Funny how often it is that anticipation beats actuality hands down. Christmas is a classic case. We imagine how beautiful it will be, how stylish, just like the cosy, twinkling, festive dreamlands and house parties you see in the movies (I’m thinking The Holiday, Love Actually and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Oh, and especially Wham’s Last Christmas video, featuring a group of friends staying in a ski lodge – classic).
The reality is usually quite different, of course. Living out of a suitcase is what Christmas really means to those of us who have to leave behind our own homes to spend the festive season in the comparative discomfort of someone else’s.
Unless you are fortunate enough to own a mansion, space is usually pretty tight when an extended family is squeezed within its walls. You might be staying Christmas night and Boxing Day night, but you can’t take much more than one bag because there isn’t room, especially if you have been allocated the study or the living room sofabed.
It’s often no easier for those hosting Christmas. They may well have given up their own room, with its wardrobe and dressing table, for guests, and so they are scrambling around getting dressed in the bathroom and trying to remember where they last saw their hairbrush.
You have to wonder why so many of us put ourselves through this every year.
However, even if we are Christmas-slumming it, there is no need to look and feel as if we are camping. Both guests and hosts need to plan their wardrobe and toilette equipment in advance, and pack or store everything they need so that it is accessible, takes up minimal space and can be stowed away.
Guests, don’t leave your stuff lying around in hallways and living areas – this is the sort of thing that pushes harassed hosts over the edge. Although, hosts, you could help by putting up extra hooks in your hallway or somewhere else suitable, and having a large basket or two that everyone can chuck their shoes and bags into.
If you won’t have a wardrobe, try not to take anything that creases, and pack everything backwards, putting in your final day clothes and shoes first, then your sleepwear. If you do want to wear silk or something similarly high maintenance, take a couple of hangers and hope you can find a safe spare hook (hosts, try to have hangers, mirrors and rails or hooks easily accessible for your guests, as well as dressing gowns and a basket of spare toiletries and face creams that everyone can use. Men seem to love this).
Some people do like to get changed and dress up for the big night, even in floor-length dresses, and why not? Sequin dresses are practical and glamorous, because they don’t show creases.
A striking and beautiful blouse is certainly a good idea for sitting down to eat Christmas dinner, as this is what will be seen of you. Pair with neat trousers you can move in, and you’ve got the perfect charades outfit.
Cosy knitwear and tartans are chic and classic ways of introducing festive house party style. Check out Barbour’s Winter Tartan collection for some lovely contemporary styles for wearing indoors and out, both men and women.
Don’t take stilettos, but do take comfy shoes you can wear all day, and a pair of boots or sturdy flats for walking, because you will probably want to get some air, certainly by Boxing Day morning.
And hosts, do not expect your guests to spend their entire Christmas without footwear, even if you have underfloor heating. You can advise no pointy heels, and you can even suggest people have both indoor and outdoor shoes, but remember that an outfit is head to toe, with footwear chosen to go with and look fabulous. There. You’re good to go. Now have a merry and stylish Christmas.