Frazzled or Festive?
Don't be a casualty of Christmas
It’s really easy for women to become a casualty of Christmas. Just as your batteries are beginning to flicker from a long year, you have to gear up without always recharging, for the Herculean heroics of pulling Christmas together… all while appearing merry and bright.
For many women it might be festive, but it’s not always fair. I’m giving some sanity-saving solutions below.
Already still doing the vast majority of work at home, we also carry the emotional burden of making everyone’s lives work, and Santa’s sack of toys will never be as heavy as the load we carry.
On top of the already lurching physical and emotional workload - the Christmas workload can get heaped on like a double helping of brandy cream on your Christmas pudding.
For many women, the silly season is the stress season.
I remember my mum one Christmas when I was a child. She was working full time, caring for elderly parents, looking after my brother and me, washing and ironing clothes, cleaning, tidying, shopping and making all the dinners. One of the reasons I have never ironed as an adult is the memory of watching my mum standing over a steaming ironing board several nights a week with tears in her eyes. Tears of utter exhaustion. I’ve equated ironing with such misery, I only iron an item under extreme duress. When I once brought out the ironing board to iron a summer dress for an occasion, my eldest who was then about six, asked me what the iron was as she’d never seen them before.
So my mum was that generation who just never stopped. AND then Christmas came along. This one Christmas, my dad landed in with all his drunken colleagues from the work party on Christmas Eve. My poor mum was still in the kitchen at 3am. She still had to get all the presents out of the attic then. As family descended, she spent most of Christmas day in silent tears, exhausted, stressed with all the expectation on her to pull off a day for the rest of us to enjoy.
After she died, I made a promise to carry on all the wonderful gifts she gave me, not just at Christmas, but though life - the love, the laughter and her creative curiosity. I also made a promise never to allow myself to let everyone else’s happiness come at the expense of my own. From that day forth, I have bought my turkey gravy. Life is too short to be stressing at the very end of that meal to think it’s all a failure because you can’t get the lumps out.
In Ireland we have a special day on the 6th January called Nollaig na mBan - “Women’s Christmas” where traditionally the women got the day off as a mark of recognition and thanks for all the work they’d done. Women would gather in the pubs and each others kitchens, eating the last of the Christmas cake, and taking a beat to breathe out the pressure that had been building for weeks. While it was a nice gesture, one day off in 365 seems a tad unfair.
Now, I’m not a grinch. I DO Christmas. I put up seven trees. Yes, seven. I don’t iron, but I do put up seven Christmas trees: the main one (real), a crystal one in the lounge, an outdoor one (it’s a bastard to put together and an even bigger bastard to decorate with lights but it fills me with joy every time I drive into my driveway and see it light up by my front door), my Pappa’s little tree upstairs (it must be over 60 years old at this stage), and a little tree in each of my girl’s bedrooms (admittedly I just feck these into them and they decorate them themselves).
I am usually more excited by Christmas than my kids. So this is me not pouring stale eggnog on the festive cheer. It is about recognising that women, who already do two thirds more household tasks, and hold the ‘emotional burden’ for worrying and thinking about everyone’s mood, happiness, day, homework, worming tablets (this is my dog I hasten to add), we also take on the vast majority of the ‘Christmas’ workload. And I put Christmas in inverted commas because it is not one day. It is weeks of planning, prepping, and people pleasing.
No amount of Christmas lights will show up all the invisible, unacknowledged, unappreciated and largely unpaid labour women do in service of facilitating the lives of their family, and wider community.
The expectation to make the magic, then keep the magic alive weirdly doesn’t require a magic wand - just hard work and worry, mostly by women.
We don’t multi-task because we’re better at it, we do it because spinning Santa painted plates is what we’re expected to do.
To bastardise a song we’re all sick of by the third shopping trip:
You’d better watch out (Social media is watching),
You’d better not cry (just get on with it)
You’d better not pout (no-one cares),
I’m telling you why (because it’s frazzle season not festive)
Santa Claus is coming to town (no he’s bloody not. It’s bloody you! Like everything else that needs done…)
He’s making a list - (you’re making 653)
He’s checking it twice - (you’re adding to it quicker than you can tick it)
He’s gonna find out (you’re not superwoman but the shame is on you not societal expectations)
Who’s naughty or nice (you’ve no time to be naughty and you’re too tired to be nice)
He sees when you are sleeping (that’s weird because you’re not!)
He knows when you’re awake (at 2 am worrying about it all)
He knows when you’ve been bad, or good, so be good for goodness sake.. oh fuck off.
Some sanity-saving solutions
Be intentional about what needs done and who does what, and don’t expect it all to be on your shoulders. If no-one else thinks about it, alert them. Share the thinking burden. I see this a lot with women I coach - we think it’s easier if we just do it. This not only adds to your workload, it disables others from learning or trying and it sets a precedent that is much harder to change down the line. They may not do it as well as you, but if it’s done and you haven’t done it, that’s a little gift for you… see next point.
Treat Perfectionism like a Xmas pudding… douse it in flammables and light it on fire. It’ll ruin your Christmas otherwise. NO-ONE cares if the napkins match the crackers. They will care if you end up having a tantrum and throwing the gravy over the cat and curling into a ball of tears on the floor. So delegate, let others do it (badly but done), and focus on your overall goal… see next point.
What matters most is connection, not an Instagram Christmas. I have been that soldier who made five different desserts because Nigella does and it looks good on the table. I spent years throwing food away after Christmas… now I’ve learned that the key favourites are winners, and me sitting down to play a game of Exploding Cats is far more important to my girls than another chocolate bomb. Decide what matters most this Christmas and use that to always steer your decisions. Mine is to really enjoy and connect with family and friends this year… kids are getting older and Christmases will change, so I am determined to be present and participating rather than a Server-Upper-of-Christmas to everyone else.
Put yourself on the To-Do list this year.
People please yourself.
And please, have a merry, bright Christmas.. you deserve it too.
I’m running a Frazzled to Festive webinar on the 4th December to give you some really practical tools to sleigh the stress over the next few weeks. It’s hte hour that might just save your sanity this Christmas. I’m also giving participants a New Year Revolution exercise to help make 2024 the year of more (of you). It’ll be recorded for those who can’t make it live. There is a 10% discount on webinar for my paid subscribers .. discount code below