares if the turkey has been stuffed with a chicken, which has in turn been stuffed with a quail! No-one really cares that there are six different vegetables all with their own special sauce. Every year, it seems to me, the pressure just seems to intensify with Christmas meals getting ever more complex, costly, and time consuming. This year why not just say no to all the hype?Go back to catering basics. What's wrong with a good roast and a few favourite vegetables followed by a Christmas pudding? Forget all the complicated trimmings and all the sauces. If you really want that, then fine, but just forget it if you don't. Make the food simple, hot, and on-time. Everyone will thank you.

Now on to presents. With the credit crunch affecting most of us we really don't have the money to waste. So this year we need to put a brake on over-kill consumption. A great deal of what we buy for others is junk. We all know it is, but for some reason we just go ahead anyway. It is such a waste of money, not to mention the packaging and production costs.

This is how to do it. If aunts, uncles, siblings and grand-parents normally buy a present for your child perhaps you could ask if this year you could all club together to afford one very special present. That way every child gets something that they really want, that parents, on their own, could probably not afford. One good present is worth a million junk presents - and you'll be surprised how pleased the children will be. If you think that one special present isn't enough then why not wrap up essential items like socks and under-wear that you would be buying anyway. And under every tree there should always be a family game that even the youngest can join in on. See? That's another wrapped present already.

Nowadays, it seems that even the humble stocking has got to be filled with junk. Lets make a stand against rampant consumerism. All those plastics junk toys are not doing anyone any favours. They're junking up our world. Not to mention our children's expectations.

For adults there is a wonderful party game which involves each adult buying and receiving only one present. It's fantastic fun, and not to be confused with the 'secret present' that often we have to buy for work colleagues. This is how it goes.

Lets say there are five adults. Each adult is instructed to buy one present of say £30 (enough for a good present). The present must be suitable for any of the other adults. It can't be food and it can't be drink and it must be interesting.

Each present is wrapped and a number from 1-5 is assigned to it by the host when it arrives. The numbers 1-5 are placed in a hat and the first person (usually the host) takes a number from the hat. They then open the correspondingly numbered present. The second person takes a number from the hat, but they now have a choice. They can either open the numbered present or steal the present of the host. As each further person picks out a number they have a greater choice because they can either open a new present or steal someone else's present. The person whose present has been stolen has another go. And so it goes on until all the presents are opened and every one has a present. When we played this present giving game last year our neighbours commented on the sound of laughter from what they thought was a full-scale party to which they had not been invited!

So there you have it - a few suggestions for making this Christmas more fun, less wasteful, less expensive, and less stressful - which is how it's meant to be, after all. Simple.

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