My idea of Christmas

I like Christmas.  When I was little I was one of the children that got unbearably excited about it, and this persisted well in to my teens.  I can remember being awake at 3.30am on Christmas morning and being absolutely unable to get back to sleep.  I was terrified that I would scare Father Christmas away by being awake, that was a real fear for me.  After my belief that Father Christmas was real evaporated I still got really excited about Christmas.  It has always been a big event in our family and I still look forward to it a great deal now.

As an adult, however, I now have an appreciation of how much work goes in to making Christmas magical and fun.  I find myself getting into conversations that start to go down the line of how much work Christmas is and how people end up making their lives far more difficult than they need to be in their pursuit of the perfect family Christmas.  I don’t deny that it can be a stressful time of year, not to mention expensive and demanding a hell of a lot of preparation.  I still like Christmas and I still value it immensely.  I don’t yet find myself shopping and cooking for a family meal as well as engaging in present shopping for any children, not to mention extended family members, inlaws etc.  I don’t have any children and my Christmases tend to revolve around my parents, which you could argue means I don’t yet appreciate the full horror of hosting Christmas.

Not that my Christmases haven’t had their own stresses.  I love the big family celebrations (my Mum is one of 7 children, varying numbers of whom gather at my grandparent’s house for Christmas dinner on 25th and 26th Dec.  My Dad and his girlfriend open their house to her three children as well as my sister and myself so there is always a generous crowd over at his place too).  The fact of my parent’s divorce 16 odd years ago however means a crucial, extra choice between places and people to visit and I find that a bit heartbreaking.  This might not be quite so difficult if I hadn’t spent 8 years out of contact with my parents, this being only the third Christmas since I got back in touch.  The pressure I feel to make sure I spend enough time with everyone is fairly stressful.  The first Christmas I spent with my family again was almost overwhelmingly emotional and I felt trepidation as well as excitement for a good week before the day itself.

Then again, I have spent Christmases very quietly and some of these feeling utterly lonely and miserable.  I haven’t always had the big family Christmas, as should be obvious after reading the last paragraph.  Perhaps that is part of why I appreciate it now, even with its difficulties and emotional trickinesses?  I have made a choice that this is how I prefer Christmas, even with all the difficult human bits that get in the way.  Don’t even get me started on the difficulty of getting my Dad and his girlfriend Christmas presents that they won’t moan about behind my back to all their friends … .  Or the difficulty I had with finding a way to get myself between Mum and Dad’s house on boxing day last year before I had passed my driving test – the politics were difficult and I felt completely caught in the middle and like an impossibly difficult child.  I had booked a taxi, but this wasn’t a satisfactory arrangement to all parties (I was fine with it!), but someone came to the rescue in the end.

Yet I still choose to get stuck in rather than not.  Even knowing what I do about how emotionally difficult it can be.  How dare we be human and emotionally vulnerable!  I give myself permission to find some bits of it difficult now I am older and I take time and space for myself when I need to. That helps.  Over and above all, it is so worth it for me.  The feeling of anticipation, excitement, shared goals and companionship over striving together (each in our own ways) to make the occasion a memorable one imbues Christmas with the meaning that we enjoy.  I strongly believe that we must make our own meaning out of the occasions we celebrate and this is part of the meaning of Christmas for me.  Shared time where my family and I stop together, work towards something together in a way we don’t find time for the rest of the year and remember how much shared history we have and just how much our values overlap.

As for the logistic and practical stresses, I do find these creeping up on me more than they used to.  My Christmas shopping list gets longer every year with the addition of new family members.  I had a point where I was completely despairing about the number of Christmas cards I thought I had to write this year.  I completely forgot what a joyful experience I used to find writing Christmas cards.  I was not happy with getting grumpy about Christmas – it does somewhat get in the way of feeling Christmassey and excited.  So I sat and thought about it and decided that what I like about writing Christmas cards is being able to write something personal that will really mean something to the recipient.  I got myself caught up in thinking I needed to send Christmas cards to everyone I know, all my work colleagues, all my family members, all my friends and acquaintances.  When I stopped and thought about it I decided I would just send Christmas cards my own way, to the people I really wanted to.  I suppose this has the potential to offend anyone who realises they are left out, but really I can’t imagine anyone would notice what with their own preparations.  Am I really that arrogant that I think someone more of the periphery of my life will miss getting a card from me?  So I wrote my cards my way, to the people I wanted to and I enjoyed doing it.  I could see how the input of time to do that was worth it again.  I am determined not to lose my excitement and joy about Christmas by trying too hard to celebrate it in the way I think I should be instead of in the way I want to.  By the time I have children I intend to be able to throw my energy in to making Christmas special and creating memories for them they will carry to their own families without selling my soul in the process.

On the subject of family memories and Christmas this year, I have one last thing I would very much like to say.  This is the first year my family and I will be celebrating Christmas without my maternal grandmother, who has been the absolute cornerstone of our Christmases for my entire life and through my Mum’s entire life.  I can’t explain how much sadness I have that she will not be with us this year and how much we will miss her Dunkirk spirit with cooking Christmas dinner for up to 16 people.  She would be cooking the dinner all morning, f***ing and blinding her way through it in her tiny kitchen and then suddenly relax settle down to a well deserved glass of Asti and barely touch her food.  All her children have vivid memories of their family Christmases, presided over by my Nanny and Grandad when they were small, and I know this helped shape the mould for my early memories of Christmas with Mum, Dad and my sister.  I can’t thank her enough for the memory of tradition and sense of occasion that she instilled in my maternal family and she is inevitably and inseparably present with us through this alone.  And yet she won’t be with us – I can’t explain how wrong that feels.  I wouldn’t be anywhere else than with my maternal family tomorrow, heart breaking as it will be at moments.

presents and bows

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Should I stay or should I go?

I promise not to make any more excuses about not updating my blog more frequently. It must be boring to read and the fact of the matter is, it is I who makes the choices about when to update my blog or not and I do so in full knowledge of when I last posted. Instead I will shift focus slightly and reflect on why I haven’t posted an update to my blog during November. I have been trying to write a post, a couple of them in fact. At the risk of the stating the obvious, I have failed to do so. (This post is a new idea. Thankfully I haven’t been *trying* to write about not being able to write a blog post, the irony of that state of affairs at the point of actually writing the post would be almost painful.) I wanted to write a blog post to introduce the second of the two structuring themes I planned to introduce to my blog: my passion for listening to music. Along with what I am wearing, the kind of music I am listening to is intimately linked with where my head is at any given time.

So, I had motivation to write a post and a topic I wanted to write about. What I didn’t fully understand was that there was a(nother) self imposed constraint that later got in the way. Having finished my MA I want to feel I can still write and approach a subject in an intellectual way. I had decided, then, that my posts should be suitably intellectual (whatever that means). This proved problematic as the suitably intellectual approaches I pursued lessened my motivation to actually write. For one thing, I think I was trying to emulate a style that isn’t mine in order to be more ‘intellectual’. For another thing, I find being intellectual and trying to pose the right questions boring. I found this when doing my MA and I realised I was never going to be a good analytical philosopher. I find the sorts of questions analytical philosophers are supposed to spend hours answering incredibly uninspiring.

Well then, let me share what it is I want to write about instead of what I think I should write about. I’ll return to the other thoughts later; there is some merit in them, but I am not ready to write about them quite yet.

Last Saturday I made a playlist. I make one every few months and the last time I did it was in August and saw me through finishing my MA. It begins with the aptly titled ‘Losing Sleep’ by Edwyn Collins. There are usually one or two tracks that I happen to hear and they call to me. I can’t get them out of my head so I capture them in a playlist which suggest itself around them. (Yes, the beginnings of most things in my life are as random as that. I have come to the conclusion that most things people end up doing start off that randomly, but we rarely see that bit of the decision making process.)  Creating a playlist is an entirely intuitive and largely emotional task. I delight in choosing the right album or playlist for my mood and I can tell within a few bars of the first track whether a particular album is right for any given time. I don’t rationalise it at all, I just go on instinct. The right track or album feels immensely comforting even if it is a sad song. Like with the clothes, it finally occurred to me at some point that the kind of music I am instinctively choosing to listen to is probably a useful insight to what is going on in my head.

December 2010 playlist (Go on, take a listen as you read the rest, I have been listening to it on repeat as I write the post.  Except I have the explicit version of Gold Digger by Kanye West as it is much better, but considerably more offensive.)

My two starting tracks were ‘One Life Stand’ by Hot Chip and ‘Show Me the Light’ by Mystery Jets. I kept hearing both on 6 music as I was struggling to wake up and had to sit and do some searching to find out what these fragments of tracks stuck in my head were. I knew I wanted to make a playlist but had no idea what the other songs should be so I cruised my music library and picked out a few others. Some of these felt like misses and some like hits. At this point I started wondering what the criteria that I was selecting by were, what was it that was guiding me? I got waylaid by other stuff and gave up on the playlist temporarily. I went back to it last Saturday, having realised that one of the criteria was that all the tracks had to have a strong bass line. As I went back through my music I had a lot more success finding tracks that fitted. All the tracks on it speak to me in a very physical way and eventually it occurred to me that the strong bass lines have a lot to do with that. The other thing about them is that they all have a pretty sultry feel about them (with the exception of the last track which has a strong rhythm but not particularly a bass line and is not all that sultry, I just find it very moving). As soon as I started playing the playlist, even in its very fledgling form, I was singing along and moving around to the rhythm. Apparently that is what I wanted out of it – a set of tracks that I would find it very difficult not to engage with in a very physical and tangible way.

At this point in my thinking I started to realise just how much I wanted a break from trying to be intellectual, especially as I hadn’t quite figured out what trying to be intellectual even means to me. I have encountered lack of motivation as a result of trying to pursue goals I think I should pursue rather than goals I want to pursue countless times in my adult life and I am just now starting to learn to work with myself and focus my energies more on the things I want to do in my own time. Further, if I don’t have a concrete sense of what the value of a particular approach is I find it very difficult to mobilise myself towards following it. Once I had got that straight in my head I found myself renewing my efforts to write the next blog post with a new playlist on in the background and a bit more space in my head. If I try and do stuff I am interested in life gets a lot easier … who knew?!