Last weekend, we went to buy a Christmas tree. Our plan was to get a tree and decorate it Sunday afternoon so that the house was all nice and Christmassy for the rest of our festive activities. While this may be a standard experience for many – which only takes maybe an hour or two, tops – Cobbetts are a breed that take Christmas tree-buying and decorating very seriously. My Mother-in-law – who, I’m convinced, was probably Mrs Claus in a past life – left a legacy of going to every possible tree seller in the area and evaluating each tree until you found the perfect (massive) one, and so James and I went to every possible tree seller in the area, evaluated every tree, and then returned to the first garden centre we’d visited and got a tree from there.
We were so long in the selecting of our tree (which is awesome, and named Frank) that we only had an hour before bed to decorate it. We were determined to get it all done Sunday night, but only got as far as doing the lights and untangling the beady-stringy thing (what is that called?) when James sat down and admitted, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” We were both tired, grumpy and ready for bed, and had been struggling through the decorating experience, but James still felt the need to apologise: “I’m sorry, this is meant to be fun.”
Have you ever noticed that anything that’s meant to be fun, is rarely, in fact, fun? Take clubbing, for instance. Clubbing is something almost every teenager looks forward to before they turn 18. You mean, I can drink what I want and stay out until 3am and dance the night away with all my friends? What a thrilling and exciting endeavour! The reality, however, is sticky floors, elbow-dancing away pervy blokes and spending most of the night trying to track down that one friend who always disappears. I maintain that any scenario that requires heavy-drinking to be slightly enjoyable is, innately, not fun.
There’s a whole host of things in life that are meant to be fun; festivals, first dates, hen parties. Some we, unfortunately, cannot escape, but there are some we keep on doing even though we know it’s not actually fun. I’ve been clubbing many times – but why? Why did it take more than a few attempts for me to realise I didn’t, in fact, enjoy clubbing? Why, as a tiny introvert with bad music taste, do I drag myself to gigs for bands I don’t even care about, just to be jostled and not see the stage? Because “it’s meant to be fun”, but as soon as it’s “meant to be fun” it stops actually being fun. We put all this pressure on having a great time, and the activity crumbles under that pressure. We know that other people deem these to be fun activities, we want to be seen as a “fun” person, and so we go along regardless of how we actually feel about the event, have a terrible time, and then conveniently forget and do it all over again.
And Christmas is the worst time for this, where you not only pursue “fun” at all costs, but also the feeling of “Christmassy-ness”. You put on your Christmas playlist from late November onwards, to get an early start. You watch bad, low-budget Christmas movies on Netflix in the hope that you’ll feel imbued with the Christmas spirit (by the way, if you are into the “so-terrible-it’s-good” Christmas movie genre, you need to watch The Christmas Prince. Thank me later). You do every single tradition the same way, year after year, because those are your failsafe ways to feel Christmassy. You will be snug and joyous and hygge even if it kills you, damn it, because otherwise you’ve missed the boat.
Last year I wrote about how the festive season can be a miserable time for some people; how it can remind you that you’re alone or you’ve lost someone you love or you’ve had a really rubbish year, and it’s OK to feel sad about that. But even if you’re not going through any of that stuff, Christmas can still leave you feeling deflated. There’s a lot about Christmas that isn’t lovely and Christmassy. There’s crowded shopping centres, the hit to your finances, the logistical nightmare of who you’re going to visit on Christmas day. And yet we put so much pressure on capturing that perfect, Christmassy feeling that, if you don’t get there, you feel like a joyless failure, a Grinch, a Scrooge, and you’ve got a long 12 months to wait for your next chance. Surely that’s not the point of Christmas?
This year, in the run up to Christmas, I want to suggest something radical: don’t try to feel Christmassy. Yes, do the festive things that you love to do. Have a mulled cider. Bake gingerbread. Watch The Muppets Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. Those things can be fun, can help to make you feel Christmassy, as long as you do them because you like them and not because the Christmas Police tell you it’s something you should do. For someone who doesn’t enjoy gigs, I went to the best one of my life on Friday and had an awesome time. The difference? Apart from the fact I could actually see the stage for once, it was my favourite artist who was playing. It wasn’t some generic gig that was generically meant to be fun, and I was genuinely in the mood for it.
So take the pressure off Christmas. Stop doing things you think fun, Christmassy people are “meant” to do, if you don’t actually enjoy doing them or don’t fancy it much today. If decorating the tree stops being fun, stop and have another go tomorrow when you feel like it. If wrapping presents becomes a chore, buy gift bags and be done with it. Don’t force the feeling. Stop analysing every moment to see if you’re all Christmassy yet, because that constant analysis is probably getting in the way. The best moments – the ones that actually are fun and Christmassy – tend to be the ones that sneak up on you anyway. So stop doing things that are “meant to be fun”, relax, and let Christmas come to you.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti