When did Christmas become such an epic production? Or has it always been that way since our youth and we didn't quite notice because mum and/or dad were handling it all for us?
Even in your 20's when you are possibly still pre-children it's just a matter of putting up a tree, cooking a meal for a few people and a modest amount of gift purchasing - nothing overly traumatic.
Fast forward to your 40's and the average human being has a vastly expanded family that they are responsible for loving, nurturing and bestowing with gifts and food during the festive season.
By the time you're circa 40 years old you've probably got to consider your siblings, your siblings partners, and half a million nieces and nephews to cater for. Not just gifts only, but usually to literally cater for, I'm talking about feeding them.
Even if you don't host Christmas dinner you can't evade it ... I mean there's still Boxing Day to be covered by someone isn't there, and New Years Eve too. You could eat/party out for New Years Eve but once you've got children it's expensive and not always practical to do so.
Boxing Day or Christmas Day food for most likely 10 plus people lurking in your home for many many hours (and possibly overnight for some of them), isn't anything to shrug over. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Why are you talking about Christmas in July!?
I can't be the only one who has noticed the memes popping up, jokingly reminding us that it's only 23 weeks until Christmas. I looked at them and smirked, but deep in the pit of my stomach there was also that anxiety ball forming ... knowing I'd have to start thinking about it pretty soon unless I wanted to unleash the Christmas stress beast that no one wants any part of.
What can I do about this calamity?
There is a lot you can do, and the most important thing is to plan ahead and have a full tick list of things that you need to be doing and deciding upon between now and the big day.
I've described THE LIST in detail below, but what I've also done, is below that provided you with a printable physical check list to start ticking things off and begin to handle this mammoth task, before this mammoth task starts handling you (not sure what I mean by that, but it's not good).
1. Christmas Cards
Nope, you're not going to be hurriedly scribbling these out in your worst handwriting in the first week of December, frantically wondering if that friend you haven't seen much for years 'really' wants a Christmas card off you any more.
You're going to get these written, and the stamps put onto them by September. Yes September, and then in the first week of December you simply pop the bundle into the post box while feeling incredibly stress free and smug about it.
2. Food Menu
By the end of October at the latest you need to have written out a full planned list of how you're going to feed the amount of people descending upon your home.
You're not going to forget that they need snacks in between meals, and you're not going to forget that some selfish dick might turn up without a bottle. You're going to have cheap bottles of booze in the back cupboard ready for them.
You're also going to write up a tally of the cost of each item before you buy it and find out the total cost of your hospitality. That way you can be sure that you're keeping to some sort of reasonable budget you can afford. January credit card debt is an ugly affair - avoid it.
Don't forget to include the booze and soft drinks. Well, you won't forget if you print out my handy Christmas planner.
3. Advance Food Purchasing
If you can buy things in advance, buy them, don't leave your food shopping until the two weeks before Christmas, no one enjoys that rammed supermarket hell. The only foods and drinks that cannot be purchased way in advance tends to be fresh vegetables and fish. It's a lot nicer nipping into a crowded supermarket for three things instead of a 100 hundred things, I assure you.
Buy all of your Christmas food shopping within the first two weeks of November.
I guess you could book a supermarket delivery slot for the week before Christmas, but be sure to book it way in advance ... they do put on extra drivers but the slots fill up FAST ... and also consider how much up s*** creek you will be if the driver turns up telling you they don't have one or more of your totally essential items.
Do you really want to leave it to chance and activate Christmas Stress?
4. Them Darned Kids
I love kids, but they're rather demanding aren't they? Do you want all the nieces and nephews rampaging around your home because they're bored and have no ideas other than rampaging with which to entertain themselves?
No, of course you don't, so think up ways of keeping them calm, happy and entertained throughout the day, and that way you won't have to all take it in turns shouting up the stairs for them to 'calm down'.
Invest a small sum of money in games and activities. I assure you it will be worth the small cost; The Works, a high street shop, is an excellent place for finding cheap toys, games and crafts to entertain children with.
A particular trick of mine is to seperate the younger children into a group and largely keep them downstairs with the adults as much as possible - find a table, or floor space even, and put activities out for them. The parents will thank you for planning ways to amuse the smaller children, and so will the older children/teens who you can probably trust to hang out more sedately in the bedrooms in between bouts of eating.
You could have ALL the kids downstairs hanging out all day, but do many people really have the room for that in their home? Most people don't and so some of them need to be playing upstairs to ease the space burden throughout the day.
I recommend this be addressed in October. 'What cleaning?' I hear you say.
I'll tell you what cleaning, the sort of cleaning you suddenly realise needs doing when you consider if you really want a houseful of guests to notice the kids dirty hand marks in the hallway, the not 'that clean' oven door as they nip into the kitchen to pour themselves another drink, and that bit of repaired wall you've been meaning to paint all year.
I mean it's usually clean enough all year around, but when you're trying to create a special Christmas get together, you sometimes start to observe that some things perhaps need improvement before the day.
If you don't consider what does and does not bother you for people to see it will sneak up on you and you'll find yourself rampantly spring (winter) cleaning (or even painting!) in the week before Christmas.
These all need to be purchased by the end of November by the latest, because you're going to spend all of December gradually wrapping them and placing them one by one under the tree. Unless you're one of those hard core people who enjoys wrapping 30 plus gifts in one day the week before Christmas while also food shopping in crowded supermarkets, in which case be my guest and proceed as normal.
I've created a 'gift list' zone on the planner, this is where you can add the name of each recipient, what you bought them (or plan to) and what it cost you - again, it's important to prevent spending from spiralling out of control.
The great thing about the gift list zone is that you can be writing down ideas into the planner all year (and indeed even writing down the shop where you saw what you want), so when it comes to actually buying the gifts you have a good idea of what you want to buy already.
If you really want to make gift giving and wrapping super easy this year, you could follow my Christmas gift cheat guide - The Secret To Buying 15 Kick Ass Gifts In One Hour
If you aim to buy individual gifts, and you have say 20 plus people, don't kid yourself that you can do it super fast all in one week - you almost definitely cannot. Give yourself at least a month which means you need to start buying by the end of October to have it all completed by the end of November.
All of the above guidance has been compiled into one easy to follow PDF Christmas Essentials Planner document, simply click on the image below to download the PDF file and print.
TIP: Only ever write in this planner in pencil, you are likely to be editing it constantly and you don't want to have to print it out again and rewrite everything.