It’s my favourite time of year. I love planning, buying and wrapping gifts and cards. I love organising the house, having a clear out and making way for the Christmas tree I love visiting friends, Christmas markets, yummy food, and the sense that everyone is busy working on the same project, Christmas!
I love loading up the car and heading off to share the holidays with my family and the joy on my stepdaughters face when she sees her cousins. I love lazy days in the house with my hubby, making jigsaws and watching movies.
But Christmas can be hard too.
We talk in BC a lot about ‘the script’. That negative voice at the back of your head that’s always putting a dampener on things and getting you anxious and wound up. The script will always tell you how you ‘should’ feel and when you inevitably don’t live up to that 24/7 it tells you there something ‘wrong’ with you.
Society has many scripts as well about how your life should be at certain stages of life, what constitutes fun and what is ‘normal’. If you compare your lives, careers, relationships, families to these ideals you will always fall short. Yet especially at Christmas we fall into this trap time and time again.
For me the Christmas script is I should be enjoying every second of it, I should eat ALL of the holiday foods, enjoy every possible Christmas activity, watch all my Christmas movies, catch up with everyone who’s ever meant anything in my life. I should also have a perfect relationship with someone who takes me ice-skating, helps old grannies across the road and fills my stockings with thoughtful goodies. And I should probably have a couple of kids and a puppy as well since I’m well in my thirties. Christmas Day should be spent with all of my family and everyone should enjoy themselves. Oh and their having enjoyed themselves or not is 100% my responsibility! So yeah, fun!
When I was single the script regularly spoiled Christmas as I felt like a failure going back to my hometown on my own. The script never noticed how much I enjoyed planning and wrapping my gifts to carry back on the train, or watching White Christmas with my mam and sister, or having fun with my friends. It only focused on the fact that I was ‘alone’ and hadn’t found that special someone that I so longed for.
Yet it didn’t let up when I met my husband either. In fact if anything it got worse!
Being part of a stepfamily (both in my family of origin and in my marriage where I have a stepdaughter who on our first Christmas together was only 4) and living 300 miles away from my family, coupled with a mother-in-law in a care home 100 miles in the opposite direction and a school that breaks up 2 days before Christmas is frankly a Christmas logistical nightmare.
On top of this I was determined for us to have a ‘proper’ family Christmas.
For the first 4 years I drove myself (& probably everyone else) to distraction trying to fit a perfect family Christmas into the last weekend in November, one weekend in December and the 2-3 days we had before taking SD to her Mum and Sister on Christmas Eve. To me Christmas means family so this also meant a very long trip and my poor Mum hosting a separate Christmas Day a few days before the real thing. Which was wonderful but stressful.
Yet my script was adamant SD needed a proper Christmas morning with her Dad. She needed a stocking on the bottom of her bed, she needed to put out a mince pie for Santa, and she needed a Christmas lunch with all the family. And on and on.
My script was also keen to point out that a Christmas Day with just me and my husband was NOT Christmas and I spent much of our first Christmas Day together in tears having already celebrated a few days earlier and now being just me & my hubby with my family and friends all miles away.
This madness accumulated in Christmas 2016 when:
a) we made the mistake of arranging two Christmas events with SD and the family in December one during a normal school time weekend to enable us to join in with a Christmas activity they were doing with ‘our extra Christmas’ scheduled for New Year’s Day. Which seemed at the time a great option and meant I could spend Christmas Day , which fell between the two events, with my family for the first time since I met my hubby. But we didn’t really think through the practicalities of spending 2 out of 4 weekends travelling followed by hosting Christmas/NYE on our return home. Although we probably would have just about managed if it wasn’t for the fact that
b) my Granddad took ill in early December and subsequently died a few days before our planned trip with his funeral the week before Christmas. Not only did this mean that we were as a family of course devastated but that 2 weekends travelling turned into 4 and we’d no sooner got back then my stepdaughter and half of my family descended on us for New Year. Me as usual deep in ‘Christmas Script’ mode was full of anxiety, my Mum still grieving, the children were over-excited and my hubby was just desperate for some time to ourselves. They left on 1 January and we went back to work on 2 January. I’ve never been so tired in my life!
By the 3rd of Jan my hubby had booked for us to go away for the following New Year declaring that he was NEVER having another Christmas like that!
The result was that last Christmas (2017) I was forced to re-think things and the outcome was as close to a ‘perfect’ Christmas as I think we could get. I took two weeks off work. We had a lovely long weekend with my family doing Christmas activities such as going to the Panto and visiting Santa, we had our ‘Christmas morning’ where SD got her stocking and opened presents but we didn’t do the whole ‘Christmas Day’ thing which had the added benefit of not having to buy two presents for everyone and the whole weekend was a lot more relaxed.
I embraced the idea of a Christmas Day with just my hubby and instead of listening to the script that said it was boring and depressing not to be with my family instead I got excited about the idea of doing whatever we wanted, having a lie in and opening stockings in bed. I reminded myself how long I’d longed for a husband to share the day with.
In short, It was wonderful!
So my approach now is to stop with the ‘should’ and ‘musts’, take each year as it comes and plan something that works for everyone involved on that particular year (What works one year might not work on another and Christmas evolves as children grow and family’s change), enjoy whatever gift that particular Christmas has to offer (last year it was lots of relaxing at home with my hubby, this year there is less of that but a Christmas lunch with both my parents , my sister and my niece and nephew to look forward to) and be grateful that I have so many people who love me and want to be with me for Christmas.
In addition I’ve learned what I love about Christmas and to focus on that. I’m taking time out to myself to watch Christmas movies and wrap presents, I’m saying no to things that I don’t really want to do, I’m looking forward to the small Christmas rituals that are easy to fit in whatever the schedule, like packing a stocking for my husband, stepdaughter and myself so we can enjoy opening them in bed.
So this year I’d encourage you to focus on what Christmas means to YOU, not to your family or society or the Hallmark people who make Christmas movies. What does it mean for you? What gift can you give yourself? What will you look back on and remember and cherish?
Don’t wait to be at a certain stage in your life (when you’re married, when you have children, when you have more money, when the house is done, when you can travel for the holidays, when your health is better), just enjoy it for the stage you’re at now. As this particular Christmas will never come again and who knows what next year might bring!