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Opinion The 'perfect' Christmas doesn't exist – so take the pressure off

We insist on buying (literally) into the lie of perfection.

CHRISTMAS IS FINALLY here! Well, actually, it arrived in mid-November. Song lyrics like ‘I’m dreaming of a White Christmas’, ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’, ‘Here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun’ have been ringing in our ears for a number of weeks now. Have you noticed how the ads are getting more and more ‘picture perfect’ too? The debate on which advert is best; John Lewis or Sainsbury’s has been discussed everywhere, from social media to the bus as we gear up for that most wonderful time of the year.

Colour-coordinated smiling families with an array of food that has been effortlessly presented. Houses decorated to perfection, perfect trees, perfect decor, perfect presents, perfect children – perfect grannies and granddads, even! Everyone is smiling, happy and, well, perfect. Or are they? How can anything live up to such high expectations? Nevertheless we keep on trying. We insist on buying (literally) into the lie of perfection.

We are primed to expect a fairytale

Christmas is deeply embedded into our psyche. From very early on in childhood we are primed for the fairytale. This magical man in a red suit comes down our chimneys and brings us toys and gifts that enthral and delight. Peace, love and joy to all has been overtaken somewhat by buy buy buy and gimme gimme gimme! Of course, if we try to bring some semblance of sanity to all the madness we risk being accused of being ‘bah humbuggers’.

But seriously, it all seems to be getting a little bit out of hand. I love Christmas as much as anyone but when the lights get switched on at the end of November and people are panicking in the first week of December because they are not ready, something is awry.

So, how can we get a bit of perspective on all of this?

First off there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas. It does not exist! So now you are off the hook – stop and breathe. There is nothing wrong with believing in magic as long as we keep it in the realm of fantasy. Parents can put themselves under tremendous financial pressure and stress trying to deliver the perfect Christmas, not only for their children, but in the eyes of their extended family and friends. Everybody wants an enjoyable Christmas, and while the magic of Santa Claus visiting our home is special, the true gift of Christmas should also be love and peace.

Gestures you can make that will be genuinely appreciated 

It is also a perfect time to put previous difficulties between us and others aside and build bridges for the greater good. If you are separated with young children for instance, try to be as diplomatic as possible with your ex-partner so you can make your children’s Christmas memorable for all the right reasons. That would be a Christmas gift your children would truly cherish for many years to come.

I remember when I was (a lot) younger, my friend and I played a favourite game where we imagined there were dolls that walked and talked and were our imaginary friends. It was the most magical of times and I can still get a sense of the absolute childlike belief in our fantasy game. Such imaginary play fuels children’s creative imagination. I often wonder today, when I see these very creative and technologically active toys that really do walk and talk and interact in all sorts of ways, does it fuel imagination? Does it fuel creativity? Or is it all done for them?

A visit to Santa at Clearys is no longer enough. No, children must be brought to Lapland for the real deal. Get to meet the ‘real Santa’, experience real snow, ride in a real sleigh pulled by real reindeers. I can still recall the wonder of magical snow on a magical sleigh on a visit to Santa in town. Of course it was bits of thread under ultraviolet light and a set of sturdy springs but it was magic! Children’s vivid imaginations are the greatest gift that we can encourage and it costs a lot less than the latest ‘must have’ item or gadget.

So, have we gone too far in our quest to experience the ultimate fantasies? Has Christmas fallen foul to our insatiable desire for the ultimate experience? Are we running ourselves ragged in pursuit of perfection? Have we forgotten the true spirit of Christmas? What is the true spirit of Christmas? Peace, joy, love, gratitude, goodwill to all? Whatever it is, it is not ‘out there’. You can’t buy it. Look inside, look in to you own heart and make it your own!

Bernadette Ryan is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland is a not-for-profit organisation that offers confidential relationship counselling services based on ability to pay. For more information or to book a consultation you can contact 1890 380 380, email or visit

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