On why the travails of Christmas never fail to outweigh the annual joy.
My life: Jane Goodhue
So, it's that time of year again, when somehow fairy dust is scattered and I am transformed into 10 extra people, including a rather less-than-jolly Father Christmas. It's the time when there are big family gatherings, whichever festival is being celebrated and the expectations for fun, frivolity and feasting are extremely high.
It is a magical time in the calendar, a time that people look forward to for an entire year. So why does my heart sink as it approaches?
Somehow, the excitement factor for me doesn't outweigh the impending exhaustion as it used to do. Does it mean that my energy supply is waning? Is it the fact that every spare second in my waking day needs to be stretched to beyond possible capacity to achieve all the tasks on my never-ending lists, and that this scenario has lost any appeal it might have had in the past?
It's holiday time. This implies relaxation, but somehow the festive atmosphere has to be created, the gifts bought and wrapped, the food planned and baked, the house decorated, and I know that my time sitting on the sofa, chatting merrily to the gathered guests will be minimal. I will be constantly aware of the next meal and how much preparation is necessary, the varied needs of the different age groups present and managing all the debris that ensues after each event.
But I am a free woman. I can dictate my own destiny. So why am I putting myself through it all over again? Maybe we should just take off to a remote resort and find that elusive relaxation. This is indeed an option that many take when faced with an extended period of holiday time and I am in part envious of those who just pack up and set off away from all the stresses of the home gathering. It has certainly been a discussion in our household in the past as I begin the early starts to the day to achieve all the preparations. "Let's just go away this year," I am tempted to say, but never do.
Because I am only partly jealous of the travellers. The fact is that I have a masochistic enjoyment of the mayhem in my household at this time of year, and to be denied it would be to cut out a major episode in the family calendar. My family is no longer as young and as demanding of my time as in the past. They are scattered and independent so to have them all back in the fold is a joy that outweighs all the hard work. They will return weary from their hectic lives and anticipate the shared merriment of family meals.
Recreating some of the traditions that are woven into our particular interpretation of the festival is a way of tapping into the memories of childhood. The memory of my upbringing and my own recollections of going home is now interlaced with all those years in my own home and the comfort of knowing that the pattern of events will be repeated and hopefully taken on into the homes of the children. As we have travelled around the world, the same traditions have travelled with us so that in whichever culture we find ourselves we can still recreate the atmosphere of those special times.
Inevitably, all of our lives move on, and as I anticipate with a sigh all the work, it will be different this year from last. Maybe I can cut back on the workload? I think I should definitely programme in a little more time on that sofa. In fact, maybe I should go and practise now and think ahead to the laughter and fun of the house full of family and friends and the rewards that will be reaped from the celebrations. After all, the washing up gets done and is soon forgotten, but the memories last forever.
Jane Goodhue is the wife of an expatriate businessman in Abu Dhabi