Christmas: The tradition feminism forgot

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 Photo: Getty Images

Feeling the pressure to create a perfect Christmas? Well, you must be female.

In my childhood, seasonal home decor meant a bowl of tangerines and a nutcracker. Today, Christmas has gussied up and gone to the prom.

There are colour schemes for the up-to-the-minute Christmas tree (sorbet! metallic! white on white!). Wreaths on doors. Tiny snowmen under bell jars. There are gingerbread houses to make from kits and napkins to fold into stars. 

As for the menu, there are no rules, as long as there is too much of everything. Tables groan in Christmas photo shoots; platters heave. There are quinces stuffed with cranberries stuffed with almond paste. And Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a whole baked fish with its eyes left in.

Surely in real life, nobody has the time to achieve a Christmas like this. Nobody can possibly live like this.

But unlike Valentines Day or Halloween, which still have an opt-out clause for most people, Christmas is immutable. It just is, and honouring your obligation to make Christmas as perfect as it can possibly be is the best gift you can give your family. I'm sorry to tell you this, but it's all on you.

Of course, when I say you, I'm addressing the woman of the house. Because Christmas is still largely women's work. The gift buying, the wrapping, the posting, the e-cards, the actual cards, the wreath, the artful decoration of the Christmas tree, the selection of Christmas movies, the fighting for the last bag of prawns in the frozen section, the brandy buttering.

Rarely does a woman get to relax on Christmas morning and watch someone else stuff, glaze and roast the turkey, her only job to carve it when she's two drinks down, wearing a Santa hat with an LED light flashing in the bobble end.

No. Instead, this woman will be too busy whisking the gravy and fluffing the spuds to sit down before lunch is served, because she's internalised the idea that her family's Christmas happiness depends on her.

Is it any wonder that otherwise sensible women like me gulp big slurpy gulps from the cup of Christmas crazy?

My first little flutter of stress comes in late October, when Bing Crosby starts singing at the shops. Giant Ferrero Rocher pyramids appear everywhere overnight, without explanation, each like a foil-wrapped Stonehenge. Before I know it I'm fondling a $25 decoupage tree bauble and thinking of doing up my lounge like Victorian London.

I know what you're saying. Nobody in their right mind buys into all this at Christmas. But the point is, at Christmas, nobody is in their right mind.

Magazines are the outriders, galloping into a woman's consciousness even if she's managed to avoid Nigella, Jamie or Kirstie's Homemade Christmas on the telly. There's always a TV presenter on the December cover, draped on a couch in a silver dress with a dog in a ruff on the floor. "I like to serve Bellinis with Christmas breakfast," she says with a tinkly laugh.

Stop the tape. I don't drink champagne in the morning, not even for Jesus. For one thing, I have preschool children and a garden that ends in a cliff. For another, I'd be drinking alone and that's what I do for the rest of the year.

Browse on, and you find a celebrity home cook in a statement necklace. "The important thing is that you don't burn yourself out," she says. "So why not order your ham in June?" In the picture she tilts a serving plate towards her grandchildren.

Stop the clock. Are those her real grandchildren? There's a lot of this going on: the fake Christmas family. You couldn't pay me enough to pose as a fake Christmas family, and this is from someone who once modelled a deep-fat-fryer on morning television. 

Catalogue fake families are worse than magazine fake families, because catalogues don't have the budget to make anyone believe that these people are related. (I like to think about the emotional lives of the models when I read a catalogue. There they are in smocky tops and jeggings, their eyes pleading for rescue. I wish this was Prada, they seem to be saying. What happened to my career?)

If only I was the kind of person who orders meat in advance. But instead, I'm the kind of person who decides to pick up last-minute groceries in the lead-up to Christmas, and walks smack into the supermarket apocalypse that is Christmas Club Night.

This year I'm pushing back against the aspirational Christmas, and so should you. Stand at the mirror and say to your own face: "I don't care what the celebrities are eating; I don't have time to roll fig balls in Belgian cocoa powder. I have a mortgage, teenagers, and an ex-husband and his girlfriend coming for Christmas dinner."

Will your children be forever damaged because you used supermarket custard in the trifle? Does it matter that you didn't play a retro game of family rounders under fluttering rows of bunting? Your lopsided, uncool Christmas is good enough. Your uneven cooking is good enough. You are good enough.

And, on Christmas evening, as you scrape the sticky stuff from the oven tray wearing a tea-towel apron clipped to your jeans with a clothes peg, don't stare into the middle distance and wonder, 'What must Nigella be doing right now?' Scrape, scrape. "Not this," you'll only mutter to yourself. "Definitely not this."

Sunday Magazine