So. It’s that time of year again. Love it or hate it, it turns up with 12-monthly regularity, like a bad penny.
It has been said many times before, in fact it has almost become part of the ‘Christmas message’ (whatever that is) that it should be a time when we think about other people, especially people who don’t have as much as we do or who are going through difficult times. This is all very nice, but does it mean that we really think about the experience of living through jingle bells and tinsel and stupid jumpers when life feels difficult, black and hopeless? How do we understand more profoundly, and turn this sentimental cliche into an insight that actually impacts our behaviour at this hyper-sparkley, crazily-consumerist, happiness-on-steroids time of year.
I recall my most awful Christmas. At the beginning of December 2011, Ian had been dead for two and a half months. My family and I had barely even started processing the fact he was not there, let alone the manner in which he died and what this meant for the future for us all. I hated Christmas with every last ounce of myself that year. I could not bear the shopping, the constant talking about it, the inane ‘fun’, and the total lack of relevance to my life at that point. I was still so shocked and traumatised that it was an effort to get through each hour, let alone plan a jolly party that was supposed to last for about six weeks. I didn’t want to be happy or festive, I didn’t want to join in, and I resented everyone around me who did. I was unashamedly grumpy.
Christmas that year was unbearably quiet – I cannot remember one conversation or laugh or happy moment that my family and I had. My two year old kept us all going somehow, and I felt an enormous relief when January arrived (…apart, of course, from the fact that January was to bring both Ian’s birthday and the inquest into his death. Thats the thing about Christmas – once you’ve got through it you’re hit with New Year; a hopeful time when many still believe that resolutions will be kept; that weight will be lost, money will be saved and life will be somehow different and better. A further punch in the head for anyone who is struggling with life).
At this time, my husband gently teased me about my grumpiness, while understanding it and agreeing with it at the same time. He allowed me to hate every second and did not try to jolly me along. He just held my hand quietly through it, and that was exactly what I needed. A simple acceptance that my misery was valid – December 25th or any other day.
And this, essentially, is my Christmas message. Bad things happen, and sometimes life just feels too difficult and painful. This doesn’t stop just because it is Christmas. In fact, the presence of unavoidable, excessive and forced jollity can make things feel even worse, more difficult and more painful. Add in a smattering of financial worry about not being able to afford all the things you ‘need’ for a happy Christmas, a dash of pressure that everyone else will be having a better time than you and a dose of forced meet-ups with family you may or may not get along with, and what we seem to have is a ridiculous festival.
My grumpiness around Christmas continued in its strength for the next few years, but it has dampened somewhat now. I don’t balk at the sight of Christmas cards, or cry when I hear ‘Driving Home for Christmas’, or refuse to buy a stupid tree. But I do, and I hope I always will, acknowledge that not everyone’s Christmas and New Year will be happy or sparkly or full of fake snow; that not everyone’s Christmas will look like a Nigella Festive Special, or Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas (urgh – thank god); that some people’s Christmas will be difficult and painful, or maybe just another normal day, and that this is just fine. I will endeavour to never try and enforce jollity onto anyone – strangers or loved ones – but instead accept that, sadly, life does not transform overnight just because it is Christmas. If we could only all try to regulate our expectations of this time of year, even just a little, perhaps we might actually achieve a more peaceful time.
Till next time.