This post was written two years ago but I was reminded of it today when reading a tweet about well-being and the true meaning of Christmas and family and friendship. All threads that ran through this piece. This year, more than any other, we have all had opportunity to focus in on what really matters to us. I have found myself re-evaluating much in my life, asking those questions about what aspects we feel it necessary to hold onto at all costs and those which we thought were important but actually were all part of the tide that sweeps us along without thought of why.
With all that said, I thought it was an apt time to re-post this blog and as I do so, 'Last Christmas' is playing on the radio. It has long been a track close to my heart, receiving it from my husband back in the days of vinyl, before we were married. Each year that I hear it played it is the family moments, the kindness shown between us and not specific gifts that come to mind. Looking out for each other is the important point and that may well be done in a virtual manner this year, no matter what a government says we can or cannot do. For all of our well-being, let's focus on the best aspects of Christmas that can be continued all year without the need of turkey or crackers - love, empathy and a little kindness.
So this has been a year of twists and turns, many of which have been documented within this blog, and now I find myself at the start of December looking at the finish line of 2018. This month is probably the busiest, as most people celebrating Christmas will no doubt agree. In recent years, we have found ourselves jumping through hoops to accommodate the various requirements of the festive season and often ending up exhausted by the whole process.
Beyond the plans for the big day itself and who will be going to who and how much food you really need to buy, is the clamour to sort out gifts for everyone in enough time to wrap them and get them to their destinations. The whole process seems to become more intense each year and I wonder if my memories of a simpler, distant Christmas are somewhat rose tinted? I’m sure that we all buy more stuff nowadays and, even with the immediacy and convenience of the little brown packages from Amazon Prime, the whole process seems to demand a level of commitment and spreadsheets that would not be out of place in a corporate organisation!
Since the kids lost their sense of wonder in the identity of the man in the red suit, it is certainly true that a certain amount of magic is lost from the whole event. Still, in the years immediately after that revelation we had times that we found time to share festive moments together; visits to see Christmas lights, taking long walks on a winters day or the odd special treat seeing a show or similar.
Then dark times invaded our festive season. Several years hosting Christmas dinner with an ill relative attending is hard but worse still is spending Christmas or Boxing Day in hospital alongside the bedside of a parent, unsure if they are going to make it through the night. Against the backdrop of those experiences, it is no surprise that the C word often conjures up an initial negative response from me. It is impossible to have the different parts of Christmas, the little family traditions that we all develop over the years, without poignancy and thoughts of those no longer able to join us round the table.
Recently, whilst taking time alone with my husband, we tried to talk through ways of making this year calmer and less stressful. We’re still floundering somewhat in achieving this but we have got each other’s back and when one of us feels like it’s all too much, at least the other is able to offer a hug or a suggestion to help out. I think we’re both feeling a little resigned to the actual Christmas event being whatever it is and have adopted a sort of ‘let’s not overthink it all’ approach. I think we’re tired of trying to accommodate everyone’s wishes, be there for all and fit in with what everyone wants without regard for what we might want ourselves. We should be grateful to still have close family members around to share the two days with but it does feel like we’re ticking off the list of expectations and once again, putting ourselves at the bottom of the pile.
The things I am looking forward to this year are the little events we are choosing to have in the run up to Christmas and the promise of a few quiet days afterwards. There are evenings planned with colleagues and friends, a lunch out here and there and a mad party of dressing up and silly games set up for the drama group that I get to call my other family now! I suppose the attraction of these events centres around simple things: raising a glass of wine together, playing a party game, walking in a wintry wood, chatting over lunch, wearing a silly hat or watching a friend open an inexpensive gift that has more effort in the thought attached than it has monetary value. Little things count. It may sound cliché to say so, but it’s true.
For many reasons we’re trying to scale back the excesses of our festivities this year. The money spent, the food wasted, the pile of wrappings- all seems an excess that we could well do without. I feel that I’m looking back with nostalgic eyes and perhaps trying to replicate some of that through us having a simpler celebration this year. I certainly intend to value the simple aspects of the festivities ahead: sharing time with those important to us, giving thought to tokens of love or appreciation, noticing the little touches that others have made, enjoying moments of calm or silliness away from the daily routines of our working lives. When all is said and done, these are the things that should refresh us and bring us joy and the strength we need to face the year ahead.
Just as this year’s twists and turns have felt significant, I know that there will be more to follow next year. The unknown pathway is extending into the distance beyond me and I feel small as I stand there looking forward. Each year, as we reach midnight on the 31st December I check myself thinking what will this year bring? What have I got to be grateful for from this year? What can I do to make the most of the year ahead? No one has all the answers, for life tends to follow no rules. All we can do is give it our best shot and be thankful for those that we have alongside us to share it with.
There will be more for me to reveal in my blog next year and many aspects that I cannot begin to imagine right now. For I stand small and timid, with images from films in my head akin to Little Red Riding Hood skipping off to Granny’s house and taking the forbidden steps off the pathway. Will there be a wolf in disguise awaiting my arrival into 2019 or will I find my way out of the dark and twisted forest and back on to the clear path? This story is yet to be told and its blank pages are waiting for my ink to spread across them.
This blog post went on to form part of a chapter in my memoir ‘Finding My Way.’