Stress less at Christmas

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell

By Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell

Christmas can be the best of times and the worst of times.

Sometimes family is around us, we have time to take stock after a busy year, the sun is shining, and the food is great.

But it can also be bittersweet, with family overseas, or missing loved ones we have lost.

Whatever Christmas has in store for you, be assured that lots of people will be waking up to a host of different situations; alone, together, healthy or with uncertainty.

For some it can be a time of financial pressure as we shop frantically to buy presents for children, grandchildren and the other people in our lives.

I find the worst present purchases are made just days out from Christmas when shopping fever has set in and our rational brain has left us.

Grandchildren can be a tough crowd when it comes to presents and the prospect of disappointed faces on Christmas morning can be enough to make us throw caution to the wind and spend much more than we intended. 

And I’m sure expectations have got higher.

Taking the pressure off

When I turned four my birthday present was a doll with her own little pram (now my children play with the doll 44 years later), and at the time I remember it was such a big thing.

Now children seem to tear through a stack of presents at speed, opening one and moving swiftly onto the next one!

Many families have their own traditions that help take the pressure off.

Baby eats xmas paper

If you don’t, and you’re just starting out with grandchildren, it might be worth introducing traditions early to set the pace.

Maybe a dollar limit on presents?

Then the fun is more about finding an interesting or funny gift than an expensive one.

And there is not always a correlation between spend and excitement.

My mum bought our son a cutlery set when he was two which was not only his favourite present of all time, but also the cheapest.

He also spent a week climbing in and out of two cardboard boxes that the grocery shopping came in.

They were a house, then a car, then a boat – crocodiles swam past, there were pirate ships on the horizon – until it became a train and then the whole family had to sit on the floor in a line and show their tickets before the driver set off for distant lands.

We put our phones and iPads away, and laughed and played.

So at the end of it all, if you have family or friends around the Christmas table, and can share a meal and hear each other’s stories, then your presence is the most important thing.

As we seem to get busier and busier family time is something very special and you can point out that the presents are secondary.

Editor's note: Views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the Office for Seniors

Some Christmas money-saving ideas:
  • Introduce Secret Santa for the adults and allocate a maximum amount to be spent. Draw out names so you know who you are buying for and every adult gives and receives one present.
  • Keep an eye on supermarket specials and stock up before Christmas.
  • Get the grandchildren to make tree decorations, crepe paper chains and Christmas cards.
  • Have a go at hand-made gifts: christmas cookies, truffles, jams, a painting or a calendar featuring family photos.
  • Make a recipe book featuring the tried and tested favourites you’re willing to share.
  • Layer a glass jar with all the ingredients to make a batch of gingerbread. Tie the recipe around the lid with a festive ribbon.
  • Give vouchers for babysitting or gardening.
  • Redeem points on your reward cards for vouchers or gifts.
  • Take the grandchildren for a picnic at the beach or the park.
  • Go on nature walks and give the children a list of items to collect, then help them set up a nature table when you get home.
  • Encourage them to build an obstacle course in the backyard or set up the sprinkler and see how much fun they have cooling off in the water.
  • Head for the library and stock up on Christmas books to keep the grandchildren quiet if the weather turns wet.
  • Bring out the playing cards and teach everyone your favourite games: Rummy; 500; Spoons; Go Fish

Remember loved ones will appreciate a gift you have put thought into, rather than spent a lot on.