Today, I am going to write about Christmas.
I know. Shocker.
I mean, how many unique opinions can anyone have about The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year ™ ?
But hear me out with this one, because it’s been playing on my mind over this festive season (so far).
When you are younger, Christmas is a period of time that seems to go on forever. Every day is a Big Day; colder, classically Christmassy, with frost and your breath in the air.
I am lucky enough to have many happy Christmas memories from my childhood. I remember walking in the local woods as the sky darkened on Christmas Eve, belting out carols in my little voice and hearing it echo alongside the organ in our tiny village church. Playing happy families as Mary in the nativity, tree-decorating rituals as a family of four, waking up to pillowcases stuffed with oddly shaped parcels and falling asleep on my Dad’s lap at 8am after blessing my parents with an excitable 5am wake-up call.
It’s obviously not going to stay the same forever. We lose people along the way, the table for dinner gets a little smaller, partners are picked up and mornings start at 8am, stocking-free. Climate change means White Christmases are as rare as actually getting kissed under the mistletoe. There’s rarely time for a wintry walk or a carol concert when there’s work to be done.
With these changes and increasing ages comes a very different Christmas feeling. The magic of childhood festivities has gone and has been replaced with, for want of a better phrase, a more practical form of Christmas cheer.
Careful planning and preparation; making sure cards have been sent, presents bought, and wishes sent to everyone, with no person left behind. Some traditions have to be let go, and most of your friends begin to spend their winters wrapped up warm with their respective partners, meaning that you don’t really see them as much anymore. Those pub reunions are few and far between. Christmas shopping becomes a solo expedition.
I’ve never dealt well with change; it was a running joke at University, but it’s a serious thing for me. Things not remaining the same, my brain has decided, usually means failure; something must have gone wrong. It’s rarely a good thing.
I’m slowly learning change can be the best thing ever, but I’ve yet to change my automatic reaction to it; and with a tradition-heavy event such as Christmas, it’s even harder to love and let go of the past and embrace a new way of celebrating.
Now in my late twenties – which is where I am now, regardless of how much I tell myself I am still in my mid-twenties! – there is so much pressure to still keep up with Christmas, as different as it is.
You have to cram as much festive cheer as you can into the four weeks leading up to the Big Day.
You must shuffle around an overcrowded Christmas market and drink overpriced mulled wine. You have to sing carols at a church you only go to once a year, eat all the sugar-laden treats even if you’re not hungry, and buy a new sparkly outfit for your office ‘do.
You need new table settings, a shiny new wreath, and the biggest and most obscure advent calendar. You are expected to slave in the kitchen to make rustic homemade mince pies, gingerbread houses and an exquisite fondant nativity scene you found on Pinterest. You have a long list of Christmas films and festive hot drinks to get through, too.
Christmas isn’t Christmas until you’ve ticked them all off your list (after checking it twice).
I am guilty of all of the above, too. On December 1st I turn up Last Christmas and sink my teeth into my first mince pie while writing cards to everyone I’ve ever met. I need to prove that I am in the Christmas Spirit from the very first day.
If I don’t do something seasonal for one whole day, then I am shamefully not making the most of the loveliest time of year.
I binge on festivities and, by my own admission, desperately force the Christmas feeling upon myself, in the hope that how Christmas felt before will come back.
And it’s hard to admit that, actually, no matter how much sparkle and sugar-spun food I let into my life in December, more often than not, I don’t feel quite as Christmassy as I would like. As I used to.
So can we take a step back, put down the tinsel and baubles, and be honest for a minute?
There is far too much pressure to make Christmas a super amazing and special time of year; and as long as that’s the case, many of us will feel like failures if – no, when – we fail to keep up.
Christmas isn’t wonderful for everyone, of course. There is loss, and sadness, and poor mental health; homelessness, war, death, abuse, loneliness. I could go on. Real life doesn’t stop. Terrible things still happen, day in, day out.
But what I want to focus on is the everyday life, and the pressure we feel day in, day out.
When it seems like everyone under the sun turns into the Lord or Lady of Christmas Cheer at this time of year – when all you see are adverts full of excess and happiness and excitement and magic, and feeds bursting with glitter and mulled everything – it’s so hard to accept that you’re not quite feeling it this time around.
But I am learning to understand that that’s ok.
It is not a switch you can flick on as soon as the calendar turns to December. It is not something you can contract after consuming too much mulled wine. It is not a given.
It is ok not to be overwhelmed by merriment and to have the energy to be constantly jolly or always ready to leave the house in search for festive cheer.
It can be exhausting!
It’s important to be kind to yourself.
And, after all, the glitz and glamour aren’t really what it’s about at the heart of it. Christmas is the people, the goodwill, the wishes, the reflection, and the love.
And in light of this, I have a confession.
I just don’t feel festive yet.
I love this time of year. I love Christmas, but I’m just not there this year. Maybe because it’s been a busy few months and I haven’t quite caught up with myself; maybe my mental health isn’t playing ball exactly; maybe because I’m now living alone, things are a bit different this year. Change – it’s always change’s fault.
But I’m learning to accept that this year might be a little different, as every year is, and perhaps it’s my brain’s way of telling me to calm down and take it easy.
And until the day I wake up and feel as merry and bright as I’d like– even if that’s not until Christmas Eve – I’m going to focus on feeling grateful, and keep dipping my toe into the festivities in the hope it’ll trip the switch completely! After all, why not make the most of a few extra treats and the occasional feeling of magical cheer while I take the time to be with the ones I love?!
If you, like me, are feeling a little (or very) detached from Christmas this year, I just want you to know you are not alone. Don’t beat yourself up, or feel like you have lost the magic. Just because everyone seems to be having a wonderful time on the TV, online and on your feed, doesn’t mean that’s the case. A lot of it is probably ‘for the ‘gram’, after all.
This year I will be feeling grateful and enjoying the simple things, like the valuable and wonderful company of my friends and family, a few extra treats, and some relaxing time off work, at the very least. That’s what Christmas is about for me, and for so many of us.
So join me in muddling through December one day at a time, at whatever pace you want to; I hope you have a peaceful holiday season, however you choose to celebrate. Or not.
I wish you a Merry Christmas, from the depths of my heart to yours.