I have a confession to make, I am really struggling with Christmas. I know for some people it is the most exciting time of the year, but for others like myself it is a time where I feel totally out of my depth, physically and emotionally.
The increased pressures of getting things arranged, organised, gifts to buy, events to attend, preparing for guests, and family occasions… I worry about what to buy for people, what to cook, what to wear. The expectations feel so high and I never feel that I can achieve this perfect family Christmas that I believed exists, I dreamed of but have not yet experienced.
I sit and ask myself; ‘What is wrong with me? Why can’t I immerse myself fully in the Christmas cheer?’ Along with the feeling of overwhelm I also carry the guilt of feeling down as I ‘should’ be filled up with more joy. With the pressure I put on myself to create a magical Christmas I’ve ended up dragging myself about with no energy to enjoy the season or I’m ill with a virus, all of this not helping with my recovery journey from Chronic Fatigue.
Of course there are still moments at Christmas where my heart is filled with love and joy of the season of good will. My children’s excitement and joy of Santa’s visit, the amazing experience of my son in his first nativity play, and my daughter reading the words and singing christmas carols for her first Christmas carol performance. These of course are undeniably fantastic Christmas moments that I will treasure, but unfortunately these moments are often overridden by the onslaught of preparations.
This is the first time I’ve reflected on my personal feelings and experiences around Christmas and truly acknowledged them. I felt that perhaps writing about my struggles with the season would help me to unravel the issues I have that are connected to Christmas time.
This overwhelm isn’t something new; I have felt it for many years. When my husband and I first got together we realised we couldn’t deal with the family politics of who to spend Christmas with, so we managed to deal with this by taking ourselves away from everything and heading up to Scotland, the beautiful coastal area of Dumfries and Galloway. It was very romantic, pure escapism from the chaos of London life. We would hire a little one-bedroom cottage with an open log fire and spend time reconnecting with each other and with ourselves. It was something I looked forward to each year as there was no real pressure. Of course with having two children our lives have drastically changed in the last five years, but I will always treasure those times.
Growing up as an only child with West Indian immigrant parents, we didn’t have the traditional English family Christmases my husband and many of my friends had. My early memories are of spending the morning time with my parents opening my many, many gifts, and feeling very spoilt and special.
I don’t have a memory of sitting round the table with a turkey dinner, although I’m sure we might have done, however it didn’t leave a lasting impression. My Christmas memories are of myself my Mum and Dad spending time at my parents friends houses where we were welcomed into their homes as extended family. I remember their friends houses being filled with love, laughter and warm spicy Caribbean food filled with soul. The benefit of going to other peoples houses was that I got to be part of a large family and play with other children. The downside being that I left with a feeling of being on the outside of a ‘real’ family looking in. Perhaps this is because of my parents fractured relationship, we always did things with other families never just the three of us. From a young age I would be sent on holidays to visit my grandparents in the Caribbean, or go alone with family friends and their children, or I’d go on outings separately with either parent, but never both.
Like many people who have lost loved ones, Christmas time can bring about a huge sense of loss. My big realisation this year is that the sprit of Christmas holidays was never the same again since my father died from a brain tumour when I was thirteen years old. As I mentioned, from early childhood I already felt slightly detached from Christmas, but after his death I was left with a deep void that my mother would never be able to fill. My Dad was the magic of Christmas, the one that knew my wishes and dreams, my Father Christmas. Since his death I felt even more disconnected from the feeling of being in a family, we still visited the same people but my Mum and I were just guests interrupting someone else’s Christmas Day.
Since having children I’ve been learning to rewrite our my Christmas experiences. It is a journey and slowly I am recognising how to create new experiences and memories.
Last week I wrote about my holiday values manifesto. This has been a very helpful exercise to put in place and I have managed to keep things very simple.
I now want to create new Christmas traditions and so this year along with the Christmas Manifesto I have started to write down what we would like to describe as our Christmas holiday traditions – these are in line with our Christmas Values.
I do feel that next year I will be more mindful of my emotions at this time and the feeling I have of being overwhelmed and wanting to run away and escape might not disappear, but in accepting it I can learn more about ways to deal with this time.