Parenting Talking Point

Happy Imperfect Christmas…

Christmas by the fireside
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Happy Imperfect Christmas…

There is no perfect Christmas. There I said it. After years of trying I have decided to give up on Christmas. Well, to give up on trying to make it perfect. For life isn’t like that. Call me a cynic, but this year I’m calling it fake news, discounting the glamour glow in my social media feeds and focusing on enjoying what I have got instead of chasing an illusion. But I’m not giving up on baubles…

Christmas Lights in Holme Cumbria

Do Christmas lights make Christmas perfect?

My perfect Christmas past

I come from a family where Christmas was sacrosanct. The Radio Times Christmas Special was bought and placed with reverence on the coffee table where every programme was ringed in black pen. On Christmas Eve toys were lovingly put together till 4am by my Dad who was then woken at 5am by kids dismantling them.

The soup was made days in advance and all the veggies peeled and soaked the night before. The ‘bar’ officially opened at 11am and an exotic shandy or two was produced for us kids with a flourish of fruit and glace cherries on cocktail sticks. An enormous Christmas dinner was followed a few hours later by a buffet of egg sandwiches and vol-au-vents served from a silver hostess trolley.

I possibly looked the other way during the annual rows about the tree lights, and my dad missing the Morecambe and Wise Special to take my Gran home on Christmas Day. But the happy Christmas of my childhood was not a God-given right; a situation underlined when my father left my mother for a better Christmas (and a different Mrs Christmas) in Southport. Thankfully he didn’t ask for custody of the baubles although he did take the Trivial Pursuits.

Christmas Baubles on Christmas Tree

Wierd how my dad didn’t want to take this?

A journey to Christmas present

And then I got married. My new husband whisked me off to Chile for a nine month cycling honeymoon. Christmas was spent in a hotel room watching ‘Something about Raymond’ on HBO, wearing plastic cracker moustaches. It was simple, and nothing like my expectations of the past, but we were creating our own memories.

The biking Christmases continued back home when we cycled to the pub with toddlers in trailers and I gazed in at all the elaborate dinners we passed and all the paper hats being crammed onto overheated heads. On the way back after a few pints I gazed a little more glassily at everyone snoozing, or watching the Queen on TV. Was that it?

Christmas cycling in the deer park in Milnthorpe

Christmas cycling in the deer park in Milnthorpe

In search of the perfect Christmas present

I decided our Christmases were too quiet. So I invited my in-laws, and they came with snow on their boots, and new babies and vegetarian and vegan lunch products in their arms. The house was packed yet the turkey and I were quite lonely. We tried going abroad again; last year Christmas dinner was a raclette in a ski chalet. It was perfectly lovely but still…

Family Christmas Meal

Family Christmas Meal

Giving up on perfection

While I am grateful for the warmth and cheer my children and family bring, I have now downgraded my search for Christmas perfection. Even my youngest is aware it is a figment of John Lewis’ imagination. Christmas is fun and fine and full of fancy food. It isn’t, and will never be perfect. Not in our house anyway.

In this video poem, filmed when my daughter was younger, I reflect on the effortless perfection of a bauble and how something so simple can take you back to happy times.

Looking for the perfect Christmas…in a bauble

It’s not easy to give up on the perfect Christmas. The illusion is everywhere, especially on social media. But other people’s delusions do not need to drive mine. It’s not that I’m giving up on Christmas, but just the pointless pursuit of perfection. But while Christmas may not be perfect, that doesn’t mean my baubles can’t be.

I can’t remember when my bauble obsession began, but my youngest is now twelve and my eldest seventeen and they tell me I’ve done it all their lives. While other families spend holiday time searching bazaars and tat shops for travel souvenirs, I take them shopping for a souvenir we can hang on the Christmas tree at the end of the year.

In last year’s quest for Christmas perfection we went interrailing to Berlin, Munich, Salzburg and Leipzig, visiting Christmas markets in search of the perfect Christmas bauble. It was a fun filled, family trip and one we can look back upon as we hang the baubles on the tree this year.

Memories of travels past

Our tree is laden with memories of travels past: the velvet crown from Estonia, the little cabin from a forgotten town on the US coast. And while they start their lives shiny and perfect, the passing of time takes its toll. Like the furry French fairy whose head was chopped off before we even got her home. And the Berlin Bear who looks a bit topless too. I’m sure we found and lost a camel in the Dubai souk. And the Salzburg egg with Julie Andrews painted on it is the bane of my life. How do you keep a hollowed out egg bauble safe in the attic for a whole year?

Julie Andrews Christmas Egg from Salzburg

My delicate Julie Andrews Christmas Egg from Salzburg

Christmas past in Christmas present

A therapist would probably tell me that giving up on a perfect Christmas means giving up searching for baubles too, that when I shop for baubles on holiday I extend a quest for seasonal perfection into a year round obsession. But I’m not buying perfection, I’m buying memories.

Bauble in the Munich Christmas Market

Do you remember Munich?

Giving up my baubles

Each year as we hang them on the tree they remind me of happy holidays, of hours spent in endless summertime wondering which fragile glass globe sums up London, Paris or Iceland best. We remember the German city that pretzel came from and where we were when we bought the headless angel. Our baubles hang proud and sparkling on the tree, reflecting the light, peace, true spirit and imperfections of the season. They are a bond between us that will last beyond the children leaving and will always remind me of the kids at the age they were when we bought them. And while I am hugely attached to my gaudy souvenirs, therapists among you will be proud to know that I am preparing to give them up. One day soon. When the children head off to start their own Christmas traditions. Then they’ll be packaged up, shared out and passed on. Except for Julie Andrews. I’d be surprised if she hasn’t cracked up by Christmas Day.

Christmas Baubles on Christmas Tree

Christmas Baubles on Christmas Tree

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

1 Comment

  • Oh Kirstie, the thought of you packing up your baubles and handing them on when the kids leave home made me irrationally sad. We collect baubles every year, too. I realised this year that we’ve lost one, and it’s bothering me a little too much….

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