Contrary to popular belief, Christmas isn’t an event lasting one day on the 25th of December (or the 24th, if you’re Scandi). Christmas is, in fact, a month-long celebration, which starts on the 1st of December (or 4 Sundays before Christmas, whichever is earliest), and ends on the 31st.
(I should make it clear, when I state this, I am entirely talking about what Christmas is *in my mind* – you are welcome to disagree with me, although I must warn you that you would be wrong to do so.)
What is Christmas?
This begs the question: what is Christmas? If Christmas isn’t just a day, but is in fact an entire month-long festival, what even is it?
Well, to answer that, let me ask you this: what was Christmas to you when you erroneously thought it only lasted one day? A dinner? An exchange of presents?
No – Christmas is a state of mind. It’s a feeling, an aesthetic, a “mood” (to use the 2020 terminology). It’s a chance to celebrate, to spend time with loved ones, to bring the year to a close with style and comfort. And although I agree that the peak of Christmas celebrations falls on the 25th (or 24th), we should really be celebrating all the way through the month – and not feeling guilty about it.
So how should we celebrate for the other 30 days in December? Are there even enough Christmassy activities to fill the remaining 30 days? What if we’re too tired and stressed to fit any Christmassing into this time period?
I’m here to answer all these questions. I’m going to start off by splitting the set of activities into two groups: Festive Fun and General Joy. Festive Fun includes all activities traditionally associated with the holiday season; mulled wine, gingerbread, ice skating, and so on. Things we do year after year, which conjure up images from our childhood and bring back the sense of wonder and magic. General Joy activities are slightly less specific; you see, with Christmas becoming an increasingly stressful period for many, sometimes it’s important to have an excuse to give ourselves a break. Christmas can be a great excuse to focus our energies inwards and spend time and/or money on any number of things which we normally wouldn’t give ourselves permission to do. Let’s explore this list of things you can return to if you’re feeling low on holiday inspiration.
- Lights, candles, action! Spruce up the house with a tree or a mini alternative, festive flowers, a wreath, and branches of pine, holly, and mistletoe.
- Create pomander balls by sticking cloves into an orange – they both look and smell incredible.
- Making your own decorations – in Denmark it’s common to make Christmas Hearts (known as “Julehjerter”) and hang them on the tree.
- Paint a wintery scene if you’re into that sort of thing, or just sketch one if that’s more up your street (art has the added benefit of being a meditative activity, helping us to live in the moment, increasing awareness, and accepting feelings and thoughts without judgement).
- Knitting, sewing, embroidery, and other similar crafts also have a very “Christmassy” feel to them – with the added benefit that they can double up as nice handmade presents!
- Gingerbread – either as a loaf, as biscuits, or as a gingerbread house if you’re feeling ambitious. I actually have to say I LOVE making gingerbread houses – it’s a process, but it’s such a fun thing to do!
- You can go more traditional with a fruit cake, mince pies, or a yule log.
- You can also go more international with an Italian Panettone, German Christstollen, or Danish Pebernødder, Brunkager, and Æbleskiver (ok, I’m biased in the Danish direction given it’s what I grew up with, sue me).
- Social activities
- See your friends over a (socially distanced) glass of port, red wine, mulled wine, or brandy.
- Attend the many Christmas parties you’ll inevitably be invited to (although maybe not this year…)
- Go see a Christmas show, concert, film or carol service – there are so many options including The Nutcracker, The Messiah, A Christmas Carol, and whatever new festive rom com has just been released that year!
- Go out to your local town or city centre and spend a day enjoying the various festive displays (or the Christmas Market if there is one).
- Cosy activities (or, as we say in Denmark, “julehygge”)
- Have a film night and rewatch your favourite festive films, or alternatively sit down and watch any classics you’ve never gotten around to seeing (I recommend the original Miracle On 34th Street, which I watched for the first time this year and LOVED).
- Put on some Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald while doing your chores (or Michael Bublé if you fancy the same vibe with a slightly more modern feel).
- Rewatch all the Christmas episodes of your favourite TV shows. Isn’t is a bit annoying when you reach a Christmas episode and it’s the middle of summer? Do you ever skip Christmas episodes because of this? Well, now’s the time to do the opposite! Here’s a little help to start you off: Friends S1e10, S2e9, S3e10, S4e10, S5e10, S6e10, S7e10, S8e9, S9e10; How I Met Your Mother S2e11, S4e11, S6e12, S7e12, S8e10,11,12; New Girl S1e9, S2e11, S4e11, S6e10 – just Google your way to these.
- Have a hot chocolate, just because (or an orange hot chocolate if you’re feeling especially festive). In fact, why not just have an actual piece of chocolate too? I’ve managed to get myself absolutely hooked on Lindt’s dark chocolate orange bar – just one or two squares in the evening, but it hits the spot.
- If you have a fireplace, now is the time to light it. I don’t care if it make the room too toasty – it’s all about the atmosphere.
- Remember to do all this wearing Christmas Jumpers and cosy winter socks!
- Spending time with loved ones
- Yes, this is kind of similar to the “social” category above – but the emphasis here is to make time to see the people that matter to you, rather than just going out and partying (which, let’s be honest, is also an important part of Christmas, albeit in a different way). The key thing here is that the people that matter to you don’t have to be the people that should matter to you. There is no such thing. If you’re not on the best terms with your family, that’s ok – nobody’s judging. It’s just a nice time to think about who really matters to you, and letting yourself spend time with those people.
- Because December is a time when everyone is out socialising and spending time with loved ones, we can also use this time to take a bit of a breather and practice a bit of self-care, guilt-free. Whether that’s signing up for an exercise class, going for a massage, or spending an evening home alone (ha) watching your favourite film (I’ve been meaning to watch Krampus for years and I think now might be the time…), it’s important to tune in with what you actually need this season, rather than simply doing what’s expected of you. Turning down an invitation or two is absolutely fine! You do you.
- Yes, Christmas can be an expensive time, and yes, we should all be careful not to overdo things. But no one’s going to blame you for overspending a little here and there. It is the holiday season after all, and if you’re too old to believe in Father Christmas, you may as well be your own Santa.
- Be a little hedonistic
- Christmas is nothing if not a time for indulgence. Instead of saving your candle for a special occasion, burn it now (I have a special blog post dedicated to this, in fact). Dress up today, not tomorrow. Winter is naturally a time to eat slightly richer foods, drink a little more, and just live a little. Again, there’s of course a line you don’t want to cross – but also, YOLO (to use the 2010 terminology).
Christmas as a Stressful Time
I touched on this earlier, but for many, Christmas is a rather stressful time of year. There’s a lot to plan, whether that’s travel, presents, or hosting an entire Christmas dinner. According to Ideal Home, the top 10 most stressful things at Christmas are:
- Not having time for yourself
- Cooking the Christmas dinner
- Wrapping weirdly shaped presents
- Putting on weight
- Spending time with the in-laws
- Pretending to like presents
- Buying presents for people you rarely see
- Decorating the house
- Untangling the Christmas lights
All of these are fully understandable. We’ve already covered 1, 2, 5, and 9 – give yourself a break if you overspend, make sure you prioritise taking time to yourself if you need it, forgive yourself for putting on a bit of holiday weight, and only decorate the house as a Festive Fun activity, not out of necessity. 3, 4, and 10 are pretty much unavoidable – although I do recommend folding your lights neatly every year to try to help Next Year You. But 6, 7, and 8 are interesting. They’re all related to essentially forcing an intimate connection when there might just not be one. This can be fixed. First of all, who you spend Christmas with is 100% up to you. It’s nice to see family sometimes, but it might not be the right choice for you at Christmas, and that’s okay. You can literally celebrate Christmas with friends, a partner, or just one or two family members if that’s what you want to do. It doesn’t need to involve buying presents upon presents either – last year my family and I decided to simply cut the presents all together, and spend whatever money we would have spent on buying a few nice things for ourselves. This is maybe a slightly extreme example, but just remember that there are no rules to Christmas – you don’t need to spend a certain amount on presents, or even buy presents at all.
After all, the tradition of gift-giving, in both Europe and the US, actually started as an exchange between the social classes, or “Christmas begging” – the poorer members of society would ask the wealthy for food and drink around the holidays, due in part to discontent during the less agriculturally bountiful season. In the early 1800s, the New York aristocracy became increasingly worried that such celebrations would become vehicles for protest in years where there were, for example, high levels of unemployment; so a group of wealthy men called the “Knickerbockers” came together and reinvented the tradition of gift-giving, moving it out of the streets and into the home. This happened to coincide with a growing middle class, and they, like the elites, were worried about the effects that consumerism mixed with and an increasing urban population would have on their children. They therefore encouraged their children to associate the joys of Christmas with the “morally and physically protective space of the home”. As consumerism continued to grow throughout the 19th century, it became increasingly difficult to keep children rooted at home without buying them shiny new toys – which the parents were happy to do, once a year, as this was a controlled environment in which they felt they could expose their children to “limited doses” of consumerism. By the 1860s, the image of Santa Claus had been explicitly painted as a warm, grandfather-like figure, and so the modern tradition of holiday gifts was born. (Give this article a read if you want a more in-depth scoop.)
Who knows – maybe in future, things might change again. With the growth of the sustainability movement in the 2020s, and a focus on buying long-lasting, quality products rather than the fast fashion and consumerism of the 20th century, perhaps we might end up abolishing the practice of Christmas presents all together. But the important thing is that you do what is right for you. If presents are giving you grief, why not ask your family if you can be excluded from the tradition this year? Spend that money on something for yourself, or save it for the new year. Yes, you won’t get to open presents when everyone else is opening theirs, but that’s a small price to pay for avoiding both point number 7 and point number 8 in the list above.
On top of that, you can’t continuously buy presents for an entire month – and given the fact that Christmas lasts for a whole month (as I have repeatedly pointed out), it’s just unsustainable to try to buy presents for everyone.
One day vs. One month
One of the biggest reasons I like to think of Christmas as a season, rather than a single day, is that putting so much pressure on one day can easily lead to disappointment. How many times have people told you about disappointing New Year’s Eve celebrations? It’s inevitable, when a day is given such high importance, that if it’s anything less than perfect it will one day fail to meet our expectations. Hence, marking the 24th and 25th as important, but not all-important days, helps to focus on the positive aspects of the holiday overall. Giving yourself an entire season in which to have both good and bad days means you’re more likely to remember the highlights, and if one of those isn’t the day itself – then so be it! If you manage to have a better celebration or better festivities on a different day, then that’s absolutely fine too.