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You are cooking dinner for the entire family. Uncle Murdo is drunk and picking a fight with his shadow in the corner. You’ve been eating rubbish the last few days – so you feel rubbish. The kids are screaming. You’ve bought someone an expensive gift and they visibly hate it. The dog still needs a walk. You only have one pair of hands. You want to cry, or hit someone, or both. The carrots are not the only thing that is almost done. This is not the way it looks on the ‘John Lewis’ advert, you rage.

But how did it end up like this again? After all the careful plotting and planning, you want to hit the fast forward button to Boxing Day for a marathon date with your TV. Sometimes, we can plan, and plan, and plan, but something still goes amok. You’d have thought after having this holiday year in, year out that we’d have learnt our lessons. Is it a fantasy, or does the perfect Christmas actually exist? Have we all been missing a trick? Is there a secret someone hasn’t been sharing?

Christmas day can be exceptionally blissful, and exceptionally stressful, at the same time. But why? We’ve been looking forward to this day for weeks, or months for some people, i.e. me! The reality often outweighs the fantasy. We are lumped together with family, for an entire day, where we have to make endless conversation, and try not to fall out (or fall asleep, for that matter).

So, what can we do to try and make this Christmas our best yet?

Set the mood!

No, I don’t mean in Marvin Gaye terms. I mean sounds, smells, decorations - atmosphere.

First, make your home smell like Christmas. Fragrance undoubtedly affects our mood – smells are inhaled through the nose which triggers the brain to release endorphins. And that starts with your Christmas tree! There is nothing that makes a home feel, and smell like Christmas, more than a real pine tree. It is also said to be a calming fragrance as it helps to clear the airways and aids deep breathing. Yes, they are messy initially, but they are so worth the effort!

Frankincense, cinnamon, sandalwood and nutmeg – all of these delicious scents scream Christmas. And the nicest way to release them into our home is through burning oils or candles. I’d advise investing in a Woodwick candle – although pricey, they last for ages – a 22oz candle will burn for 180 hours. The unusual wooden wick creates a crackling sound when lit, akin to an open fire, creating not only a gorgeous scent that fills the home, but a comforting sound. You can purchase them locally in shops such as Murdo Macleans and Delights.

Begin your decorating by making your own wreath – it’s a brilliant way to involve children in the decorating or it’s a pretty cool thing to do as an adult! The ever popular wreath work-shop in Buth Lisa/Tiger Textiles is a great day/evening outing. If you want to do it yourself at home you could purchase a basic wreath (www.hobbycraft.co.uk) and add your own twist with locally sourced materials – a wee visit to the castle grounds will give you all you need!

Finish off your winter wonderland with some upbeat music, or better yet, some Christmas songs! Playing cheery, positive music instantly lifts the mood and calms the spirit.

De-stress

Often, for the ones in the kitchen, you find Christmas most stressful because you’re so darn tired and there just is not enough time in the day. Whether you’ve had too many sherry’s on Christmas Eve, or have had a last minute panic in the shops the day before, tiredness will eventually catch up with you on the day!

Here are my top 10 tips for staying alert, and relatively stress free, on the run up to the day, and the day itself:

1. Try and have all your presents wrapped, labelled and delivered the week before Christmas – it will enable you to concentrate fully on the task ahead, as well as giving you time to visit loved ones without that stress on the back of your mind!

2. Avoid the fatty, processed foods if at all possible before Christmas – as they leave you feeling tired, bloated and more than a little grumpy.

3. Ensure you don’t cave into temptation and end up too merry the night before Christmas – as hangovers leave us feeling tired, nauseous and in a low mood.

4. If you’re due to be in the kitchen doing the cooking then chop all of your veggies and potatoes the night before and leave soaking in cold water – this will save you so much time, and stress, on the day!

5. Try to make some time to have a little pamper the days before Christmas – have a bath, paint your nails, put on a face mask – it always makes me feel more ready to face the world when I feel good!

6. Get a good nights kip on Christmas Eve; try to get at least 8 hours of sleep (even if it means setting the kid’s clocks an hour or so behind – they’ll never know!)

7. Avoid alcohol too early on in the day, as although it will offer some stress relief initially, it will also act as a sedative and leave you fighting the urge to go and nap half way through the day!

8. Going for a walk on Christmas Day is one of the most refreshing and liberating things you can do. Getting fresh air into the lungs helps to clear our fuzzy heads and reduces stress levels significantly. If the weather allows it, wrap up warm and go out with the whole family in the morning before the chaos commences!

9. Delegate to other members of the family if you have too much to handle – whether it’s getting someone to set the table, wash the dishes, or just to stand and talk to you for company! A good system is for every person around the table to have contributed in some way to the meal. I’m on pudding and table setting duty again this year; my brother drew the short straw and is making the meat i.e. the make or break of Christmas Day!

10. If stress threatens to over-whelm you, I find it always helps to stop and think of others who aren’t so lucky to be sitting in a warm house with food to eat. Perspective is something we should never lose sight of, especially on Christmas Day!

Have fun!

There are certain things that are simply mandatory when it comes to Christmas. Presents – check! Turkey – check! Re-runs of ‘Elf’ and ‘Home Alone’ on the TV – check! But one other thing should be over and above all of these – laughing and having fun. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But asides from the oh-so-dire ‘jokes’ that the crackers produce, we need to be a little more inventive and create the laughter ourselves. And that doesn’t mean relying on your Mrs Brown’s Boys DVD either! So what, then?

Games, of course! Even if you and your children are grown up, there’s no reason why games shouldn’t be a part of your Christmas day. We introduced this ritual a few years ago after the discovery of ‘Articulate’ – the hilarious, fast talking game. We wait until the food has settled and the wine glasses are refilled before we play this into the night! Or it could be something as simple as a game of twister or charades – whatever tickles your fancy, make sure you sit everyone down and have some proper fun. The Corner Shop has a fantastic range of games to choose from. And it should never be about winning, although my competitive brother would heavily dispute that!

If all else fails, you could use professor Rudi Dallos’s equation for the perfect Christmas: we should spend £23 on each family member, play three games, take two walks and drink two parts wine for every three chocolates. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a full proof plan to me!

Slainte everyone,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year when it comes!

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