Jayne Dowle: Don’t sink under seasonal shallowness, sing a carol

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ARE you ready for Christmas yet?

If anyone else asks me that, I will not be responsible for my reply.

This question roughly translates as: have you finally tracked down all the presents? Stood in the Post Office queue for an hour with more personal ID than you need to get into America? Is there a list running through your head of “things I must do before the end of today”? Are you seriously contemplating getting up at 4am tomorrow so you can find the hours to dust four dozen home-made mince pies with icing sugar?

If you are, stop right there. Take a moment to breathe. Step back and think about what Christmas should really be about.

Whatever happened to joy to the world and peace to all men (and women)? It is so tempting to turn Christmas into a competition. And if we are in danger if we let that happen. Not only of exhaustion and emotional collapse, but debt and despair come the new year. What is it with this constant striving for perfection?

At the end of November, a post on Facebook made me shudder. A distant acquaintance was selling a Christmas tree, complete with baubles and lights, because it didn’t match the new décor in her living room. She only bought it last year, and was proud to tell the world that it cost her £175 in total. Now she was offering it up at the “bargain” price of £100.

Some might applaud her entrepreneurial approach. I just thought it I had never seen anything so shallow in my life. I couldn’t even tell you exactly what decorations are on my tree, because I let my eight-year-old daughter and her friend decorate it. Gave them the box of baubles collected over the years and went off and did something else whilst they got on with the job. There are many things in life to get worried about, but I refuse to get worried about the precise arrangement of tinsel.

That’s why the Prime Minister made me smile – for once. Asked what he wanted for Christmas in a radio interview, he replied: “A bit of peace and quiet… and some tennis balls.” He spoke from the heart, I think. Peace and quiet doesn’t have to be gift-wrapped with co-ordinating paper and fancy bows. And you can’t advertise it for sale on Facebook.

It’s so tempting to get caught up in the festive whirl. We think we aren’t doing it right unless we are flat-out, constantly pushing ourselves to make it matchless. Television commercials put pressure on us to be the perfect family, but I wouldn’t like to count how many viewers are on the verge of running screaming from the house, just to be alone with their thoughts for a while.

Before you get to that stage, I urge you to find a place to escape to. You won’t have to go far. You don’t even have to leave the kitchen. Turn off the television and those relentlessly cheery commercials. Dig out those Christmas CDs and find one with proper carols on it, not one with a load of so-called tunes that remind you of every awful Christmas party you’ve ever been to. Put it on and sing. Yes, just sing. You might not remember the words, but that doesn’t matter.

A recent survey found that eight out of 10 of us are shamefully lacking in this department. There’s cattle mooing and lonely cattle sheds all over the place, apparently. Ignore the fact that the survey was done by a website which promotes voucher codes and free delivery – far too much anxiety in those words alone – and think about how uplifting it could be.

The nicest moment of Christmas for me so far was my daughter carefully enunciating every syllable of We Three Kings in the back of the car. She’s a bit sceptical about the existence of Father Christmas these days, but hearing her sing is pure magic.

Take heart from moments like this. No one will really care whether your mince pies are dusted or not. What they will care about is whether you are still standing on Boxing Day or collapsed in a snivelling heap of stress on the sofa. What kind of Christmas memories do you really want your family to have? A £3,000 trip to Lapland, a table setting so immaculate that no one feels comfortable eating off it, a tree that matches the wallpaper and tension all around? Or a chance to set aside material desires and the opportunity to think about what we really want from life?

We should all take time out for a little self-reflection this Christmas. And the bonus is that this costs nothing.