Down with the perfect Christmas



Ways to make it magical, Plan for your best Christmas ever, Cook the perfect turkey, How to make perfect mince pies, Make the best Christmas decorations ever, Perfect cranberry sauce every time, Choosing the perfect present, Perfect wrapping ….and so on.

Newspapers, women’s magazines, television adverts, websites…there’s no let up. It just has to be perfect. One magazine offers several pages of advice for wrapping the perfect presents professionally and then gives detailed instructions on how to make four different types of bow: pom pom, chrysanthemum, tiered and two tone. And this is just one small part of Christmas.  Good Housekeeping  tells us on one hand how important it is to minimise stress at Christmas and then, in the next breath, how to give the Christmas table wow-factor. Why does the table need wow-factor? We like it to look nice, of course, but why the implication that without ‘wow’ it will somehow be less valid? I could come up with a hundred examples of similarly unnecessary pressures.

I’ve been in the game far too long to imagine that perfection is an achievable state or that Christmas will be an enormous flop if I don’t fold my napkins in the shape a sleigh complete with several reindeer. But I do remember how it felt as a new mum to be swept along with the notion that it was my responsibility to ensure that everything was wonderful – the tree chosen for it’s superior shape, beautifully decorated and perfectly positioned. If anything went wrong then Christmas would be a complete failure and it would be my fault.  If only someone had told me IT DOESN’T MATTER!  No-one should be  should they be made to feel inadequate because their family Christmas doesn’t match up to the glossy ads or feature articles.

Things haven’t changed, it seems.  Mumsnet, the website aimed at young mums, suggests that gifts such as bath bombs, soap and candles can easily be handmade (presumably to save the stress of shopping for them)! Just another job to add to the endless list. It also says that picking berries in autumn for your flavoured Christmas gin is a good idea. Because Christmas couldn’t be perfect if you didn’t do that, of course!

BUPA commissioned research found that that three-quarters (74%) of people find Christmas stressful, and that the pressure of making it perfect is a leading cause. Furthermore, according to the New Statesman, domestic violence peaks over the festive period. There seems little doubt that the financial pressures and stresses of  creating perfection shoulder much of the blame.

I’ve deliberately left this comment until the end because my key objection is to the call for perfection rather than concentrating on the rampant sexism that so often goes with it, but I do wonder many men’s magazines exhort them to make Christmas magical or offer instruction for making the crispiest roast potatoes or the most beautifully laid table (with homemade centerpieces, of course)!


  1. I’m with you 100% here, Eloise, and even though I have written for magazines such as these for many years, my columns and articles have been about antiques, not about Christmas per se.
    But you are right, why are we women always targeted thus? Have we not been emancipated? A couple of years ago I was in a long queue in a card shop (one of a chain throughout the UK, I won’t name, names) and suddenly I let fly with an outburst, and said to no one in particular, “My goodness, don’t any men buy cards?” for we were a long line of women, no men in sight, unless as bag carriers. They all turned around as if by remote control and stared at me and then turned back again, not a word was said. I hope I made them think a bit, but I doubt it very much! They must’ve thought, “It must be her age!”

    But how many men do you see harassed at Christmas? They might carve the turkey if you’re lucky, and help peel the veg as my own dear husband does, but he admits that “there wouldn’t be a Christmas” without me. I buy the cards, write the cards, print the labels for the envelopes, buy the stamps, put them on the envelopes, deliver the cards to the neighbours, bake the cake, ice the cake, buy the presents (usually online these days or at least in the supermarket for food and drink presents), post parcels that need posting, sort out the banking, clean and tidy the house (he does the vacuuming), go with him to buy the tree (he puts it into the boot but I help decide which one), decorate the tree, decorate the house although this mainly consists of flowers and fruit, make the lists for the Christmas food (but this year we’re going to younger son and partner), wrap the presents, and make sure that we have such things as paracetamol and cough mixture for the inevitable cold that one of us will undoubtedly catch!

    I can do it all now, after 53 Christmases as a married woman, almost standing on my head, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not hard work. The only thing I don’t do now is the Christmas Dinner – the younger generation (now in their 40s!) do that. But yes, all the mags are aimed at selling us perfection and if we have any sense, perfection should not be on anyone’s Christmas to-do list.

    I would add that the main reason for magazines in the first place is for advertisements, don’t let’s forget it. Most things, even the editorial pieces, are aimed at selling us something, at Christmas they think if we aim for perfection we will have to buy loads of things with which to achieve it.)
    Margaret P


    • Thank you for your very comprehensive reply, Margaret. Your list detailing the division of male/female Christmas tasks could have been written by me. It’s identical to the one in my own household! I don’t mind that -it works for us. But the unrealistic for it all to be perfect frustrates me no end. Yes, it’s well to remember that magazines are advertising too.s. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy them though!


  2. chuckle…. don’t buy magazines (I borrow them from the library instead) but can’t imagine the male ones giving instructions on how to fell a tree, nor make a wooden jigsaw, or anything for Christmas really. It’s mean, in my opinion, to keep putting media pressure on women to be perfect, and to keep doing more.


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