How to find the balance between the magic and the manic this Christmas

I will not get caught up in the Christmas drama. I will not battle the tills in a packed shopping center. I will not frantically check off to-do lists like a madwoman... Amanda Cassidy on finding the magic in between the manic.

'Tis the season to be...panicked. It is almost that time of the year when people ask you if you are "all set''. And there is no right answer. If you are 'all set', admitting it makes you a smug show-off. If you confess that you've done nothing except gorge on mince pies and scented gingerbread candles up until now, you're labeled a flake.

When did we become so consumed with consuming? And what has happened to the importance of togetherness, thoughtful trinkets and Christmas traditions?

Santa fatigue


This year it started even earlier than usual. The shop windows screamed at us to 'get Christmas ready' as the Halloween decorations looked on in fright. Cards, turkey, gifts, wrapping paper... Quick, spend, spend, spend.

Then there are the new additions to an already pretty robust agenda — Christmas chocolate snowmen (aka Easter eggs), Elf on the Shelf and Santa 'experiences'. There are Santa phone calls, Santa trackers, Santa visits, Santa video messages and we are almost all Santa'ed out. There are elf clothes, Christmas trees for your fairy door, magical Santa keys, advent calendars for gin and perfume and pets and my head is spinning. Even the elfiest-elf is at risk of a serious case of Christmasification.

Instead of one giant sweet Christmas story, there are now thousands of sidelines that happen to involve parting with a whole lot of cash. Has anyone else noticed their children are just a little dazed by the parade of Santas being rolled out by advertisers? A little bit of the magic is beginning to get lost.

All about the money

Christmas is now a billion-dollar industry. It has moved so far away from his original outing of St Nick who —as the story goes — gave away his money to help people in need. Dr Michael Lee from the University of Auckland is an expert in consumer habits.

He says creating a more authentic Christmas means resisting yuletide excess. "Financial, emotional, and time stress leads to inauthenticity since stress contradicts another core aspect of Christmas, which is the belief the occasion should be a peaceful and joyful time spent with family. None of the wise men expected anything back for the gifts they gave Jesus.

"By making Christmas all about spending and stress, we are promoting materialism, consumerism and social obligation — hardly a representation of childhood innocence that Santa should be all about."


Watching the shopping rush going on around you, it's easy to feel like if you aren't spoiling your kids, you're doing it wrong. But you know what? Screw that.

It isn't that I'm the grinchiest grinch of them all — even science is on my side. A study published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development notes that children who are given an abundance of toys actually suffer from "reduced quality of play" and the dilemma of choosing which one to play with can actually cause anxiety.

The research found that any more than about four toys at once can lead to this type of stress. The study showed that fewer toys allow children to be more focused on what they are playing with, making them more likely to play more creatively, and in the longer term, this could lead to kids developing a stronger imagination and more appreciation for their things.

Of course, the other benefit to keeping things financially in perspective at Christmas is that buying fewer gifts means spending less money on junk and creating less waste.

Paring it back

So, this year, we have decided to go Christmas zen. The children will get what they get. We won't be taking part in the Great Christmas Frenzy of 2019 that kicks off right about now.


Our advent calendar isn't overflowing with handcrafted ornaments or luxury body gel, it is filled with rolled-up pieces of paper announcing an evening of hot chocolate or a Christmas-themed kitchen disco. We are opting out of the excess, and the stress.

Our Christmas tree will be tacky but happy with our old colourful twinkly lights. The baubles will be mostly crafted by cute 4, 6 and 8-year-old hands. We are bringing tinsel back.

My focus is on creating traditions and memories that my children will treasure and hopefully carry on to their own children. Instead of memories of a crazy lady rushing around searching for tape and frantically scrambling for gifts on the 24th, I will be in my pyjamas on the couch, wrapped in excited children.

Christmas is about marching down to the St Vincent De Paul with creative (abstract) shoeboxes bursting with a selection of random, thoughtful items that the children carefully picked for 'the kids that need it more than we do'. It is about catching up with friends you haven't seen all year. It is about taking a deep breath after a hectic year to reflect on what's gone on and what's to come.

It is about planning for the next chapter, about remembering those we've lost. It's about noticing that excitement bubbling up on the children's faces; it is about the anticipation of a much-wanted gift or being overwhelmed by a thoughtful gesture.

I know I might sound horribly smug right about now, and maybe it is easier to be modest when you simply don't have the excess finance to spend on things like matching Santa dinner plates or gold-plated Christmas crackers. But the stress comes free — and I'm shunning that too. I want to remember that the glitz and sparkle of Christmas doesn't have to cost us the earth. Let's never lose sight of that.

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Read more: How to put up the tree with children in tow

Read more: How to break the Santa news without breaking little hearts

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