I had an email from a lovely friend yesterday, suggesting that we book our Christmas meal out as soon as possible – did I have any ideas where I would like to go? I wasn’t taken completely by surprise. I know I have friends for whom Christmas starts as soon as the children go back after the summer holidays. It is now only a few weeks away. No wonder the excitement is mounting.
I pondered for some time before I published this post. I understand that for many people, and for many reasons, Christmas is not the celebration it is for me and to be honest even a Santa-obsessed girl like me thinks shops should hold off until the beginning of November at the earliest. It can be tacky and tawdry and Woolworth’s used to make me feel physically sick, displaying as it did rows of pink plastic toys and rows of blue ones with a very few gender non-specific ones in between. Traditional toys, despite always being pictured poking their heads out of the tops of children’s stockings, seem more the domain of a shop like ‘Past Times’ – somewhere you go to buy a knitting dolly for Gran or wooden soldier for Grandad.
However, as I sit here at my desk, looking out of the rain bespattered window at my windswept garden in a small town in this currently rather dismal country I feel I need to find a little warm glow from somewhere. For me, the Christmas season is just that – a warm glow in an otherwise occasionally chilly world. So bring it on.
Worryingly though, I have noticed that over the past couple of years, as the children have reached their cynical late-teens, the holiday has not been quite so jolly in the lead up to the big day. Last year I had to open ALL the doors on the advent calendar myself, possibly because it wasn’t a chocolate one (I can’t cope with opening the final door and finding a chocolate button where a baby Jesus should be lying).
Worse still, the Christmas Story calendar that has come out every year since the children were small was read, by me alone, on a daily basis to the dog. Our black lab was the only creature willing to sit still long enough to hear about the conception; the three wise men on their rather protracted journey following the star and the flight to Egypt. It is obviously one of those stories my family feel is better told in one ten minute sitting at Midnight Mass…
My daughter has even said she doesn’t want to be bothered with a stocking this year. This is the little girl who used to get the Argos catalogue out every August to write her list for Father Christmas and who would wait up until 4am to catch him out as he crept up the stairs. My son too makes rather a sombre companion, asking for books by the nihilist philosopher Nietzsche. Happy Christmas mum, and by the way there is no point to anything… (I appreciate that scholars of philosophy will correct me on that one, but that seems to be the man’s general tone).
So although I still want to sing the carols and listen to Jona Lewie; eat Christmas meals out with my friends and turkey with all the trimmings with my family; bring out Raymond Briggs DVDs and It’s a Wonderful Life, I have been thinking of a different way to do things this year. It may be clichéd, but in the next few weeks many families are going to be tortured with the knowledge that they can’t afford this year’s must-have present, or any of the over-priced plastic filling the shelves of Toys R Us or Tesco. Some people know they will be alone, or even want to be. Or perhaps they have loved ones in the forces.
So how should we all say thanks for just being here? How can we have an inclusive, meaningful celebration that doesn’t cost us a bloody fortune, cause serious mental health issues and prompt divorce? One that all faiths or no faith can feel comfortable with?
And, please, how do you enjoy it with teenagers?!!