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.