This time of year is a really interesting one in the UK. As a nation whose head of state is also the Supreme Governor of a Christian denomination - the Church of England - there really is no escaping this originally solely religious observance as anything other than a national holiday and as such it is almost unBritish to ignore it.
It is for this reason that it is possibly the most challenging time of year for many people and they are the main reason for me writing this particular post.
It is difficult to imagine Christmas without twinkly lights, big green trees festooned with glittering tinsel and baubles, a fridge full of food, a cabinet full of alcohol and tons of cards from friends and family and colleagues. Our traditions have grown over the centuries to the point where certain elements feel as though they are more part of Christmas than Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey.
There is also a collective understanding that Christmas is for families. No Christmas scene is complete without wide-eyed children unwrapping an inordinate amount of presents under the aforementioned huge tree. Christmas dinners are meant to be huge family feasts full of laughter and cracker-jokes and paper-hat wearing relatives.
These images and traditions have influenced pretty much everyone who celebrates Christmas and the stronger our sense of what it is meant to look like, the more painful the realisation that ours may just not be able to live up to that. More painful still may be those first Christmases where we are forced to do things differently because of changes in our circumstances - marriages, divorces, deaths, relationship issues, house moves, illness and finances can all mean that the Christmas we’ve come to expect, that’s always felt familiar, is no longer possible.
Some of this year‘s Christmas advertisements have come under fire for daring to break from time honoured traditions and traditional representations of how to ‘do Christmas’ with John Lewis‘s Venus flytrap Christmas tree, and Mark and Spencer’s gleeful booting of an elf on the shelf and blowtorching of a pile of unwritten Christmas cards feeling the wrath of traditionalists. I was actually impressed with their bravery to push the boundaries and to demonstrate that things needn’t be as they always have been - there are elements that are worth maintaining and others that are far less important.
For some of us the struggle with the pressure to maintain the image of the ‘picture perfect Christmas’ can be unbearable. The focus on this time of year as a family time can throw a painful spotlight on dysfunctional families (Warning: Linked video contains a lot of swearing.) The absences of loved ones can be felt far more keenly. For those of us who struggle with overwhelm and are prone to overstimulation, this time of year can be particularly challenging and it can sometimes feel like we are seen as unreasonable or being a ‘Grinch’ if we don’t force ourselves to get involved in the festivities. Conversely, the brevity of this period can fill some people with disappointment. Some are already anticipating the post-Christmas blues.
So what can you do if this time of year fills you with dread rather than delight?
Here are my top tips for getting through this time of year.
- Remember that there is no such thing as ’should’ when it comes to how you celebrate (or don’t). Traditions are only traditions because someone, somewhere decided to do something in a particular way and a bunch of other people copied them. They are an invention. If you like them, keep them and if you don’t, feel free to change them.
- If it all feels too much, don’t do it all. Just do the things that you can and that feel like they’re a priority.
- If this is your first Christmas without a loved one, plan a way in which you can honour them at an appropriate time during the day. It’s ok to grieve our losses, to mourn and weep and then smile and laugh if we feel able to.
- Remember it’s just one day. This too shall pass. And if you find yourself wishing it wasn’t, consider what aspects of it you will miss and see if you can build them into your life more regularly rather than having to wait another year to be able to enjoy them.
- Make use of modern technology to facilitate connection if you want it and ditch the tech if you want to avoid being bombarded by everyone else’s Christmas cheer.
Whatever your plans and situation, I wish you all good things for the Christmas period and a peaceful and happy new year.