All Is Calm

Monday, 10 December 2012


I take a calm approach to Christmas preparations.

Admittedly not all my ingredients for a calm Christmas will apply to everyone, but this is how it works here at the Quince Tree.

Ingredients for a calm Christmas;

A very small extended family.
Children who are no longer primary school age.
No job.
A computer.
A fondness for cooking.
A few simple family traditions which don't involve going anywhere or spending any money.
An abundance of alcohol.

My small family means I only buy presents for six people and four of them live in my house. It also means I don't have to cater for a large amount of people.

Having older children means I don't have the teacher presents thing or the Christmas play/concert torture. Also, although Father Christmas is lovely for a few years, when you are still up at 2am waiting for them to fall asleep before you can fill their stockings knowing that they will be awake again at 5am you can't help looking forward to the time when they no longer believe.

Having no job means no ghastly Christmas parties, secret Santas or exchanging cards with people you see everyday. And of course it means I can complete all the special Christmas cooking at leisure.

Having a computer means I can do all my Christmas shopping in November online and have it all safely delivered well before Christmas Eve. It also means I can do all my food shopping online by placing orders well in advance. I have two placed at the moment; one for this Thursday, one for next Wednesday, these can be edited until the evening before delivery. The turkey will be collected from the farm on the 23rd. You may say that internet shopping is responsible for the demise of small independent shops and you would be right, but I can't help but think it the most wonderful, wonderful thing, staying away from shops in December is the most calming thing you can do.

Enjoying cooking means that I simply don't see tasks like making mince pies as stressful.

We have only have a few family traditions which include our Advent calendar, lighting a candle on each Sunday in Advent, buying a real tree two weeks before Christmas (to ensure getting a good one), putting it in the garden for a week before bringing it in and decorating it. Bushels of sausage rolls must be made on Christmas Eve, a ham must be baked for Christmas Eve supper and during the week before Christmas florentines and mince pies must be plentiful.

Alcohol  - needs no explanation.

Christmas things I don't do 
Not doing the following helps keep things calm and stress-free.

Buy my kids everything they desire. Luckily they have a pretty sensible idea of what constitutes a Christmas present ie nothing with an 'i in front of it'. George has requested a Warhammer model and a computer game, Tom some new headphones and a computer game, and Katie has asked for books, dvds and make up (God help me).

Send cards to everyone I know. I send to people I don't see very often as a way of keeping in touch.

Make lots of handcrafted gifts. This is because only one person on my list will appreciate them. I am however making a couple of edible stocking fillers for the children this year.

Make lots of handcrafted decorations. I already have decorations. I like looking at lovely pictures of other people's creations though.

Have colour co-ordinated decorations.

Listen to Christmas songs such as 'Last Christmas', 'Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas time' etc. Not going into shops helps enormously with this.

Go to my husband's work  Christmas 'do' which this year was a Grease themed dinner dance. 'You Are Joking!' I said to him when he revealed this treat 'You want me to dress up as a Pink Lady and spend an evening with people I don't know and with whom I will have nothing in common when I could be at home watching The Killing with a glass of red and my comfy trousers on?' He didn't want to go either.

Decorate the outside of our house with lights. Because we won't see them and everyone else in the street decorates theirs. Remember that scene in Scrooged where Frank is taken back to his childhood home and his house is the only one not lit up? That's us.

Christmas things I do do
Watch Christmassy films, but not Elf, The Santa Claus or anything else vomit-inducing.

Listen to beautiful Christmas music such as this



Transform our front room into a pine-scented sparklefest of coloured lights and glittering baubles - but not until next weekend.

Bring in Yuletide evergreens to remind us of continued life during the winter darkness.

Light lots of candles to remind us that the sun will return.

Cook lots of delicious things to eat.

Eat and drink a bit too much.

Enjoy giving and receiving presents.

Have a lovely. lovely time.














73 comments:

  1. Ah you talk a lot of sense!!!

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  2. Barb_in_GA6:49 pm GMT

    I feel a gust of sanity blowing in from across the pond! Thank you-- I couldn't agree with you more. I just got off the phone with my 85 year old mother, who lives several hundred miles away. She's in an absolute panic because she hasn't the energy to bake dozens of cookies, many loaves of bread, decorate an elaborate tree, set up her village of Christmas-themed miniature houses, and on, and on, and on. I've pleaded with her to cut back, to take it easy, but she won't do it and is too exhausted to enjoy the holiday. Each year I look for ways to simplify our holiday celebrations, mostly due to her example.

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    1. WOW! I felt tired just reading your mothers list! That did make me laugh.

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    2. Me too. Your poor mother Barb I hope she can feel able to cut back a bit although I do admire her spirit.

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  3. Oh Sue, you and I have sooooooooo much in common. It's pretty much my approach to Christmas too. Fabulous.

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  4. That is how Christmas should be!
    Julie xxxxxxx

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  5. I nodded and smiled all the way through this, Sue. My celebrations aren't quite likewise, as the plays loom this week and Father Christmas is very important to my little daughters, but I'm right with you on the calm, simple abundance, and happiness.

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  6. Very well said, Sue. I don't have loads of people to make buy for either - though we've a new small person this year. I do make handknits for several under-threes but that's a pleasure and an economy.Our main focus is good food and a relaxing few days, sending and receiving a few cards from those we don't see often or phone calls from far flung family and friends is a bonus. We can't any longer do xmas eve carol services or midnight services as M-in-law can't be left but that feeling that everything's sorted and everyone's home and happy is the best present.

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  7. Couldn't agree more, Sue.

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  8. Lovely post Sue. This may well be Finn's last Christmas where he believes so I am determined to enjoy that. The older ones want sensible gifts or money because they are saving for something expensive. Our favourite conversation is around what we eat - everyone gets involved. Christmas Eve ham is a given, beef Wellington on the big day and cold meats and baked potatoes with pickles on Boxing Day. This is my very favourite meal. Those baubles look lovely x

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    1. Boxing Day is the best food day of the year isn't it? All those gorgeous leftovers and a day off cooking, or maybe two.

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  9. Sue, your approach sounds eminently sensible to me!
    By the way, having only ever had quince as membrillo before, I ate the fruit proper in a restaurant the other day. It was served with duck and was quite apple-y and lovely.

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    1. Duck and quince sounds very good. They go well with goose too.

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  10. Your best recipe ever. And a lot like ours although we have expanded our tiny family to include a daughter-in-law of course. Can I interest George in any of O's Warhammer btw?

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    1. That's very kind of you Lucille. He doesn't actually play the Warhammer games, what he likes is painting the models. It is his 'skill' element for his Silver Duke of Edinburgh's.

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    2. Yes it is the models we have in abundance - largely unpainted but very likely the wrong tribes. He has finally agreed to relinquish a few bags of them.

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  11. Killing, red wine, comfy trousers. That's me on a Saturday.

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  12. I'm with you on the abundance of alcohol thing. Bought the most delicious bottle of Sipsmith's Damson Vodka last year. This year? Two. I think losing 12 of the last 14 days to sick children requires grown up medication, no?

    But I do love outside lights - on a timer switch so they look all twinkly when I come home. If I ever get to leave again, that is. I swear, if I don't get out of the house soon, I am going to lose the plot.

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    1. I never seem to arrive home after dark! The house on the corner of our road does spectacular lights and I do enjoy them.

      And yes, damson vodka is prescribed. Hope the boys are back up to full strength now.

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  13. You do remind me of my mum - which will make you feel old but I am actually a couple of years older than you. I mean in the taking it all in your stride, keeping it pared down but very nice and enjoyable for everyone. Also, not getting flustered and of course the cooking. Christmas was not a greedy commercial fest but it was very lovely just the same. Hardly any food was purchased ready made, most was homemade and it was lovely. We children (two of us)also helped make the cake, pudding and pies and of course decorate the tree. We made sweets every year too. We just got the one not very expensive present, but actually Christmas was about so much more than that.

    My sentiment is still similar to yours but I have a smaller family as there is just me and my daughter and we are just the two of us for Christmas which we love. It is just as well because I have a tendency towards bad temper and fits of childishness whenever under pressure; luckily the Christmas pressure is minimal here. I am waiting for my daughter to return home from uni on Thursday and as I haven't seen her for a while, that will be my very best present and I am very excited to be having her home.

    I think my daughter had a bit of make up from 14 or so. Nothing too obvious but I still prefer her own lovely face. She rarely wears any as an adult and I do like her best that way. Funny because I do wear it myself. I guess it's because we get used to their little faces and it seems a shame to cover it up.

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    1. I know -the make up thing does not fill me with joy. But, she does have a fairly clear idea about what looks 'trampy' (her word) and what looks nice and natural. A bit of mascara, some eye shadows and lip gloss will do the trick and ensure she can join in the girly chat with her friends.

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  14. Sue, your Christmas sounds wonderful. It has set my resolve firmer to enjoy Christmas simply and not be drawn into the insanity of giving 6 year olds ipads, £10 to each teacher (that is £300 each!) and not attending every book fair, mulled wine fair and Christmas cake bake going. Lovely to find a like minded soul!

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  15. Sue, that was so refreshing and funny. Believe me after having flu for the last 5 days i needed a laugh! In fact I'm gong to read it again -NEED to get out the house!

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  16. I've just found you via Rusty Duck. Your Christmas list sounds much like mine ......except I love the film Elf - I just caught the end of it yesterday (but then I also like foul-mouthed Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa!!)

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  17. That sounds like a great sort of Christmas to me, Sue. You are very fortunate not to have to work outside of the home.
    I've enjoyed listening to your beautiful music choice. I don't know the film Elf, but I always look at Scrooge every year (the Albert Finney version). Mulled wine, mince pies and a good old film on television are my idea of heaven over the Christmas holiday. Also listening to special music and getting my teeth into a good book. I love the photos of your shiny Christmas baubles!

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  18. Sounds wonderful to me :)

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  19. wise words! i have two under two and really hope there are at least small calm parts to my Christmas! love your blog xx

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    1. I think when they are that little it is less stressful than when they are in full Father Christmas mode. Though of course that is fun too.

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  20. Yip I am with you on pretty much everything you said.. apart from work (although I start maternity leave just before Christmas, whoopee) and Elf (I love it).

    Christmas for me isn't about shopping, commercialism or the like. I love being off work with my little family and surrounded by lots of twinkly lights. The simple things are what it's about...

    Really enjoyed reading this post!

    Helen xx

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    1. Have to come clean and admit I haven't actually seen Elf -just a few snippets -but I can't stand Will Ferrell.

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    2. I'm with ya there, I can't stand him either but he works in Elf... I can't explain it, he just does! Give it a try.. maybe you'll still hate it but at least you'll know for definite!

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  21. Sounds wonderful, how it should be. I am sitting here ordering presents online, which is easy, but a bit boring. would help if my son gave the right links to things and what size he would like. I agree about the dreaded secret santa!! My present was rubbish again this year, think I will opt out next year.
    Oh to be as calm as you!!

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  22. oh it would be calm in my house too if I didn't have two children with birthdays this week, and a husband who is in Atlanta.......

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  23. I wouldn't even feel guilty about refusing to be a Pink Lady ... that's not a party, that's institutionalised bullying.
    If I find myself wavering, I remind myself how glad I will be come 7pm on the night that I lied my socks off and claimed a whirl of previous engagements.

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    1. It is bullying isn't it? People who enjoy dressing up always assume everyone else does too.

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  24. Enjoyed your post very much. You have summed up my own feelings about the Christmas season and all of its potential downfalls. I'm now retired and that has indeed taken away so much pressure. More time to do less, I love it!
    And thanks for the lovely music. I went over to Amazon and may just have to buy it. Beautiful.
    Mary

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  25. Yep - I am with you all the way. That's my kind of Christmas.

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  26. Yay for this blog post ... with a few tweaks you could be describing what will happen here if I get my way. The real difference is a big family at this end, but who says we have to play host every year/try and keep all of the people happy all of the time.

    Florentines eh ... yum!

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  27. Yes!!! Particularly in regard to the Christmas parties. I don't understand why such an expensive time of year needs to have even more expenses added on. In the Southern hemisphere we throw in a few more expenses; everything has end of year break-ups, prize-givings, and graduation carry ons because this literally is the end of our school year etc. AND we are buying, planning and preparing to pay for our one big summer vacation, which some of us might actually leave for on Boxing day! We are crazy!

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  28. Sounds like you're going to have a mighty fine stress-free Christmas

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  29. Your Christmas sounds perfect!! Luckily our work Xmas do is just a civilised meal. I refuse to take part in the work secret santa. I spend enough money on the people I care about. Scrooge!! :P xx

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  30. Dear Sue you are a woman after my own heart!! I have battled for years with the whole Christmas thing not seeing the point of why it all has to be like it is. My really big bugbear is why it all has to be 'in your face' for so,so long. Oh I understand commercialism and all that but it just spoils completely something which should be by its very nature a simplistic time for warmth,happiness and friendship.Over the last couple of years I have started 'paring down' Christmas - only writing cards to people who live away, banning godawful tacky decs, anything with reindeer antlers etc etc because I seem to be the one who always organises the whole shebang! However the little worm of guilt is never far away and I find myself desperately not wanting to be labelled 'Scrooge' 'Humbug' or just plain miserable.But it seems I am not alone, so thanks Sue and everyone on the comments for making me feel less isolated at this time of year may you all have a truly wonderful time- whatever you may be doing!!!

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  31. Yes, yes, yes .... the recipe for a perfect Christmas. Well if any Christmas can be perfect, and, I do, sort of, miss Father Christmas...
    Carol

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  32. I agree with you wholheartedly, especially the alcohol bit! I do enjoy making gifts though, it saves money and i hope the recipient appreciates the work that goes into it x

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    1. Hi Haggiz,
      It's not that I don't like making things, it's more to do with the recipients. Teenage boys do not want handmade and the 12 year old daughter is getting less appreciative of my efforts.

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  33. Love all the old Christmas movies!!! The bishops wife...Christmas in conn...! Red wine and comfy Jammie's!!!! Yea!!!

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    1. Oh yes, The Bishop's Wife - love the ice skating scene in that.

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  34. Liz Davey10:30 am GMT

    How lovely. I realise that I never asked how you found Nigella's Quincemeat (my attempt was disgusting and I have reverted back to Delia's excellent recipe). Quick hint, Maybelline mascara never fails to please and is pretty cheap!

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    1. Hi Liz, the quincemeat was ok but I think I prefer the traditional kind. Thanks for the make up tip. I bought a few things for her at Superdrug -it's been so long since I bought make up I was a bit bamboozled by it all.

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    2. Liz Davey9:09 pm GMT

      Tell me about it! For the young teen it seems to me that with mascara the thicker the better. Problem is they don't have to clean the bath!

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  35. Thank you for the best laugh all morning. I aspire to your level of calm, although I am almost there - my girls are 'in between' not needing the full performance, but hoping for a sprinkling of magic. When did Christmas become a competitive sport I wonder. I shall come back and read this post again if the stress levels reach the red zone.

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  36. Oh, how your post resonates with me! I retired in March so this is my first Christmas without all the ghastly office stuff, which one partly goes along with but then one gets told off for not going to ALL the 'dos' as in 'aren't you a misery?' etc. I am so not missing any of that. It also means cutting out dozens of cards and pointless presents (& receiving even more pointless presents back!). hey, I'm not a scrooge - really - but I am looking forward to Xmas dinner with son & Xmas tea with Husband & son (neither of them live with me) & like you will be doing most shopping on-line & just oddments at local Co-op. This is the first year I've had time or energy to even think about making puds & cake & have really enjoyed it.

    Totally agree about 'The Killing' - nothing better - nothing tops that!

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  37. Yes, just brilliant! Love it all Sue (but you knew I would) xx

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  38. I always say Christmas is whatever you want it to be, it's your choice, not anyone else's. Tradition trumps commercialism in this house any day of the week, not just Christmas. So, hand made decorations made over the last few years usually on a natural theme (greenery, pine cones, a bit of sparkle, reds and golds etc), hand made cards cause that's my thing, some hand made gifts for the people who will appreciate them, decent Christmas movies, although like you I don't like Will Ferrell but I do really like Elf, decent music (Carols from Kings College on Christmas Morn) and anything associated with the Windham Hill label in America. Luckily there's just the two of us to please, and luckily my husband likes making things and baking/cooking too, so we do that together the weekend before the big day. I would also add that being 3700 miles away from your next closest family member helps but it does mean you spend a lot of time on the phone though! It might be considered a bit drastic though!

    All of our shopping is already done, husband has already wrapped some gifts and put them under the tree. The mincemeat and cake were made in November, the pudding was bought in England when my husband was home in October (from the Adnams brewery!), and I've made and frozen both sweet and savoury pastry ready for the mince pies and other treats. The turkey has been ordered online from Wholefoods and we'll get our last bits and bobs when we pick it up on the 23rd.

    We intend to put our feet up by the fire, watch Christmas movies, drink hot chocolate, read good books, eat homemade food and go for lots of long walks in the crisp, cold air. And the rest of the world can just take a running jump, lol!!!

    Interestingly enough, a Christmas card that arrived yesterday from a good friend in England asked how our alternative lifestyle was faring! I'd have never in a million years viewed myself as alternative. But if alternative means not running round in a blind panic buying whatever the new must have gadget is and not being able to pay my credit card every month then alternative I must be!!

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    1. Your alternative lifestyle sounds perfect to me as does a pudding from Adnams.

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  39. I really really think you've got it sussed!

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  40. Sue, I do like the ingredients in your Christmas recipe...I've got some of them collected over here, too. Over the years, I think that my approach to this season has evolved, gotten simpler, far less involved in the marketplace. It's much more enjoyable with a little peace and quiet along with the festivities.

    xo

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  41. Lisa from New Orleans6:10 pm GMT

    I must comment on this post!
    It all sounds absolutely fabulous and suits me perfectly.
    We are so fortunate,no?

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  42. I just love your lists. It sounds very much how I approach Christmas, except I, unfortunately, married into a large extended family who don't know when enough is enough. However that stress is balanced out by my husband going freelance. No more office parties! Yeah! As for outside lights, we have one line of lights along the gutters which get left up all year long so they're no trouble. (Yes, we're that house.)

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  43. Anonymous6:51 pm GMT

    I so agree with BUTLERSABROAD. Christmas is what you make it and what you want it to be. No one way is better than another. You have it sussed for you Sue. I have to work full time so inevitably I am a bit more stressed but I manage it every year and love all the prep. And I confess that I detest internet shopping. we have lovely shops in this little market town and I fear if I don't use them I will lose them. And I LOVE a good Christmas do!!! :-)

    Jan

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  44. I really do like your idea of Christmas, it sounds perfect! I too am blissed with having grown children - no more school Christmas parties (each year I eagerly, but in vain, tried to persuade the other parents to have the Christmas party in January, but no one liked the idea), I don't particularly like Swedish Christmas food so I don't make it. "If you want it, make it yourself" I say, and then I can go back to preparing venison or wild boar och something like that. (I do, however, each year make a Christmas ham for the tree-decorating night, together with kale, since Christmas simply isn't Christmas without kale according to the man I am married to).

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  45. Anonymous7:51 pm GMT

    I'm with Jan, each to their own. Nothing wrong with a bit of crazy every now and again. And I don't do internet shopping-local shops get all my support at this time of year, the high streets are suffering enough as it is, so I always shop local, for food as well. I love the atmosphere of christmas shopping, listening to the christmas tunes and the smells of chestnut carts roasting on the streets, strolling around the christmas markets all bundled up and having a cup of hot chocolate.Thats the stuff that makes memories!
    Sally

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  46. I try and get everything as organised as I can by the end of November, so I can enjoy the run up to Christmas and enjoy the festivities and excitement, without being over tired. I am also a firm believer that everyone is welcome to visit, but they come for the company, and not to check if my house is clean, tidy and if I've baked everything from scratch. And if that doesn't suit, then please don't visit - in the nicest possible way! Wishing everyone a relaxed and enjoyable time, so long as that is what you want to achieve.

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  47. I'm one of 7 children. Hubby one of 5. And we play music. For Christmas. Yet, I have been crafting with found stuff (ribbons from choc boxes, recycled paper) and enjoying planning meals. However, as I get older, I find I like to be with fewer people. Christmas dinner for 40 no longer appeals - and I don't even have to cook it!

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  48. What a lovely post ......and I coldn't agree more :-)

    Sue xx

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  49. I'm very happy to have a calm Christmas planned as well - spending the day with friends, and keeping gifts to the bare minimum (stocking stuffers, basically). And even though I do have a job, I am lucky enough to work in a place that doesn't do secret Santas or Christmas cards. Just several very fun Christmas parties.

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  50. I think we have a very similar philosophy. Although I'm not quite so organised on the internet shopping! And although I work it doesn't involve Christmas parties etc. As a result I love Christmas.

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  51. Eminently sensible. Happy Christmas to you Sue, and thank you for an interesting andoften funny read a couple of times each week.

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  52. Brilliant ! I so agree expecially dialling down the expectations of making home made stuff. Even though I do tonnes of photography I've stopped making my own cards. I just pop into a charity shop and buy some SIMPLES! Plus it supports them. I like getting xmas cards so I recon I ought to send them. I like starting my own traditions like an annual freelancers underemployed artists types xmas lunch which I organise amongst my friends who do not have office lunches laid on. But we are going to a Punjabi Cafe run as a social enterprise. I might make some scottish tablet as wee presents.Oh and finally give MYSELF something I really want.

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  53. I love your ingredients for a calm Christmas! I will have to remember this for next year. I hopped over her from Gillian's blog. Yours is quite lovely, too.

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  54. Anonymous5:57 pm GMT

    Love this! Quite refreshing and somewhat similiar to our holiday. It boils down to one queston for me "Does this bring me joy?"

    Janet

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