Yes, it’s a bit late for a Christmas post, but we’re still within the 12 days, right? And I’ve got to get this baby out, she’s been trying to come out for days, well overdue.
Two years ago, we had what I thought at the time was the loveliest, jolliest Christmas we’d ever had. A full house of grandparents, aunties, uncles and kids, a small mountain of presents, as much delicious veggie food as I could wish for, and everything just about coming together with the right balance of order and chaos. Slightly drunk at the end of the day, I sneaked upstairs with my youngest to read some of her new story books snuggled up in the bottom bunk (glad of an excuse to lie down to be honest) and I remember feeling so grateful for my gorgeous family and such an idyllic Christmas.
Wrapped in my own tipsy love bubble, I was completely unaware of the fact that my then partner, was already in the thick of his affair and that we were around 7 weeks from the end of our relationship.
Which goes to show a few things at least: 1) you NEVER know what is just around the corner 2) he was very good at pretending and 3) I was completely out of touch with our relationship. Now isn’t the time or place to dissect that, but I wanted to set the scene for our latest Christmas, and why, two years on, I have been trying to create something new.
The one last year, as you can imagine, was better forgotten but this year I felt ready to reclaim the season. I love the way that family traditions grow around Christmas, like our box of decorations that gets a little fuller every year and now holds precious memories… there’s the misshapen star painted with chubby fingers at pre-school, the felt angel, sewn with very first stitches, and the salt-dough shapes M and I made when she was two (and L was almost brand new, having arrived in the snowfall just a few weeks before – she was one of those babies who actually sleeps for a misleadingly peaceful few weeks of grace…)
And the traditions too simply evolve organically when you have a young family, until (I imagine) without ever having stopped to think about it your little ones have morphed into teens and between you you’ve created an unshakeable routine for Christmas Day where it seems like things just have to be done that way, and if they weren’t, well it just wouldn’t be Christmas! But our traditions have been very much thrown in the air, and whilst I try very hard to put them back together in a way that has continuity and comfort, there’s no denying that things are different, so what better opportunity to take stock and really think about what I’m creating here.
What do I want Christmas to mean to my children? What will they remember? Which parts will mean so much to them that they want to continue them with their own children? Giving…or shopping? Experiences or objects? Christmas is a magnifying glass on the best and the worst of us. Everything softens with inspiring love and charity on the one hand, but the monster of consumerism is reaching the annual peak of its power on the other – good luck trying to fight it in those panicky days in mid-December!
Buying stuff is fun of course, and giving is a sweet pleasure. But I have to ask myself why one gift doesn’t seem enough, and why am I spending hundreds of pounds on my family who are in need of nothing, when there are people not so far away in desperate need. Shopping, in its modern form – buying things we don’t need, for ourselves and each other – is at the end of the day a great excuse to ignore the deepest needs of our true selves (you know those times when you feel a bit shit, then make yourself feel better with a harmless little purchase… yeah, nice little rush of dopamine to the brain… and just like that your pain is gone, but part of you knows that you’ve in fact just buried it a little deeper.)
Christmas highlights all this of course, and I decided this year that I would stay a little truer to myself which has meant thinking about:
- Making instead of buying
- Giving second-hand stuff (the kids were absolutely thrilled with my old stamp albums which my mum had wisely kept for all these years)
- Choosing to buy experiences over things e.g. a talk on saner living by Ruby Wax for my sister, ceilidh tickets for my mum (if she knew it involves actual dancing she wouldn’t go, but she will LOVE it)
- Buying things with use or meaning e.g. the ‘age-appropriate, relatable, empowering’ Lottie dolls (which come armed with tiny fossil hunting gear and telescopes) for the girls after a slightly worrying conversation about body image; Kids Kanteen water bottles to get them thinking more about single-use plastic; foodie/boozie presents for people you don’t know what to buy for
- Avoiding plastic
- Being conscious of the environmental impact of everything I buy
I failed in some of these – didn’t manage to make any presents, however did help the children make theirs, didn’t manage no plastic but definitely MUCH less than I might have bought a few years ago – and compromised on some. Also a last minute panic where I felt that the Star Wars soft toys really were a necessity… but all in all… getting there. I did worry a bit about the fact that there would be less under the tree for the children this year (partly because our family doesn’t spend the day together any more so the presents are spread out over a few days, but also because of my new Christmas intentions) and I was ready for them to be disappointed or ask why there’s been more in previous years, but they didn’t.
So, taking steps towards a more conscious Christmas… I would like the children to feel and be able to express gratitude for all the good things that surround us but just as importantly I would like them to be looking beyond all of that, to other people and the planet, and to know that they have the power to change things. And I want them to remember Christmas as family time, however complicated the arrangements for that might be now. Things were still really hard for all three of us in ways that I hadn’t even anticipated – I realised that sometimes I’m so busy getting on with the new stuff that I forget the importance of acknowledging the pain of letting the old stuff go. There was even a classic Christmas blow-out after a few too many glasses of port (which NEVER used to happen in our family, we’re a peaceful bunch!) but everything turned out alright in the end with our new Christmas, new memories and traditions nicely brewing for the years to come.