Festive feels?

How are you feeling in the lead-up to Christmas?

When I consider some of the more disastrous Christmases from the last few years — broken hearts, post-PhD slump, vicious fights in the car, unexpected family tensions — I can't help but feel a little apprehensive about the days ahead.

And I know I'm not alone.

If you come from a complex family, if you struggle with disordered eating, if you're prone to sharp pangs of loneliness and anxiety or the thick, oozing gloom of depression, all of the obligatory thinking, planning, socialising, spending, and eating associated with the 'festive' season can wind up being more demoralising than delightful.

This year, I'm feeling uneasy about a long drive (fretting about the possibility of a car accident is my superpower), melancholy about some sad family news, and uncomfortable in my COVID-year body. There are some recurring sources of angst. Wrapping all of the gifts I've bought and thinking: 'Is that all?' Worrying about my dad, who tends to miss out on things since my parents separated years ago. Looking back on the 12 intervening months between this Christmas and last, wondering why my New Year's resolution self hasn't magically materialised by now and feeling confused about where all the time went (less mystery this year, though: INTO THE VIRAL VORTEX).

But I'm also feeling incredibly grateful for the opportunity to travel to see family, relieved to be on holiday after a long year in which I banked my leave not knowing whether I'd have a job beyond December, excited to spend time snoozing and writing and seeing a handful of my favourite people ever, and thankful for all the other surprising highs and gifts that 2020 has sent my way. I've promised my youngest nephew waffles for our sort-of-Christmas brunch at the end of the month, and I'm looking forward to finishing off a personal essay I've been drafting for so long I can't even remember when or why I thought it would be a good idea. (I'll be taking myself offline for a bit to get it done.)

Having been so sheltered from the worst of COVID-related fallout is a privilege I don't take lightly, so I wanted to send a hug through the ether to anyone feeling weary and isolated as they weather the umpteenth wave of this particular shitstorm.

Do you have some strategies in place to help you navigate the Silly Season?

I've just been watching a Nigella Christmas special (one of my own survival strategies), and she referred to her 'festive filing cabinet'.

So, here are a handful of things tucked away in my mine:

Donna Hay's chocolate candy cane cookies are a Christmas holiday favourite — crispy around the edges and molten in the middle. (I also made some of these mini bundts for my workmates this year, which were delicious but a real trial to get out of the pans. Ganache hides a multitude of sins.)

In addition to jars of lemon butter, I make this fruitcake in small tins to give away as gifts, but I don't mind a tiny slice myself — and I typically hate fruitcake. As the author comments, her recipe goes easy on the mixed peel, which is probably the bit I don't like in store-bought cakes. (Side note: what is it about glacé cherries, which honestly taste like NOTHING, that's so irresistible?! I can't help but sneak a handful as I bake.)

My go-to Christmas album is Sufjan Stevens's Songs for Christmas. One of my cousins recently told me she loves listening to 'O Magnum Mysterium' in December. It makes her cry. I must have sampled every choir recording on YouTube that exists, and it's just so beautiful.