A serial over-committer's guide to navigating the festive season
By Rosie Goddard
To say that I moved to England for the festive cheer would be a little bit of an exaggeration, but perhaps not all that far from the truth. I love everything about December in London, from the frosty chill in the air, to the extravagant Christmas lights dotted around the city, and the fact that it's acceptable to loop 'All I want for Christmas' a minimum of four times a day. If my life were a remake of Love Actually, I would play Liam Neeson's son, except I wouldn't be chasing the love of my life to the airport for a Christmas smooch, I would be hunting down the illusive magic of this tinsel-adorned month. And don't even get me started on my love for tartan.
Couple this sugar-induced joie de vivre with the "December's not a month, it's a lifestyle" attitude I shipped over with me from Cape Town, and we're approaching dangerous levels of merry making.
But there's a certain sense of apprehension that comes along with this time of year too – an impending feeling that you're buckling yourself into a rollercoaster, and you're not sure when it's going to slow down, let alone stop. As you blast full throttle towards the proverbial finish line (proverbial because it's not a date but rather a feeling you get in your soul), you make a prosecco-induced promise to yourself: I will leave no glass of wine unattended, no mince pie unturned and certainly no event without my presence.
But what if you… did? As someone who struggles to say no, I'll be the first to get candid and say that I have already attended five separate Christmas events and spent a day exploring London's finest festive pop-ups, but come the day I head home to Cape Town for a few weeks, I have made three plans: a wedding, a birthday and a catch-up with friends. Incidentally I am attempting something new: a go-with-the-flow attitude of sorts, that will hopefully allow me to pour my time into the people and moments that matter. Results impending.
To encourage you to join me on this journey to success, I've put together a collection of cautionary tales and survival tips. Foolproof they are not, but helpful they might just be.
Prep your wardrobe
It's a tale as old as time: you've got an <insert party name here> later, and you quickly need to pop to the shops to find the right shoes for your outfit. How long could that take? Oh, but memories fade golden, don't they, because you forgot: there's no "popping" to the shops during December. Once you've navigated the all-day gridlock of traffic and God forbid, parking, there are the endless queues, sold-out sizes and throngs of Christmas shoppers determined to get in your way.
Practice some self care and shop from the comfort of your couch/deck chair/desk or bar stool. Imagine the satisfaction you'll feel knowing that you have your outfits sorted for your array of upcoming occasions, instead of divvying your days into shopping lists, ETAs and sweaty store dashes that lead to distressed purchases and a serious loss of cool.
No seriously, prep it
If there was ever a month to be the most extra(vagant) version of yourself, both in personality and wardrobe, it would of course be December. And while it's certainly a time for fashion risks, these need to be calculated. You can't be turning up to a wedding and realising a little too late (read: at the ceremony) that you actually feel extremely self-conscious in your new one-shoulder dress and will proceed to use all manner of objects (glasses, plants, people) to cover yourself up.
This is your time to be bold, but also a time for back-ups. Stash away some items that make you feel amazing (in my case a wrap dress or three) and know that if your first choice doesn't work out in the way you planned, you have another outfit that'll make you feel equally as radiant. This will prevent you from looping back to point one – a desperate dash to the shops.
The Magic Word = "No"
Lesson 1: Events
Before I misrepresent myself as a bastion of strength in this next point, I'll come right out and say it (again): I am terrible at saying no. Fomo is a tangible force I feel on my body, and before I know it, I've agreed to a Saturday brunch followed by a Christmas lunch, a quick catch-up with a friend and a fairy lights-festooned house party (which then leads to going out out). At the start of December, there's nothing like the heady rush of a million events to look forward to, but two weeks in, the sparkle in your eyes has been extinguished, your feet hurt, and your clothes are feeling uncomfortably tight.
With so many weddings, pool parties and spontaneous after-works drinks on the horizon, it's essential to trim the fat. Move the casual events that can be moved, don't beat yourself up for being flaky on the the odd occasion, and remember that this same night can be had a million times over – you don't need to be the last woman standing at office drinks on a Tuesday. Contrary to that niggling voice in the back of your head, this is not going to turn into the best night of your life.
If all else fails, make sure you've put some water and painkillers next to your bed, your pyjamas are ready and waiting, and your outfit for the following day is prepped.
The Magic Word = "No"
Lesson 2: Indulge Intelligently
Opening the door on December 1st felt like arriving at an all-you-can-eat buffet: there's a limited time frame in which to get your fill of vices, whether that's mini chocolates, sparkling wine, roast potatoes, negronis, pigs in blankets, or all of the above. To ensure your survival and to prevent any jading, save this for the moments that really matter. Case study no.1: was it necessary for me to eat a mince pie (fine, two) at 7am while writing this article, simply because there were leftovers in the fridge after our Christmas dinner party? Absolutely not. Pack those mince pies into a Tupperware and share the guilt with your colleagues like a good friend – now that's the true spirit of Christmas.
Keep it wholesome
December and January may feel like a revolving door of RSVPs, but it's important to lend some meaning to the hedonism and make time for the moments that matter. Whether it's being present for family occasions (in mind and not just body), taking that sunset trip to the beach you keep planning, baking biscuits for your work wife, watching Home Alone 1 + 2 (but not 3), or in my case, visiting London's top Christmas-themed locations in an attempt to reawaken my childhood nostalgia, it's moments like these that allow you to check back in with yourself and realise what you're grateful for. Plus they'll add to the rich tapestry of memories you recall fondly as next December rolls around and it's time to do it all over again.
Don't beat yourself up
Remember that if the above points don't pan out as expected, you haven't failed. Take comfort in the fact that everyone else is asking the same existential questions as you are – 'Will I ever feel sane again?', 'How many pigs in blankets is too many pigs in blankets?', 'If I skip breakfast, can I have an extra pigs in blanket?' and so on. Luckily, January exists solely so that we can repent for our sins, and before you know it, you'll be extolling the benefits of wellness, mindfulness and meditation. Look at you go!
Hard to believe that merely a month prior, you were extolling the benefits of pickleback shots at the bar in the name of "December", but that's a story for another time.