I’m not going to lie, I used to dread Christmas. For a whole bunch of reasons I would feel uneasy and stressed at the mere sight of a bauble. Most years I just wished it was over already. It’s only the past few years that I have learned to deal with this time of year more successfully, occasionally even getting quite festive. But I just want to take a bit of time to acknowledge and recognise those people who struggle during this season and maybe give the lovers some incite into what the other side looks like. Not because I want to discourage anyone from getting into the spirit, but because I truly believe that understanding the other side (whatever the topic) is the only way we will make this world a better, kinder place.
I know a lot of people get really excited about Christmas – the tree trimming, food, family, shopping and presents, and I don’t want to take anything away from that. I am not religious particularly but I love the idea of everyone being happy and harmonious for a day and getting to spend quality time with people they love. I would go so far as to say I envy those people who love Christmas, because there is certainly no escaping it!
I am well aware this says a lot about me, but I’m also aware that I am not alone in my experience and attitude. For a multitude of reasons people (even the lovers) struggle at this time of year and, without wishing to be a party pooper, I just wanted to take a moment to think about what those reasons might be and how we can make it easier for people who throw something at the TV when they see the first Coke add, not take it as a go ahead to put up the tree and get the mulled wine on the go.
So here is my very unscientific list of festive buzz kills to watch out for
We all know Christmas can be a financial money pit. Especially those who have kids and just want to get them the latest and greatest toy or gadget, feeling that not being able to afford it somehow suggests they are a bad parent (which is bollocks by the way if you’re sat there thinking this).
I am fortunate enough to have a massive family and several years ago we started doing a secret santa. The previous year the number of presents under the tree was so huge it was actually offensive. When you have 15 plus people all buying each other ‘for the sake of it’ presents it just seemed utterly ridiculous. So we agreed, each adult would buy for one adult and one child. I love this approach because not only is the financial burden hugely reduced, but I also get the time to think about what that person might actually like, rather than what they would not be offended by.
I am intentionally avoiding the temptation to embark on an anti-consumerist rant here so I’ll just say that, for me, putting the thought into a gift which someone would genuinely like / use / appreciate is much more in line with my interpretation of Christmas spirit. Especially if you’re supporting small businesses who actually need the Christmas sales to survive. As a quick plug for anyone in the Cambridge area, don’t forget it’s the Cambridge Made Local Fair this weekend!
2. Family pressures and a sense of obligation
Life is not a bloody John Lewis advert (I haven’t seen this years as I have been avoiding the TV!). People put so much pressure on themselves to host the perfect party, to cook the best turkey with the latest trendy choice of fat for the potatoes. To buy the perfect present, and to have the most perfectly trimmed tree. It is so easy to get lost in this bubble.
Please, if you find yourself getting sucked down this rabbit hole, just stop. Literally say to yourself “stop” out loud. Then ask yourself what is really actually important. What will you care about on your death bed? Is it impressing the in-laws or serving the coolest gin cocktail? I didn’t think so. I’m not going to tell anyone what is important to their core being but i’m pretty sure it’s not whether the paxo is a bit dry.
I know it’s hard when you have conflicting priorities and a bunch of different relatives to visit. But how about spreading it out instead? Visit in January. January is perfect because no one does anything. That way you get to relax and enjoy each others company rather than looking at your watch and wondering where you are going to fit in that last mince pie before you have to get back on the M6. Don’t let other people guilt you into anything. It’s a mean thing to do and Chrismas is about kindness, not meanness.
There’s a great book by James Altucher called “Choose yourself” which is ultimately about making decisions which are right for you. This might sound selfish but ultimately if you are consistently making choices based on what other people want, this is going to lead to a whole lot of crazy and resentment building up and in the end everyone will suffer anyway. Please don’t be that burning martyr in the corner, you know the one who is permanently in victim mode, moaning about how they never get to do what they want. This might be tough love but they are the only person who can change that. Change your attitude or change your situation.
We all drink more, eat more and sleep less. This is the perfect recipe for irritability and ill health. I’m not suggesting everyone have a dry clean-eating raw vegan Christmas dinner, but it helps just to be aware of the impact which changed diet and sleep patterns can have on your mood. Simply knowing what is causing that constant lethargy or slight feeling of guilt about the lack of exercise and those 47 quality streets can be enormously helpful. You know you will go one a health binge in January (for at least the first 2 days) so by all means style it out until then. Just notice. And maybe take a walk after lunch before the nap…
This time of year is, almost without fail a time of reflection and remembrance. For those who are no longer with us. Whether that is through death or relationship breakups or simply geography, missing someone can bring so much pain and melancholy to the day. It’s an opportunity to be thankful for what we do have yes, but it’s such a time of reflection that sadness abounds. This is the first Christmas I will have without my Dad who passed away a few months back. I am not sure how my grief will manifest over the Christmas period, but my only thought is that if you know someone in a similar position, ask them about it, they may not want to discuss it, but they may want to reminisce about the absent loved one, they may simply want to acknowledge their absence and move on. Either way, I think simply letting someone know you know they may be suffering allows that suffering to defuse if nothing more. Trying to fight or deny emotion can be like holding your breath. Having someone to talk to about whatever it is can be like being given permission to breathe.
Whenever I see an article about surviving Christmas, I see so much advice about how to avoid burning the candles at both ends. Rushing round with parties and shopping and wrapping and what have you. But you know what? For some people it’s not the case. For those with small and remote families, for those who hate parties, or with social anxiety.
Feeling like everyone is out having the time of their life, or curled up living the hygge life, when you are sat on the sofa alone is one of the most isolating feelings. This, in my opinion is the biggest down side of social media. It’s there taunting you with how great everyone else life is compared to yours. Even when we know this is utter bollocks, that social media is exceptionally misleading, it can still make everyone feel like shit at one time. So maybe take a break from it?
It’s the giving season right? So look out for signs of loneliness in others. If you know someone has no family, make sure they have somewhere to go, include them in the office secret santa, buy them an eggnog, let them know you know they exist. Loneliness has been called a modern day epidemic and it’s not just the cliched vision of the old lady sat in a chair on her own, it’s everywhere. The irony being that we are all so busy wrapped up in our own bid to avoid it, we miss it in others. Opening our eyes to it could quite possibly kill two birds with one stone.
Because Christmas gatherings are often stressful to organise, they can become pressure cookers. Smouldering family resentments can easily ignite into full on rows because everyone has had a drink and you’re all seeing a lot more of each other than normal whilst being squeezed round the table on extra plastic garden chairs.
Everyone has an ‘uncle frank’ type character who drinks too much and slags someone off or criticises the Christmas pud but it’s easy for normal family bickering to give way to bigger arguments. I have a lot of siblings… bickering is par for the course, especially as we all revert to teenagers when we spend too much time together in a parental home! So notice when you need to step away and take a breather. And remember you all love each other really.
7. The Ghost of Christmas Past
For some, Christmas can bring back painful memories. Either of good times or bad. Of happy times which are no longer possible or of traumatic times which echo through the years and still taint the day. For me, Christmas brings a sense of guilt and the traces of conflict. And though I know those circumstances have changed, and though the association fades, it is still in the background. It takes intention to acknowledge that and let it just be. It is important to remember that it is possible to make new associations which will eventually replace the old. Even the biggest grinch can soften over the years!
Well, there’s my two cents. Self awareness seems to be the theme here. Self awareness and patience… and remember, it’s only one day. There are 364 others in the year to love each other too.
Oh and one more thing. If you know someone who works in retail, then lay off the Christmas songs… they have heard them enough!
Sending Love and Festive Stress Free Fun to you all.