Like everything at the moment, Christmas seems to be a highly polarized event. Stereotypes involve either: skipping around up to your ears in tinsel, shamelessly bellowing festive songs and throwing money at the contents of Selfridges, or wallowing in a corner grumbling into the nearest glass of mulled wine about materialism and what the world has come to.
I consider myself neither a Scrooge nor a fanatically festive person. On the one hand, I often despair at the obligations to spend money I don’t have, sing songs I don’t like and fill up on food that is entirely incompatible with my normal tastes and digestive health.
On the other hand, I love spending time with family and friends, choosing presents for those I care about and taking some essential time out on the darkest days of the year.
But where does that leave me? What am I meant to do when good cheer is demanded from me at a time when I don’t always feel cheerful? It’s not that I want to spoil the fun, it’s that there’s something about this time of year that heavies on me in ways that are hard to explain.
I know I’m not alone. I wrote something a few years ago about how difficult holiday seasons can be, and it was the most popular blog I have ever written (this was partially because I wrote anonymously and could be frank and political about my feelings surrounding a very difficult 2016).
Now, I have come a long way from the person I was then. I am the strongest version of myself that’s ever been and am tremendously grateful to be in a place where I can categorically say “I will cope” to anything.
However, transformation never comes without costs (and I do often miss that broken girl from 2016 who was as fierce, loving and passionate in her pain as she was terribly struggling with it), and for some reason, Christmas is the time where I come to dwell on those costs. It’s as if I suddenly notice the weight of change and loss; a weight that I have been carrying all this time but somehow adapted to. As we go into December, I start to feel this cumbersome, ugly, bulky thing digging cruelly into my shoulders. I find myself having to wear a mask so as to hide my gritted teeth. I feel like an imposter to Christmas, ashamed of my despair, over-compensating with offers to be designated driver and dog-walker over the festive period or with buying heaps of gifts I can’t afford.
I thought it would eventually pass one year: this year most of all, when I have been gifted time with my mum that we were almost sure we wouldn’t have. Yet here I am, typing an existential rant in Costa on the first Friday in December (please don’t get me started on how I feel about Fridays).
Essentially, I have decided that if this ambiguous Christmassy nihilism is going to keep happening, I am going to have to find a way to deal with it. And how do I deal with things? I write. I put things into words in the hope that I can inspire myself and others to not guilt themselves about whatever nuanced feelings they have. That includes feeling as enthusiastic, or not, as you feel about Christmas.
I’m here to tell you that it’s ok and it’s allowed: If you’ve cried at the pretty lights in the city, sighed with relief as you closed up work for the holidays, or felt disappointment at the back of your throat because that special present from that special person wasn’t quite what you meant when you asked for “special”.
It’s ok and it’s allowed: If you’ve felt like playing board games, if you’ve been upset that no-one else did, or if you’ve snuck out for a walk after dinner because it was all too much.
It’s ok and it’s allowed: If you’ve been sick of the sight of your family, if you’ve missed the parts of family that weren’t there, or if you’ve sort of thought you’d rather be at work.
It’s ok and it’s allowed: If it’s all been ruined because of the exams in January, if you’ve ended up fighting with people you love, if it could never top your childhood Christmases or if December has been the month you’ve most felt like jumping in front of a train.
It’s ok and it’s allowed: If you’ve been mad at your partner for not enjoying it, if you’ve not been able to buy presents for everyone or if the office Christmas party was the best part.
It’s ok and it’s allowed: If you’ve resented having to work, if you’ve just focussed on the turkey, or if you’ve travelled as far as you can to get away from home.
Strong memories, highs and lows are commonplace at this time of year, but seldom spoken about. It’s perfectly natural to feel quiet, reflective, nostalgic and even sad, when transitioning from one year into the next. There will be things that are the same, and things that are changed, and you are likely to have feelings about that.
It’s powerful how much comfort can be derived from accepting how you feel. It’s not about being complacent or not trying to make Christmas special for yourself or the people you love. It’s just about being kind, about taking time to consider the load on your back, to take a scan of what you have been dragging around and accept this is you. And you are blessed if you have the years to go forward with a self that can change and grow in all kinds of wonderful and unexpected ways.
One of the many things I love about my mum is that she can be both reflective and filled with gratitude, which is a difficult balance for most. At this time of year, she sometimes insists we pass around a spoon, and take it in turns to state our most favourite and least favourite times of the past year, and our hopes and fears for the year to come. It has always been a good way to be glad of life and each other and I would recommend it as a cheesy family activity, or even a solitary task if you’re willing to get out a journal.
Wrapping up this blog a week after starting it, I can see how much my feelings about Christmas this year have varied already. I was low – very low – when I started writing this post. I didn’t feel like Christmas and good will. However now; the day after a devastating election, I am terribly depressed and angry, but finding myself conversely grateful that I can focus on planning for the festivities and doing something decent for people.
All these peaks and troughs are ok. I’ve just got to ride the wave this year; to be thankful for what’s there and allow myself to grieve for what’s not – or may not be much longer.
So that’s all there is to say really, folks. I wish you all a “Christmas” – whether it’s merry or happy or difficult or cross. Whatever it means to you, it’s perfectly legitimate, and please try to remember that you are not alone.