Published in The Times December 9th 2006
Tick your two likeliest answers to each question.
1. We all know it’s the thought that counts and blessed are the giftmakers. But which
of the following presents would you most like to receive for Christmas?
a) Year’s subscription to the Little Darlings Nanny Agency
b) Blackberry Pearl Business Phone
c) Compost starter mix
d) Comfort Home Automation Security System
e) Motorised Golf Ball Cleaner
f) Handmade ethnic-effect Raggedy Ann or Andy doll
2. Before you sit down to the feast, your dog samples the lunch lovingly laid out for
eight. Do you?
a) Phone the Emergency Catering Company
b) Extol the virtues of a seasonal fast
c) Amend the menu to Turkey Fricassee
d) Bribe a table out of the local hostelry
e) Beg a neighbour/relative to share their food
f) Cook the dog
3. Your partner is likely to be severely depressed by England’s defeat in the Boxing
Day Test Match. Do you?
a) Confiscate the Sky TV Card
b) Brew a large pot of St John’s Wort tea
c) Begin an open-ended counselling session
d) Insist they sign a power of attorney in your favour
e) Call in the local Chinese acupuncturist
f) Explain it’s only a bloody game
4. You feel increasingly worried about climate change and desire to reduce your
Christmas ‘carbon footprint’. Do you
a) Paint a picture of a Yule log to stick in the fireplace
b) Offer to pay your neighbour’s gas bill as a carbon trade
c) Buy knitting needles made from recycled wood
d) Promise to drive your 4×4 only at the speed limit
e) Take up Yoga breathing to cut your Co2 emissions
f) Stick a windmill on the roof to power your fairy lights
5. Your daughter is horrified when a teacher says Santa isn’t real and Christmas
must be called ‘Winterval’. Do you?
a) Email the school your congratulations
b) Email Santa not to bring the teacher any presents
c) Bribe your child to go into therapy
d) Teach her the full version of how Santa met Rudolph
e) Make yourself a red costume and measure the chimney
f) Select a good Catholic boarding school
16. Researchers say that preparing for the average family Christmas takes 13 days.
Having done more than your fair share of this work, what’s your policy on the clearing
a) Feign illness
b) Smile at the happy faces you’ve produced and muck in
c) Visit Japan on business
d) Check out a prominent divorce lawyer
e) Carefully handwrite a suggested list of chores for all
f) Run away with the first cheery soul who drives a sleigh
1. a – 1; b – 2; c – 4; d – 2; e – 3; f – 5.
2. a – 2; b – 2; c – 4; d – 5; e – 2; f – 1.
3. a – 2; b – 3; c – 5; d – 1; e – 3; f – 2.
4. a – 5; b – 1; c – 3; d – 1; e – 5; f – 3.
5. a – 1; b – 4; c – 2; d – 5; e – 5; f – 1.
6. a – 2; b – 5; c – 1; d – 2; e – 4; f – 1.
15-24: Stressed? Being in control is very hard work.
25-34: Balanced. You seem a smart Christmas operator.
35-54: Stressed? Rarely delegating is very hard work.
Christmas has the potential to be one of the most stressful events in the calendar.
According to a recent survey, the average preparation time is now 13 full days. This
involves 288 hours shopping; four hours wrapping parcels; three hours decorating
the house; nine hours cooking and 11 hours cleaning up the mess afterwards. You
will not be surprised, therefore, to learn that some family members begin to wilt under
the pressure. Research confirms that most of these wilting people are female.
I am sure you accept there is no anatomical reason why a woman should exhaust
herself single-handedly organising Britain’s annual festival of happiness. Possession
of a uterus hardly makes you a cook. But if you have allowed Christmas to become a
rod for your own back, the question is why? More importantly, what are you going to
do about it? Today’s Body and Soul quiz (above) assumes that stress is generated
when we over-manage such an event, whether in person or by proxy.
If you get a low score on the quiz, it’s probable you are ‘cash rich/time poor’. The
trap for you to avoid is trying to impersonate the perfect Santa while most of your
mind is tied up elsewhere. You need to define the limits of your willingness to be a
party manager. It’s just like the office – establish a budget and then negotiate the
tasks: “I am going to order the turkey but not the booze; I am going to serve the lunch
but will be asleep for one hour afterwards and unless you-and-you agree to clear the
table and load the dishwasher then supper will remain notional”. You act from self-awareness.
“If I don’t enjoy one iota of the experience of Christmas, it’s likely my
unconscious mind will start trouble”
On the other hand, if you score highly on the quiz (suggesting you are ‘time rich/cash
poor’) you still don’t want to turn yourself into an unpaid butler worn to a frazzle by
upstairs tyrants. To hell with ‘perfection’; let’s go for ‘adequate’. For example,
announce that Christmas lunches will be like Virgin trains, with approximate times of
arrival, or ‘windows of appearance’, from one till three pm. If it helps, play your own
2music while you work. Take naps when you need them. Plan to go for a walk every
single day at your own pace. Do deals about television hours, playing games, carol
services and religious observance. For each negative and inevitable hardship,
ensure that there will be at least one positive counter-experience for you. As for the
rest of the family, it really helps to ignore bad behaviour and reward good. If your
relatives are usually difficult, why expect them to be different just because it is
Christmas? Don’t take it to heart when they make a negative comment about one of
your hand-made models and stop trying to keep everyone happy – it is impossible.
For those readers who are both time and cash rich, I can only suggest a couple of
good charities. But if you suffer, like Bob Cratchit, from too much work for too little
pay then remember that in future years your children will register whether they were
loved and if the family was happy rather than which present they did or didn’t get. At
Christmas the thought counts far longer than any toy or sliver of tinsel.
Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and
Psychotherapy – www.philliphodson.co.uk