One of my daughters has an incredible child-like nostalgia for the Christmases we had as a family when she was little. She remembers a cosy old world cottage, a big open fire, homemade wreaths, a Christmas tree that hit the ceiling and a huge pile of wrapped presents under the tree. Add the big turkey, crispy roast potatoes and the smells of mulled wine … her memories are of a perfect happy time. So the run up to Christmas for her is a time of increasing excitement.
Me now, I don’t get it. For me November is a time of increasing irritation. It begins in October actually, just after Halloween, when I begin to get irritated at tinsel in the shops. Then as the television starts advertising My Favourite Expensivetoy at strange times in the early afternoon I begin to rant about materialism. About mid-November the new season’s “must have” (must have?!!) women’s hair curlers (or straighteners or frizzers or twirlers or shavers) bring out my internal feminist; and by the time I walk into my local supermarket on a perfectly ordinary autumn day and find the shelves piled six-foot-high with tins of chocolates and the background music jingling of reindeers I am positively Grumpy! So if some innocent then cheerfully remarks “only 24 more get-ups to Christmas” I may explode.
So why this strange reaction? It’s not just old age grumpiness setting in. In my case it’s the shadow of a Christmas many years ago that was very unhappy. The sights and sounds of Christmas still bring back faint echoes of that sadness. Somehow we expect Christmas to be some sort of ideal family time – and that is difficult to achieve when you aren’t living in the ideal family. (And who is?) It is also difficult for everyone who is struggling financially. It is difficult for those who have been made redundant around Christmas time. It is difficult for anyone who has experienced a tragedy at Christmas time. It is difficult for everyone who has lost a loved one at Christmas. The deeper the loss the longer the shadow it casts.
So if it’s getting to look a lot like Christmas for you and you don’t like how that feels - here are a few ideas that others have found help. (I have excluded getting totally smashed out of your face and missing the whole event, as not being good for your health.) Some people go to their Mum’s or their sister’s. Some invite friends to them. Some happily volunteer for the Christmas shift and have a normal working day. Others do something completely different like helping out at a soup kitchen or taking a holiday abroad in a country where they don’t celebrate Christmas! Or you could join the millions of people round the world who don’t have it as their tradition and do what you want to do on that day - close the curtains, take the phone of the hook, buy in your favourite meal, download your favourite book and relax. Why not?
As the shops and adverts blare out the usual materialistic money-spending version of Christmas we have somehow persuaded ourselves that that is the real way to celebrate it! But the best Christmases I have had are the ones where - in good times or bad - I have been able to experience something of the God-with-us that came to us on the original Christmas day. And God's presence always comes with that gentle peace and joy that's beyond understanding. So, however you choose to spend it, have a Happy Christmas!