Christmas overwhelm!

Christmas overwhelm!

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.

Christmas Holiday Values

After my experience last week of Black Friday and Cyber week I realised that for me the true spirit of Christmas is being overshadowed by the material consumerism. I decided to take some time and think about (a) how to bring about my child-like wonder and magic of Christmas, and (b) the true meaning of Christmas and the values it brings to the time of year.

I feel that now that I have my own family I needed to have some guidelines to follow. I didn’t want the true Christmas message to disappear and so I created a Christmas holiday values manifesto that I will pull out each year. The list will be something we can refer to as a family when the children are older. For now they would be held by myself and my husband.

Our Christmas Holiday values manifesto 

We will make Christmas meaningful and about more than material gifts and treats. We will teach our children the true meaning of Christmas as well as the spiritual values that we have around this time. With the hectic pace of everyday life Christmas will be a time where we slow down, unwind and appreciate what we have in our lives.

We will acknowledge that the importance of family, friends, giving and gratitude, and caring about the world around us is the biggest gift that we as parents can give our children.

We will also:

Share the true message – The story of Jesus’s birth, retelling the story and having festive decorations and ornaments that symbolise the Christmas story: a nativity set, books with the Christmas story. We will do this so that we remember the essence of the Christmas story.

Spending time together as a family  – Not booking in too much; keeping it simple; share the reasons why we love each other and value each other; have fun together by playing games and watching movies; have more relaxation, and take time to eat together as a family and go out together as a family over this holiday period.

Teaching and practicing gratitude –  Take time to appreciate all that we have; share what we are grateful for, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. Inspire our children to be thankful for all the wonderful gifts they have received at this time and also to be thankful for the non-material gifts they are blessed with such as family and friends.

Spread Christmas joy with Random acts of kindness – Practice giving and sharing with people we know and don’t know, to our friends and charities that give to people in need. Make an effort to appreciate friends and family not just through gifts but thoughtful acts.

Slow and simple – Decrease stress and Christmas anxiety by remembering to stop, pause, and breathe. Let us appreciate the simple things in life and slow down and take stock of what the values of Christmas are all about.

What family values do you wish to share at Christmas time? The website I used to get organised last year and which has a guide to help each year to keep your values in check is  Organised Christmas.

Here are some questions from their worksheet:

What values will your family’s celebration serve? Bring the season into focus by answering these questions about last year’s events. Use a second sheet to record responses from a family meeting.

1. What went well for your family last year? Did you make innovations that made you more organized, calmer, and more centered?

2. What stresses did your family face? Were there too many activities on the calendar? Did household systems fall apart with the season’s faster pace?

3. Was your family spiritually invigorated by the holiday celebration? Did you participate in appropriate service, worship or giving activities?

4. Did inappropriate influences enter your home? Were decorating, clothing or gift-buying decisions motivated by competitiveness or insecurity? Was the celebration over-focused on gifts and getting? Did the hectic pace of the season take precedence over family closeness, family values?

5. What would you have done differently?

Next time I will be looking at the Christmas holiday traditions we have and would like to focus on. These new traditions will be created from our heart and carried forward each year bringing a sense of meaning and spirituality that can often get lost in the external  pressures of Christmas.