“It’s Christmas Eve, it’s Christmas Eve and time is running out! It’s running out, is running out! Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock…”
I don’t have a clue where this comes from, but I remember it every Christmas Eve. I think it’s a line from a school Christmas play I did, or something. It instils excitement and anticipation in me and often it is quite literally true. It is indeed Christmas Eve and time is running out for me to finish our gifts, bake the gingerbread, mince pies, wrap the remaining presents, get the house ready for guests, hang our stockings, etc etc. I madly dashed to my best friend’s house to drop off gifts on the way to work this morning and as soon as I finished I was completely insane and braved the supermarket to buy smoked salmon and bucks fizz for tomorrow morning.
There is a lot about ‘the meaning of Christmas’ and what is really important roaming around social media right now. Already this morning I’ve had two lengthy conversations about the challenges of family at Christmas with two different colleagues. Myself, I find I approach this period with equal measures of childlike wonder and delight and adult bitterness and frustration. Dare I say I miss the simplicity of childhood. The mystique and magic, the joy over generosity from parents and family, the routine and tradition. I am possibly more grateful now for that than I was at the time.
Now I have someone else to share a different kind of magic with. James and I transform into children again at Christmas and indulge in all the things we loved about Christmas when we were little. Our household is a fusion of traditions from each of our family. My parents put out pillow cases for Father Christmas to put our gifts into. James had a stocking at the end of his bed. So, naturally, we now have both. My family and I would place all of our hands on the door handle to open the living room door in the morning and see whether Father Christmas had been, so James and I now do that. James, his Mum, Sister and Brother would sing to the Christmas tree once decorated so, of course, we have honoured that tradition too. But we are also building our own traditions. Before I met James I would accompany my Mum and Dad to Liverpool Anglican Cathedral to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. In fact, the year before we met I prayed I would meet my husband. We married there just over two years later and we go back every Christmas Eve to say thank you. Personally, I also like a reminder of why we get to celebrate Christmas, regardless of how little spirituality I feel I have.
These are things that make this time unique to the rest of the year. Somehow it evokes feelings of wonder, joy, hopefulness, peace, generosity, kindness, warmth, goodness, delight, humility…love.
But (and it’s a painful ‘But’) I’m sure we all know the polar opposite of these feelings and for some it will be in extremity. Stress, anxiety, pressure, resentment, bitterness, anger, depression, despair… It’s painful even listing them. Perhaps the worst of all is loneliness. It’s worth remembering that you don’t need to be alone to feel lonely. In fact, being surrounded by people can be the most isolating feeling of all. This time also evokes a selfishness in humanity. I don’t just mean about gifts, but we madly cling to our own traditions, without making space for the new, unwilling to evolve with changing lives and relationships. It can be incredibly lonely trying to be a part of peoples lives when they don’t have time or space for you.
I am guilty of becoming embroiled in my own agenda. I still get choked up (4 years in) about not getting to spend all of Christmas Day with my family. As much as I am eternally grateful for the answer to that prayer and having the most wonderful husband to share Christmas with, I am precious about the 27 years of Christmases before him and I ache for my parents and my brother and all the idiosyncrasies of our household.
As I write this another shot of pain hits me, remembering the many people who have lost loved ones at this time of year. My Mum lost her Dad the December before I was born and then her Mum 21 years later. I get sad about not being with my parents who live 10 minutes away when others no longer have theirs. There are endless stories of pain but also of joy. Of sorrow but also love. I wish more than anything that Christmas could be simple for everyone.
Each year for the last 4 years for us has been different and will likely continue to be so, so long as we try to cater to everyone’s hopes. It can be very challenging, but when I really think about it, I wouldn’t want it any other way. But I still haven’t really figured out to ‘successfully’ DO Christmas; in that I don’t feel I can make everyone happy, I don’t get all the gifts ‘right’, I don’t feel ‘happy’ all the time (in fact sometimes I feel downright miserable), I don’t manage to make it through the season without tears and a tantrum at some point, I don’t bake things that people like or will eat, I don’t feel I’ve done enough and been enough… Quite frankly, most of the time I just don’t know how to behave.
Yesterday I offloaded all of this onto my Dad and, as ever, he was pretty wise on the matter. He suggested I focus my energies on investing. Good old Wikipedia defines ‘Investment’ as “time, energy, or matter spent in the hope of future benefits…”. It goes on to say “actualized within a specified date or time frame”, but actually when it comes to relationships, does that really matter? Is it really important to see the benefits of your investment within a defined time-frame? One of the dictionary’s definitions says “a devoting, using, or giving of time, talent, emotional energy, etc.,” for a purpose. This is what I have difficulty with though. We are such an outcomes orientated society. If we put in time, energy, money, emotion then surely there has to be something in it for us. We have to get something back out of it, right? Frankly, I think that attitude it rubbish (to put it politely). How freeing would it be to invest in things and not worry about the outcome, but be at peace knowing that the act of investment itself is good?
Of course there are wise and unwise investments. Some might say that it would be unwise to invest in people who don’t care for it. I would say that there’s a right time for certain investments, an appropriate time, and when there’s so much hurt around, Christmas is probably the best time to be investing in people.
I’m sorry I don’t have anything more helpful to offer on the difficult subject of Christmas. I have an endless list of homemade ‘how to’s’, but alas, “time is running out” and I have left myself just enough time to stop and think for a minute. But I hope that if you’re reading this, someone invests in you this Christmas and that you experience joy because of it.