It's happening. Christmas is coming. The shops are full of mince pies, panettone are piled high and crisps now taste like pigs in blankets. Is it too early? Maybe. Have I already eaten a good few mince pies - also maybe...
Try as I might, I can't help it. Christmas is great. And becoming more magical as my little boy grows up. What's not to love? The build-up, the excitement, the anticipation, the family, the food, and the gifts.
But there is one thing that I don't like about Christmas, and that's the excess. Or more so, the social pressure for excess. Before you know it, you've spent too much money and eaten too much food. And if you have a little one, you've got a house full of more toys than either you or they know what to do with.
I've felt this for a while about the festive season. And so, I've been steadily, each year, intentionally doing less, but doing it better.
'Less, but better' is a phrase I use a lot. Focussing on quality over quantity. Less stuff, but better stuff. More meaningful experiences and time spent with family and friends. That's what Christmas should be about after all.
With this in mind the first thing I do each year is to sit down with my family and talk about what we want to do for Christmas. What traditions do we want to keep (or stop) and what new ones do we want to start. It's an ever-changing process, altering as we grow and as we refine different aspects each year. As it stands, here's a handful of things that we do to embody the 'less but better' principle at Christmas.
La Grande Fromage (or the cheese board)
Nothing says Christmas more than a cheese board in my house. It's been that way as far back as I can remember. And over the years it's grown and grown to a point where there was once more cheese than crackers. A year I remember well as I had a cheese board 5 meals in a row. Don't judge.
Now though, we've reset. Whilst we still make a big deal out of it, we do so in a different way. Instead, we buy a selection of cheeses from a local farm shop, spending more on quality than on quantity. The cheesy embodiment of the less but better principle.
And a bonus side effect - going to buy the cheese has become an enjoyable tradition that's a million miles from the festive supermarket hell.
A visit to the big man
Now that we have a little boy there is a bunch of new things we do such as visiting Santa. When we first started to look at going, I was shocked by the cost. Everywhere we looked wanted £20 plus, just for the pleasure of queuing for ages and then to get a few minutes with the man himself. Crazy right?
Instead, we were lucky to find something much more 'us'. An event titled 'Brunch with Santa'. It's no more complicated than it sounds either. Hosted at a really good, modern British pub, my little family all go for a warming breakfast whilst spending some quality time together beside their roaring fire. And then, once the sausages are eaten and the beans are mopped, we head to see the big man himself.
No queues. No obscene ticket price. Just quality food from a local pub and a positive experience for us all. And yes, it is as good as it sounds.
Eating dumplings on Christmas Eve
Ok, this is a weird one but stick with me. And look, I know there is a theme forming here as this is yet another food related one.
We have a tradition of eating Chinese dumplings on Christmas Eve. It started after we bought a selection of them from a local street food stall a year or two back and has now continued with my wife and I making them by hand each year.
I won't go over the recipe, or how we do it. What I will say is that it's our time to spend together amongst a week of family visits and hosting. We love it - and it's a tradition I think will go on for many years.
Getting gifting right
The last thing we do to be more mindful is how we do gifting. A disclaimer before I start this bit - grandparents buy our little boy loads of stuff. We just accept this because you can't win them all.
The first thing we do for ourselves is use Things To Get Me. And most family members stick religiously to it. Which means, we get those things we want or need, our family spend their hard-earned money wisely and there is no wasted 'stocking filler' gifts.
And the second thing we do is build hampers for our family. We do this because, let's be honest, people are difficult to buy for. So, we decided a while ago that a gift full of tasty treats and drinks means that there's loads of enjoyment to be had from it. And, there is no 'gift they didn't want' cluttering up their house either.
It's not perfect. We'll keep working on it. But, for now these are our ingredients for a more mindful Christmas. Where we're more present, in the moment and grateful for what we have.