The Tale of the Christmas Martyr

When growing up, my mother held a New Year’s Eve Party every year for all her friends. This resulted in an intensely stressful day of preparation when she would scream and yell at everyone, pop a Valium about 3, calm down for a while and then eventually, everything would be ready. My sarky teenage self once said to her that as far as I knew the Vatican didn’t issue sainthoods for annual party planning. This was pre-Valium, so I then legged it upstairs before she caught me.

As a mother myself, I understand some of her stress. In my head, Christmas will be an idyll of communal cooking in a miraculously clean kitchen to the sound of Michael Buble. I am probably wearing a Cath Kidston apron. The reality is somewhat different. I plan it obsessively and end up where I am the only one who knows what needs doing. For reasons unknown to me, Christmas doesn’t start until the house is hoovered, fresh towels and Lush Snowcake soap is in the soap dish. Despite Christmas being essentially a roast dinner, I stock up the fridge with huge quantities of food and bake mince pies. I even make cakes my ex-husband will like – he turns up for Christmas every year, is fed a feast, along with expensive wine, to which he makes no contribution, and I make sure he has an alternative to mince pies. I think about the table setting and wonder if I should starch napkins to make them feel nice. What on earth am I thinking? Even the food that I cook is more labour intensive than the food cooked by my mother. Custard is eggs and cream, not Birds Powder. Cranberry sauce is made from fresh, as is the stock for gravy, and for some reason I buy goose fat for roast potatoes.

Is it me or has some perverse trick been played on women today? Despite having a senior role in my workplace, having been my partner’s boss and having grown up during a period when more equality legislation has been passed, I still feel the need to produce perfect meals alone and unaided. While C is actually a brilliant sous-chef, doing the chopping, peeling, wiping, clearing, bin emptying, dishwasher loading role, he still asks questions that make me seethe. “What are we putting in the stuffing?” he asks. “We?”, I say, tartly, “I don’t know, what are WE putting in it?”. But I can’t blame him, because I do this to myself. Whether it’s guilt from working full-time, the seduction of the perfect NigellaWorld or even my obsessive compulsive tendencies, I am actively oppressing myself.

Luckily some will escape. K comes downstairs this morning. I have been up since 6, due to insomnia. I have made two types of soup, cranberry sauce and am starting on trifle. K looks at me suspiciously. I know this look. She wonders why on earth I am doing this. I show her the fresh tomato soup I have made just for her. She smiles and hugs me, but I know she is thinking that she actually prefers the tinned Heinz variety, but judges it probably best to say nothing. She states that when she is grown up she will order pizza on Christmas Day. Good for her.

But I make an effort. C has just gone for a shower and I tell him to clean the bathroom afterwards, put out fresh towels and make sure the Snowcake soap is in the dish. I tell K to put away her glass after her orange juice. She is still in her pyjamas. I think she is the wiser one of the two of us.

UPDATE – Just writing this helped. I got C to clean the kitchen, top to bottom. Am now on sofa watching Nativity with a gin and tonic, Pringles and cheese cubes. Merry Christmas!

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