Christmas stress: why reality doesn’t live up to the festive hype

Christmas tree illustration


Have you ever looked at those images of happy families in Christmas adverts and movies, and wondered why your family’s reality doesn’t quite live up to the media ideal?

Year after year, we parents set ourselves up for this wonderful Christmas-time. And every year, many of us end up slightly disappointed when things don’t go quite according to the nostalgic script in our heads.

The dream of the festive ideal puts parents under Christmas stress:  we feel pressured to provide the perfect festive season with piles of presents under the tree, even if our budget or family situation doesn’t allow for it.

Of course we all know and understand the limits of our own families. But somehow at Christmas, all that’s forgotten.

Here are a few common pre-Christmas media hypes – and the disappointments:

The letter to Father Christmas

Dream: Your child writes a realistically priced and varied list that offers lots of inspiration for aunties and uncles buying gifts this Christmas.

Reality: Your child’s list includes mainly impossible items, like ‘a room of my own’ or ‘a baby brother’, or highly expensive items that are way out of reach. Another problem: your child immediately seals the letter in an envelope without you having a chance to read it, and refuses to give you pointers, saying only smugly, ‘Santa will know’. So you veer blindly towards Christmas, feeling clueless about what to buy.


The present list

Dream: You have been stocking up on the perfect little gifts for the big day all year long and have been on top of the present list since October. By November, you’re finished and can relax and enjoy the run-up to Christmas.

Reality: Christmas seems to creep up on you every year. In October, you might buy a couple of bits and bobs. But then work deadlines and family troubles get in the way and boom, suddenly it’s December and you’re stumbling blindly into the first circle of present-list hell, with the ticking of that horrible Christmas countdown in your head.

The great family day out to the outdoor ice rink

Dream: What larks and laughs you have as you help your wobbly children find their feet on the ice. You all have so much fun, and it’s the perfect bonding experience. You finish by warming up over a lovely hot chocolate in the cosy café.

Reality: The man in front of you in the queue hires the last ‘penguin’ – the penguin-shaped balancing aid for kids aged up to eight who are learning to skate. This means that you have to go ‘old school’, holding up your precarious five-year-old by the armpits, leaving your seven-year-old at the mercy of the hordes of other skaters. Laughs? Only briefly. You’re too busy focusing on keeping everyone’s fingers intact. And in the café afterwards, over-tired children make for a less cosy experience.

Decorating the Christmas tree

The ideal:  Festive tunes are playing as you and the kids decorate the tree. Happy laughter rings out. And the end result is a tree so beautiful it’s worthy of its own page in Livingetc.

Reality: The festive tunes may be playing, but no one notices the music above the squabbling about who’s going to put up those sparkly decorations. As the minutes pass, you grow increasingly alarmed at how the decorations are clumping together. Your vision of the perfect tree is fast vanishing. You have three choices: leave the tree as the children decorated it; decide to ‘correct’ the tree once the kids have gone to bed, with tales of the fussypants Christmas tree fairy the next morning; or risk upsetting them by tinkering around with it now. Either way, your perfect festive moment just isn’t happening.

Christmas morning

The ideal: The kids sleep in, giving you a well-earned lie-in. They are then in wonderful moods all morning and couldn’t be more thrilled with their stockings.

Reality: An incredibly early start means you are a bit bleary-eyed as you stumble over to watch the kids opening their stockings. They are so thrilled, it’s a pleasure to watch (indeed this could be the one perfect Christmas moment). But this blissful moment may be short-lived as the over-tiredness and excitement catches up and turns into disappointment, jealousy and whining.

The Christmas car journey

The ideal: The car is packed full of presents and suitcases, the kids are humming Christmas carols and there’s a happy chatter as you draw near to the grandparents’ house.

Reality: The car is ready, but only just – you and your partner have been rowing about how many things you need to pack for just one night away. So you’re not on speaking terms for the first 30 minutes, and the kids are complaining of boredom before you even hit the motorway.


If any of these sound familiar, think about letting go of recreating the perfect Christmas season with the perfectly well-behaved, rosy-cheeked children doing perfectly adorable things.

After all, sometimes this time of year is fun. Quite often, it’s irritating and stressful. It’s almost never perfect.

But I think if you lower your expectations, keep on top of the organisational side and maintain an open mind about what the season will bring, you could reduce your stress levels and have yourselves a far merrier little Christmas. Now where was I with that present list?

christmas stress boy crying in box




hope it’s less stressful for you, I sometimes feel the same way but I need to remember to relax and forget about ‘perfect’ xx

Oh the trip to the ice-rink! Never again!
That said, I’ve learned to be philosophical about it all, and accept that perfection isn’t possible, just to focus on what is magical and forget all the rest :)

healthiermummy says:

Really good tip – I like the sound of focusing on the magical.

kara says:

hee hee – so true and i am that smug mum that got the last penguin!!!

healthiermummy says:

Lucky you! Much easier with a penguin, eh?

Mum of One says:

Awesome post, and so true! Made me giggle a bit this morning :)

healthiermummy says:

Brill, so glad you liked it.

Globalmouse says:

We went ice skating recently and absolutely loved it! But I understand it doesn’t always go to plan. I think the key is to not expect too much from any one thing – not build up too many expectations and just let everything fall into its own place :)

healthiermummy says:

Absolutely right. Somehow never quite happens for me though

anna says:

what you described about the ice skating is why i have not braved taking mine yet!!

We bought a tree last weekend but I still haven’t managed to finish decorating it! More important things to do than worry about fairy lights!!

healthiermummy says:

I’m sure it will be well worth the wait!

Jenni says:

I had to laugh at the idea of writing a secret christmas list and refusing to show you. I think I have all this to look forward to!

We’ve crafted a custom-fit Christmas that’s made for our family. Not only does it mean we have unique and lasting memories, but we don’t sacrifice our joy trying (and ultimately failing) to recreate someone else’s Hollywood-ized, unattainable caricature.
Try not to compare, do what YOU want to do and remember to be glad for this time together – I hope this doesn’t sound too saccharine, but just having the people who matter most to me under one roof is the best thing about the whole season.

healthiermummy says:

Sounds like you’ve got it sorted. I need to get some tips from you!

Nooo, it doesn’t have to be that way! Everybody just relax and it will all be fine!

healthiermummy says:

That’s a very good idea! You’re quite right (takes lots of deep breaths).

Ruth Alexander-Smith says:

Classic! Its as if you have been observing my family for the last few years. However this year we really are chilling and staying put and hopefully relaxed, well that’s the plan.

healthiermummy says:

Hope it’s much less stressful for you this year then. Have a good one.