When Operation Yuletide swings into action there will be plenty of blood, sweat and tears, and the children will still not be satisfied. Diana Appleyard says forget The Perfect Home, rope in Granny, and follow her tips for a breakdown- free Christmas.
"Jingly bells! Jingly bells!" My four-year-old is already working herself up into a state of hysteria at the very thought of Christmas. She spends all our car journeys bouncing up and down, yelling out "Wudolf, the wed- nosed weindeer" and "We wish you a Merry Kwismas" etc, etc. I can tell you, it's all getting a little bit wearing.

My nine-year-old spends hours in her bedroom, compiling vast lists for Father Christmas which veer from the distinctly possible - the new Spice Girls album - to the frankly insane, ie a new mountain bike with nine- speed gears and an Arab pony. As it's still only the end of November, I can see I'm going to have to administer Valium by next week and the dawn of the Advent Calendar. By Christmas Eve they will have self-combusted, which will at least save on one lot of presents.

The problem for most parents is that children have annexed Christmas. I can remember a time when Christmas centred around me and what I wanted to do - lots of parties, buying new dresses, getting drunk, belting out Christmas carols and having tender, romantic moments with the One You Love. Now it's one long, frantic child-fest. From the moment they break up for the Christmas holidays, Operation Yuletide swings into action. Trips into heaving cities to spend pounds 20 so they get two seconds on a disgruntled Santa's knee. Excruciating trips to the pantomime, when you pray to God you won't get picked on by Dick Whittington's cat. Christmas Eves spent frantically wrapping the presents you thought would take about two hours and end up taking six. We excelled ourselves one year by buying our eldest daughter a doll's house. The box looked big enough to contain a house, but when we opened it up, just to check, out fell a million pieces. "Jesus wept," said my husband, who'd already consumed the best part of half a bottle of whisky. At three in the morning we were still crouched owlishly over this bloody thing, sticking miniature flowers on to miniature stalks, holding up tiny pieces of plastic saying "What about this bit?"

Then there's all the martyrdom which women do so well. A recent survey by the advertising agency J Walter Thompson shows women more than ever are under pressure to create "The Perfect Lifestyle" for their families at Christmas. When questioned, 80 per cent of men said they looked forward to Christmas as a "good break". Only 35 per cent of women felt the same. What a surprise.

Most of us go about with a pinched, martyred air at Christmas. That's because we have to do all the shopping, all the cooking, all the arranging. Then there are all those unspeakable magazines which beseech you to create "The Perfect Home" at Christmas. So instead of propping yourself up in front of a film with a bottle of Chardonnay, we're all supposed to be in the kitchen making marvellous table decorations out of some old pine cones, an orange and yards of red velvet. I can't even tie a bow, and give me a piece of florist's wire and I'll show you a severe injury.

"Of course it's really all for the children," people say. Well, I have had enough. I've had enough of crawling downstairs on Christmas morning with a hangover to find the children diving into huge pillow cases full of presents, while I have to pretend I don't mind that I've only got five, and two are from the dog. I'm fed up with watching Wallace and Gromit when I want to watch the film on the other side. I'm fed up with spending all Christmas Day assembling bikes and toys. I'm fed up with spending hundreds and hundreds of pounds on a completely ungrateful family, who end up having a massive row because one got Barbie's Bathroom and the other one didn't. So this year I am compiling the "Selfish Parents' Guide to Christmas". It goes as follows:

l Feel no shame in palming your children off with whoever will have them. Let then go and stay at Granny's for a week some time over the holidays and do not worry they will exhaust her. Of course they will.

l Go out for a wonderful, expensive meal - and stay the night. Pay the baby-sitter double to stay on - what the heck. This year, on the weekend before, we're going to go to the Feathers at Woodstock, which does a perfect line in grown-up Christmases, ie lots of holly, champagne - and quiet.

l Decorate the house and tree as you want to. Ban all those paper-chains - far too common. Decorate the tree with lots of white bows and white lights. Chuck out the pink tinsel, the fairy showing her knickers, and any decorations your children may have made at school.

l Spend as much on yourself as you do on the children.

l Buy the children everything you want them to have, not what they really want, because children have no taste.

l Book yourself into a health farm for the weekend after Christmas.

l Bribe grandparents or friends to have the children.

l Am considering dragging my husband off to Hoar Cross Hall in Staffordshire, because it has a gym and a bar. Perfect.

l Make your husband cook Christmas dinner. It will be good for his soul.

l Shop on your own. Never, never try to shop at Christmas with your children.

l Make granny take them to see Father Christmas/ the pantomime.

l Accept in advance that everything will go horribly wrong on Christmas Day and you will cry. I always do.

l Leave "The Perfect Christmas" to those glossy magazines. They didn't make those decorations, you dummy, they bought them.

l Buy all your food ready-made. Self-made Christmas puddings taste like hell and you'd have to start now.

l Buy your children lots and lots of videos for Christmas. Stop torturing yourself about whether they're educationally sound. Who cares - it keeps them quiet for hours while you get to eat chocolate and read your new books.

Merry Christmas.