Monday, November 24, 2008

It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Wonderful

Why is it that the closer we get to the end of the year, the faster the days seem to fly by? Is it some sort of weird metaphysical glitch or is it just the fact that everyone seems to be rushing around like someone pushed the “fast forward” button? There is nothing like the last few weeks of the year to suddenly make you feel like you really need to fit in more things, see more folks, do more stuff, and most importantly, get ready for the holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and many other celebrations all demand our attention and preparation at a time when, in many parts of the world, our bodies are naturally slowing down along with the seasons and the fact that the sun goes down way earlier in the day than it does for most of the rest of the year.

So there you are, with a million and one things to do, feeling like really all you want to do is cuddle up under the duvet, eat some soup and watch something undemanding on television. The time of the year when housewives are expected to be glamorous domestic goddesses is the time of year when most of us are totally exhausted. We need the season of light as much as anyone else does and we want to enjoy it, but sometimes it sure can be a challenge. We end up wishing there were a few extra hours in the day – or even a few extra days in the year. And we are so busy doing that we often miss a lot of the fun.

Ironically, it is in the middle of all this chaos that we need more than anything to just stop, be still and get some perspective. As housewives, we set some very unrealistic goals and put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to attain a completely unattainable perfection – a perfection that simply does not exist. And why does it need to be perfect? Because we are assailed at every turn with movies, advertisements, magazines, catalogues and articles depicting a perfect holiday celebration – one with chestnuts roasting over the open fire, perfectly decorated houses, everyone smiling and laughing and nothing whatsoever going wrong. But this is just as unrealistic as the airbrushed models on the covers of glossy magazines.

We had friends visiting us this weekend and I worked myself into a frazzle because I could not manage to get the house absolutely perfect. I worried that the food would not turn out as I wanted it to, and I stressed myself silly. It wasn’t until Saturday evening I realised that the fact everything wasn’t perfect simply did not matter. We were having a wonderful time visiting with our friends, everyone was full of delicious food and wine, the conversation was flowing and laughter could be heard all round the table. No one was worried that I had not yet managed to do a proper spring clean in our “new” house (the one we’ve lived in for nearly a year now!). And suddenly I wasn’t either. Far better to have wonderful, relaxed times with people I love than worry about whether anyone can see the odd spec of dust.

It got me to thinking about how much I’d like to spend just one more Christmas with so many people who are no longer with us. I wouldn’t be worried about what we ate, or what the house looked like, I’d just be so damn grateful to see them that it wouldn’t matter. And that is how we should be with people when they actually are still with us.

So, press the “pause” button, cut yourself some slack, make some soup and curl up with your family to watch a movie. This is the real thing, not a dress rehearsal, and we need to enjoy every day. It doesn’t matter if your decorations are more slap-dash than designer, cosy is always more comfortable than couture. Make Nigella Christmas your cookbook of choice for the holidays – it is very practical, comforting and gloriously anti-perfection – with the very strong message that food made with love almost always tastes good. Surround yourself with positive, uplifting messages of holiday cheer, not unrealistic airbrushed versions. And above all, have some fun. This time of year is for everyone to enjoy – and everyone means you too!

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