For the past ten years or so, I have found it increasingly difficult to find the Christmas Spirit… at least outside of the eggnog. A combination of watching my father’s health fail through Parkinson’s Disease, as well as being sans a ridiculously good looking, funny husband and children had, over time, served to cast Christmas in a somewhat sorrowful, Bridget Jones-esque hue. Christmas had become beige, something to get through – not so much a chore, but certainly requiring endurance.
In dad’s last years, Christmas morning was also about putting on brave faces and larger than life smiles, as we rushed through the gift giving before his medication and energy ran out. Of course, by that stage the presents were small and mostly meaningless. The true gift was in our shared company. But, I admit, it was often hard to feel anything other than a sense of imminent loss in those moments – even while grasping to stay in the moment and experience the living.
Of course we weren’t alone. All around the world people are struggling to get through the holiday season. I call it “the season of the great push and pull”. When we try to be everywhere, please everyone and do everything, all at once. Even when mired in grief or struggling through a divorce or facing it alone, we push ourselves to be bright and happy, while we are pulled in every which direction by competing responsibilities and our own emotions.
Listening to friends and relatives talk about their Christmas holiday plans is often like standing in a war room. Each move is strategised, contingencies mapped out, concessions made and negotiation tactics deployed. While simultaneously trying to call forth a sense of gratitude – because, for the most part, they know that even with all their apparent ‘troubles’ they still have so much.
The real problem though is that by the time the silly season is upon us, we are viewing the world through a haze of tinsel. We have been pulled under by a tide of commercial propaganda luring us with talk of sales, bargains and count-downs (as the time of writing 14 sleeps until Christmas). And so while sometimes the angst we are experiencing is real, there are often times when it is very much of our own making. Over the years we have forgotten what it was that we most enjoyed and, along the way, bought into the myth that our time is best spent racing around trying to see everyone. And despite the fact that we have all year to see the one’s we love, all too often we unwittingly find ourselves in a power struggle, a means of establishing status based on who you saw first, or last, or for lunch. And, ultimately, it pleases no one. Instead of the holiday period being a time to slow down and appreciate one another, including those who have gone before us, we go into overdrive and life becomes a blur.
So how do we hit the pause button on all of this ‘push and pull’ and reset? Simple, we make a choice and then we act from a place of love – not just for others, but for ourselves. We slow down, we cut away all the trappings that have crept in and return to the core of what matters to us the other 364 days of the year. And in doing so we reclaim the joy.
My best Christmas memories are all connected to simple things. Baking Christmas stars with my mum. Dad wearing a paper crown and reading bad ‘knock knock’ jokes. Devouring a bowl of fresh prawns dipped in mayonnaise. Santa arriving on the back of a firetruck in board shorts. Home-made Christmas pudding with frozen brandy butter. Lazing around on the lounge rubbing my full belly and dozing.
I can’t replicate a lot of that this year. Dad is gone and bon bons for two (mum and I) seems faintly absurd. But there are other things I am looking forward to – such as baking with my mum, looking at photos and sharing memories over laughter and champagne. I’m also secretly planning a session of old movies, munching on some non-traditional Christmas popcorn – knowing that the best gift we can give each other is to #bepresent.
There won’t be eggnog, but I have a feeling that there will be spirit.