By Alice Dent
There’s no denying it, The Most Wonderful Time of The Year is finally upon us. The trees are up, the mince pies are 2 for £2 in Co-op, and the JLS vine is doing the rounds on social media to wish us all a Merry Christmas.
However, singing loud for all to hear may not always result in ample amounts of Christmas cheer. It may come as a shock to Slade, to realise that not Everybody’s Having Fun. But why is that? The truth is that, for many, Christmas can be a sad, lonely and difficult season. Financial pressures mount, deadlines appear on the horizon and it can be a chore for many to even build up the courage to paint on a smile and embrace the festivities.
The most common worry in the run-up to Christmas is money, or more specifically, what to do when you lack it. However much you may claim to reject the commercialisation of the holiday season, it can take a huge amount of self-control to refrain from ludicrously overspending on your loved ones. The reality is that many of the items that you purchase will be half the price come January, however, year on year we are increasingly spending and borrowing to achieve optimum levels of happiness. This week, a YouGov poll found that 37% of people are putting Christmas costs on credit cards. But how can you combat the collective pressure to spend, spend spend? Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, recommends substituting expensive gifts with quality family time if you’re strapped for cash, “have fun, see family, watch the telly, but try not to spend money. Christmas is just one day. Far more important is a happy, financially stress-free New Year.”
In my experience, Christmas has never been a frivolous season. Growing up, my Mum always set moderate budgets for myself and my siblings and ensured that we were never disillusioned into believing that Christmas existed for our indulgence alone. It was a time spent together, dedicated to playing games and watching (awful) seasonal television. The gifts I received were usually great, except for Christmas 2010 where I got a Grow Your Own Boyfriend and stormed out of the living room in floods of tears. Sorry Mum!
Setting and agreeing on a monetary limit for every person you must buy for is such a beneficial way to curb your spending habits. Every year, my sisters and I do a Secret Santa with a set budget of £15. Although it means receiving less gifts, it can also mean you can put more thought into buying for one specific person. I know someone who has chosen not to suggest this idea to their family, for fear of embarrassment at the admission that they are short of money. However, this is a time to strip back your pride and be honest with your loved ones. Trust me, they would prefer to see you financially stable than extend your overdraft for a Lynx boxset.
It’s also important to consider those with less-than-conventional family setups. Whether it’s your flatmate who stays in halls over the Christmas break or the lady who lives alone next door, making sure you keep an eye on those who may be feeling isolated should be your Christmas duty. It may seem cliché, but this is the perfect time of year to make a charitable donation, or get involved with local events aiming to help those less fortunate than yourselves. Llamau and The Wallich are doing great things to help the homeless population in Wales, and there will undoubtedly be local charities doing similar things in your area, too.
Despite the collective excitement in the months of December, Christmas largely means one thing: deadlines are near. January is a miserable month filled with assessment, dark evenings and even more rain than usual. It takes all my willpower to remove thoughts of the oncoming dreaded J word when I start hanging my Christmas decorations up. In fact, it has been suggested that January 24th is the most depressing day of the year (which also happens to be my birthday). A small way to help combat the pressure that January may bring is to prepare yourself as much as you can before the festivities. However tempting it may be to hang up your hat, kick back and relax in the final week of university, making contact with your personal tutors, planning your essays and getting yourself organised will make life easier come January. The last thing you want to be doing is cramming revision in whilst still resurfacing from your month-long food coma, even if you do have a Terry’s Chocolate Orange to get you through. Utilise this final week; your future self will thank you!
If the thought of socialising at family events makes you want to curl into a ball and hide, Christmas can come with its own personal problems. For many, anxiety can come to a head during this time, which can be difficult to avoid – especially if you are moving back to your family home for the winter break. If this sounds like you, try and communicate your worries to someone you can trust. Alternatively, offer support to those that you think may need it. For some, admitting that they are not okay during Christmas can be a scary prospect, so make sure you check in with your family and friends often and let them know you are thinking of them. It can be tempting to bound straight into the holiday season with the expectation that everyone is enjoying it as much as you are, but be aware of those who may be suffering in silence.
Whatever your circumstances or worries this Christmas, know that there are people available to support you if things don’t go to plan. However difficult it may be, try to communicate with people you can trust if you are anxious about upcoming deadlines, or nervous about the expectations that December can bring.