Women are Christmas control freaks

WH SMITH and Family Circle magazine have done a Christmas survey which says that someone called "the average female" will buy all the Christmas food and drink, write and send all the cards, buy and wrap all the presents and do the washing-up. The only contribution that men are likely to make, the survey says, is ferrying around relatives and carving the turkey.

About 4 per cent of men will write cards and/or wrap presents. In addition the cost of something called the "average family Christmas" is predicted to be pounds 935, and the two celebrities most women would most like to have round for Christmas are Sir Cliff Richard and Delia Smith.

This survey is irritating for several reasons. The very idea of the "average female" is odd, the cost of almost pounds 1,000 is too high and the belief that men can only sharpen a knife and call out "Honey, I'm home" is something out of a Sixties sitcom.

Finally, can it be true that anyone would really want Delia sitting at their table, patiently explaining exactly how to go about unfolding their serviettes ("Pick it up, off the table, off the table now...")?

Actually, I take that back, because it is clear that Adrian Rogers of the Family Institute might be mad enough to want this. He loves this survey and sees it as a nature/nurture thing: "A happy woman is often a home- maker, and there is nothing more fulfilling than making Christmas for her family. Men are hunter-gatherers, slouchers, cads and drunkards. But it works." Claire Rayner says that the survey reflects an older generation but that "some older women have learned to love their chains".

This is tosh. Women may do a lot of extra work at Christmas, but they do it not out of love or because of some innate sense of home-making. They do it because they want to be in control. If you ever want to see a group of women go into anecdote overload, ask them whether they would allow their men to be completely in charge of any part of Christmas. By this I do not mean tell the men what to do and supervise them every step of the way. I mean have the men organise, prepare and complete any one task.

The main reaction to this is incredulity. Cards? "Oh my God, he'd never buy them/write the correct message/know who to send them to/find the addresses..." Tree? "Only if you want the wrong size/kind/ornaments/tinsel..." Dinner? "Well, the last time he went to the supermarket alone he came back with some After Eights and a bottle of wine. Christmas dinner is simply not a possibility..." Presents?... Eyes roll round and round. OK, then, wrap the presents? "What and have everyone get their gift in a carrier bag..."

This is why at Christmas lots of women think that the only good man is one who is carrying a list - and following it to the letter. You see these men in supermarkets, frantically looking from list to shelf just to quadruple- check that they are not making a mistake. God knows what happens to them if they come back with the wrong Christmas crackers but it's obviously pretty bad. They look terrified as they scurry from task to task. Hunter/gatherer indeed. More like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

This situation gets worse every year, because every year the myth of the perfect Christmas gets more elaborate. It used to be that we all wanted to recreate our childhood Christmas. Our blueprint was a family one. Now we take our lead from the media, which is happy to give us an ever higher mountain to climb. Open any women's magazine for proof. We need to make our own wreaths, create our own seasonal pot-pourri etc. The article in this month's Family Circle on "25 ways to survive Christmas" actually creates 25 new things to worry about. It tells us the correct way to send cards, order the turkey, prepare the tree, entertain the children, obtain the hamper, order a fog machine (yes, it's the kind of thing average families do, evidently).

Finally, there is this suggestion: "If you always forget anyway, give yourself the gift of Total Recall - a service that rings to remind you of 10 important birthdays and anniversaries a year. The de luxe version ensures that you are nagged every day leading up to the event." Just what we all want: a professional nag.

It is scary that some people might actually think this is a good idea and even a helpful one. But then most of us have bought the myth. We believe that there is a right way to celebrate Christmas and we believe that the only people capable of organising this properly are women. But it's not true. Men can do Christmas too. At least I think they can. OK, maybe they might need a few pointers. Or perhaps a list. Perhaps we should do the cards. And the tree. And the presents. But they can do the washing up. Can't they?

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