Yes, that's me. No, I didn't make it over that pole.
I love Christmas. For me, it's a wonderful, heartwarming time of year, to be spent with family and friends. I love the guilt-free pigging out that we all do. I love the fact that it's socially acceptable to be tipsy on Bucks Fizz at ten thirty in the morning. I love the evenings spent gathered around the telly, watching the soaps, whilst we attempt to digest the year's biggest roast dinner (and still we open a tube of Pringles, because "IT'S CHRISTMAS!").
What I'm much less keen on is the cost. Because for me, being in a fairly low-paid job, getting into a financial knot over the festive period has become almost as inevitable as crying over the seasonal John Lewis advert.
He was a penguin who found LOVE. Of COURSE I wept.
So, this year, I've become one of those people. You know, the really irritating ones who post on Facebook "well, that's all my Christmas shopping done!" at some point in September. The ones so smug, you sort of want to dollop brandy butter on their heads (but you wouldn't, because damnit, what a waste of brandy butter that would be... Mmmm, brandy butter).
It's not quite mid October and I have not finished my Christmas shopping. So, you can put away your festive condiments; my smugness has not yet reached hair-smothering levels. That said, out of my four closest friends, two are completely bought for. I've also made lists for my parents (and crossed two big items for my dad off already) and for my sister and her partner. I've split said lists into things to be ordered sooner and items that can wait until closer to the big day. Put simply: I'm spreading the cost of Christmas to make it a damn sight easier on me than it has been in previous years.
Yes, yes, I know it's not about the money you spend. Of course it isn't. One of the gifts I'm going to be buying for my best friend costs under a tenner and I'm certain she'll be thrilled with it. And that's another part of my grand plan this year - shopping around and buying things when they're on offer, or hunting for a last-minute bargain are great ways to make my wallet a little happier as we approach the festive season.
I almost wish I hadn't mentioned this, because now it's all I can think of...
Essentially, Christmas - in my eyes at least - is a time to be spent with the people you care most for, eating, drinking and generally being merry. I am an annoyingly sentimental and enthusiastic lover of all things festive and knowing that I'm actually managing to spread the cost of presents and therefore reducing the level of "oh my GOD, how will I pay my bills in January?!" is only going to make me even happier, as December inches ever closer.
And I'm not writing this to be smug. Seriously, I have a lot still to buy and I'll be doing that little last-minute dance in and out of shops on Christmas Eve, because frankly, I enjoy that. I love the cold chill on my cheeks and the sense of expectation in the air as I stroll the streets, looking for one or two final gifts to fill my stockings with. Not my stockings, but... Oh, there's a mental image you'll never get out of your head. Sorry about that.
Basically, I'm writing this for two reasons. Firstly, because if there's anyone else out there who's on a strict budget and panicking a little about how they'll afford Christmas, I want them to know that the thought really does count more than the financial worth of anything you give. Just being with people is one of the most valuable gifts of all and memories last a lot longer than most presents do. And if you do want or need to buy gifts for people, there are definitely ways to make the festive season less of a financial strain. Spread your gift list into three sections marked "October," "November" and "December" and work out a budget for each of those months - then you can spread the cost of buying Christmas presents over the course of several weeks, rather than racking up big bills over a shorter period of time (those people who've finished their Christmas shopping already really might be on to someting...). Spend only what you can afford and shop around for bargains! But please, please don't ever think that expensive presents are what Christmas is really all about and don't get yourself into trouble, trying to buy things you can't afford. I've had Januarys where I've struggled to pay for anything, because I've overspent at Christmas and it really isn't worth it. Much like young kids often play more with the boxes than the toys, my family always treasure the "together-time" we have over the festive period more than anything I've ever bought them. That's the thing to remember, when money is running low and you can't get that extra gift for someone.
Which brings me onto the second reason I wanted to write this little blog. I had a shock earlier this week, when someone I knew passed away very suddenly. He was only middle-aged and had a young family. When I last saw him, he seemed a little under the weather, but his death came as a total shock. Even though he wasn't a close family friend or anything like that, I was still stunned and deeply moved by the news. One of the thoughts I kept having, over and over again, was "he won't be there with his family at Christmas."
We're here. We're here right now. And at the risk of being over-sentimental, that means more than anything else. You can't wrap love up in shiny paper, or stick a bow on the top of it, and it doesn't come with a gift receipt. But it's something we can give - at any time of year - and it means more than anything you can purchase in a shop.
I'm doing well with my Christmas shopping, this year. I've got a budget, I'm sticking to it and I've pretty much got my list of things to buy sorted, for the coming weeks. But more importantly, I've got people to buy things for. My family will be with me on Christmas morning and my friends and I will have our annual pre-Christmas get-together. Regardless of how much or how little I've got to spend this year, I've got Christmas all wrapped up. And I know how bloody lucky that makes me.