What's coming up? Frantic shopping, cooking, debt, stress, hangovers, sunburn, and a few extra kilos? Enough to make you run. Here's how to claim back a good time.
All you want to do is relax and enjoy the holidays, but between now and early January, life has a few other things in store for you.
Start strategising now, and you might even enjoy your holiday.
A hot, huge Christmas lunch. In the heat of summer, turkey and stodgy Christmas pudding far too heavyweight. Festive doesn't need to be traditional. Go for fresh food, or a braai. Who feels like turkey just before you go surfing?
Sunburn. Our summer sun is vicious and a couple of sessions too many on the beach could put you in a high risk group for developing skin cancer. Don't venture out without a high-factor sunblock and don't be stingy in applying it. This has to be redone every two hours – and remember swimming in the sea can wash it all off. The sun's UV rays can penetrate up to a meter into the water, so being underwater is no protection from the sun.
Massive weight gain. 'Tis the season to be jolly, but who wants to start the New Year with five or six kilos that weren't there on Guy Fawkes Day? Who wants to bulge out of their jeans, hang over their bikini, or be unable to do up the zip on the new black pants? Eat, by all means - it is holiday after all and you shouldn't spoil it for yourself or anyone else by sitting thin-lipped in the corner and not eating anything. But just watch out how much you're eating. Eat one piece of cake, not three, and have one glass of wine, not five. And remember, the odd early morning stiff walk can do a lot to counteract the kilojoule onslaught of the festive season.
Poor pet care. Before you even think of organising a holiday, make sure that proper provisions have been made for any pets you may have. You chose to have them and they are your responsibility. Leaving them to their own devices while you go on holiday is a criminal offence. Either get a housesitter or a responsible neighbour to feed them and pamper them, or book them into a kennel that is clean and provides adequate shelter.
Houseguests. These can be fun for a day or three, but after that, houseguests could become a chore. Especially if they're not the type to help out in the house, or who have lots of children/pets in tow. And then, of course, the worst thing you can do, is to arrive at other people's houses unexpectedly to stay. If others do this to you, be polite, but firm. If you have not been consulted about whether it is convenient for you to receive guests, you have no obligation to be polite.
In-laws. Christmas is family time and most couples follow a system where they spend one year with one set of in-laws and the next with the other. Fine and well, but don't overdo the in-laws. A three-week camping trip together is not a good idea unless you get on exceptionally well.
Last-minute shopping. Have you ever watched ants moving a nest? Throngs of them, each carrying an egg heavier than their body weight. Now just add trolleys, carparks, screaming infants and long queues – and you've got the pre-Christmas shopping experience. Do it all before the time, for your own sanity. Alternatively, if that's not possible, try early morning or late-night shopping when you are not likely to encounter such intimidating crowds.
Spending too much. The January credit card account is usually enough to send you into a spiral of depression. It's difficult not to spend lots of money – even if you don't have it – over the festive season. Everyone's on holiday, you eat out, you have to cook a Christmas lunch and buy endless gifts. But do try and limit your spending to within the bounds of reason. Do you really need a new Christmas outfit? Do you really need five different types of meat on the Christmas table? Won't three be more than enough? Limit the Christmas present buying to a fixed amount per person, otherwise you'll still be paying this off by the time autumn sets in.
Playing the entertainer. If you have house guests, don't make the mistake of feeling that you have to be at their beck and call 24 hours a day and lay on a programme of entertainment. Before long, you'll be so stressed, you'll feel as if your eyes want to pop out. If you feel like going places with them, all well and fine, but if you have other things to do, don't feel bad letting them go off exploring on their own. If you have people staying for more than a day or two, set up a meal roster, so you don't get landed with all the cooking. You're on holiday too, remember.
Organising nothing for Christmas or New Year. Unless you want to be on your own for these two occasions, you should organise social gatherings for these two days in advance. If you're not spending it with family and you have not yet been invited by anyone else, get on the phone and invite people over to your place. You can share the cooking responsibilities and you may also be saving a few others from a depressing Christmas on their own in front of the TV.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated November 2012)