This is the first in a series of blogs where we will be counting down to Christmas with a mix of real stories, top tips and expert guidance to help families have a magical festive season. So read on and enjoy!
With its twinkling lights, family focus, gifts and traditions there is little doubt that Christmas is a magical season that evokes a sense of warmth and wonder in many of us. The challenges brought about by an unusual year might change the comforts that many families see as essential to the traditional Christmas experience, although the discovery of a vaccine means that, at present, it’s hard to know exactly what Christmas will look like this year.
In this article, we’ve gathered hints and tips from professionals and families to help preserve a sense of expectation and contentment this Christmas, while also making Christmas magical for others.
See the positives
Unlike many of the celebrations that take place around this time of year, such as Bonfire Night and Halloween, Christmas has always been a celebration that mostly revolves around the family unit, rather than crowds of people.
Although we will undoubtedly have to make changes due to COVID-19, the core of the celebration – spending time with (at least some) of our loved ones, the exchange of presents, and a hearty Christmas meal – can still take place. Among those of us who are taking stock of what they already have is dad George. He said: “I’ll be more appreciative of it being a traditional Christmas this year, whoever it is spent with. Luckily Christmas is the one day a year when lockdown is most natural for everyone!”
Embrace the difference, and make it fun
Sometimes a sense of perspective can be a powerful weapon when battling disappointment, and the rules on how we enjoy Christmas are really just conventions established over time. This Christmas might be different, but that needn’t be viewed as a negative. If we look on the positive side and assume next year will be back to normal, what would you wish you’d done differently this year when the conventions and rules didn’t apply?
Dad Tim says he’s always been fascinated by the unlikely fact that in Japan buying a takeaway from KFC is a Christmas tradition and says that he’d like to experiment with alternative Christmas lunches. He said: “One year when we were younger, a friend and I had to work late and couldn’t get back to our families for Christmas dinner, as we worked in another city. That year we had a takeaway curry for our Christmas dinner, and you know what? I’d quite like to do that again!” It needn’t just be about food though…Surfer and dad of two Adam told us he’s always had a yearning to head to the beach on Christmas morning. Obviously, other – warmer – options are also available!
Let your light shine
There are many restrictions brought about as a result of the year we’ve had, but thankfully our creativity isn’t among them. Last year we recommended getting out and seeing the lights as a cheap Christmas activity for families on a budget, but this year we’re going to go one further and suggest you might want to get involved in setting the nights alight with decorations of your own. Hopefully, with the discovery of the vaccine, we’re moving away from dark times, so why not celebrate this with much light as possible? You can even host a (friendly) competition with your neighbours to see who can put on the most impressive display!
“The important thing to remember is that your situation is unique, and you shouldn’t compare your Christmas with anyone else’s.”
Stage a production
Annoyingly when Father Christmas visits he sometimes forgets to bring his reindeer along to disturb the snow or to eat the pies and sherry he’s been left, and children might even believe that he hasn’t been.
If this happens mum Lucy suggests that a potato cut into a reindeer’s paw attached to the end of a broom can do a fine job of recreating what actually happened! She said: “What the neighbours must think I don’t know… I do the hoof marks up and down the grass, so they think the reindeer’s been out in the garden!” As for the mince pie and the sherry? We’ll leave it to your imagination… (hic)!
Don’t compare your Christmas
This year, for lots of reasons, many families will be struggling financially even more than normal. Many parents feel that they need to buy the latest gifts, with social media and television advertising only increasing the pressure on them, like mum Gemma. She said: “Some of my children are teenagers, they see these pictures and it makes you feel very guilty as a parent as you feel like you’ve let them down. Even my nine-year-old girl asked for an expensive smartphone and I said “have you seen my old phone?”…TV adverts should be banned, let’s be honest!”
The important thing to remember is that your situation is unique, and you shouldn’t compare your Christmas with anyone else’s. You don’t know the story behind the presents in the picture – parents might be compensating for the time they can’t spend with children, or may have gotten into debt in order to buy them. There’s every chance they might be jealous of you! Instead of worrying about other people, all you can do is manage your own children’s expectations of Christmas, something we covered in an article last year.
Many people have fallen back on secondary or partial employment as a result of losing jobs to COVID-19 or seeing their hours reduced, and many of these skills might be useful at Christmas. Why not use your local contacts, alongside social media and chats at the school gate, to see if anyone in your community produces cards, gifts or treats which you can purchase, and help make their Christmas magic too?
Anna owns a small business making small bespoke gifts and decorations and says she has already sold a number of gifts to people in her local community. She said: “The feeling you get when someone buys from you is truly exhilarating – I still announce it to the whole household when an order comes through my website! It just feels so good to know that people out there enjoy the things I make. It’s a feeling like no other and I hope customers know just how much joy they bring to small business owners by shopping small and shopping local.”
… and globally!
In previous years many large cities have hosted a German Christmas Market, and with good reason – few things scream Christmas like wood cottages, spiced wines and delicious filling food. We don’t know what Christmas will look like at this point, but even if these don’t go ahead there’s no reason you can’t embrace other cultures at home – why not try out these delicious Nordic Christmas recipes or one of these beautiful – and different – Christmas tree decorations from around the world. We just love to see families get creative so if you do remember to share your work on social media, don’t forget to tag us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, using @family_action.
Last year we shared how to get crafty at Christmas, which we still recommend reading, but it’s worth saying that this year the personal connection will be even more important for families who have been more distant than usual. Gifts such as Christmas cards, calendars and decorations will mean even more, and remind family members and friends of you each time they look at them. Just make sure you get crafting in plenty of time to post your creations to those people you might not be seeing this year. As mum Janet says: “You don’t have to spend loads to make it magical and it’s great fun for all the family while you’re making them.”
On the trail
It’s hard to accurately predict what will and won’t be allowed this year as the situation keeps changing, but if we had to bet on the most virus-proof (and cheap) Christmas activity it would probably be visiting a light trail. These allow you to travel through some of this country’s most picturesque regions while admiring dazzling Christmas light shows.
A recent Guardian article has some great info regarding the best ones in the UK, if you are lucky enough to live near them, or are willing to travel. However, many of the families we’ve spoken to have told us they’ve heard their local councils are arranging their own, so visit your council’s websites to find out more.
These points are intended to start a conversation with families about unique and different ideas so please get in touch and share your Christmas suggestions with us through Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, using @family_action. Despite the magical nature of the season, we know that the family pressures don’t just stop, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or under pressure this Christmas you can contact our free FamilyLine service for support, practical information and guidance.