Written for everyone who has admitted, with considerable bravery that they are not really looking forward to Christmas…..
In Victorian times, the early pioneers of the railways experimented with the contraction of tube trains – closed metal tubes or tunnels which propelled or suctioned the carriage within, by either pneumatic (akin to being fired from a pea shooter) or atmospheric (sucked by a giant vacuum). These trains rapidly fell out of favour as locomotive design improved although the same approach to sending documents – something like the flue travel described with a touch of magic in the Harry Potter novels, persisted and there has been a resurgence of interest recently with entrepreneur Elon Musk announcing plans to shoot capsules containing passengers through tubes at around the speed of sound. However interesting as a concept, I am unlikely to be a willing passenger.
As the season of goodwill approaches, I’ve felt a knot tightening within myself – an unpleasant sense of powerlessness that I can best describe as being as I imagine it would be to be in one of these trains – accelerating wildly and powerless. It’s unpleasant and anxiety producing to the extent that Christmas has frequently brought with it a sense of impending doom – hardly full of festive cheer.
I’ve tried to completely embrace the spirit – inviting all and sundry, attempting (none too successfully) to combine, Delia’s/ Nigella’s and Sarah Raven’s magical Christmases – with some Buddhist wisdom and family traditions thrown in. Unsurprisingly a lot of the time, by mid afternoon I was almost bed ridden and seething with unspoken anger and resentment at my poor victims (guests) who’d dared to turn up and actually expect to be waited on.
In latter years I swung towards a more ascetic vibe – if overindulgence and excess didn’t work then perhaps a more monastic Christmas vibe would do the trick. I experimented with the “Minimal Christmas” where my children had a few presents from the charity shops if they were lucky and I myself eschewed gifts in favour of donations to charity or other similarly worthy endeavours. Fortunately for all my friends, these occasions were limited in scope to only close family and tended to be somewhat lacking in joy and vitality – and I very much hope that I haven’t scarred my children for life as a result of my dysfunction.
As is so often the case, the middle way has proven the most rewarding path – and again as is so often the case, once I stopped blaming everyone and everything else for my unhappiness, the light began to shine once more. Sure – the commercial aspects of Christmas may seem so me to be pointless and immoral – but I was not forced to get involved, just as I was not forced to make sure everyone had a fantastic time and the right presents. I wasn’t forced to invite the whole community or pretend that I was having a great time when I wasn’t. In the end the swing from an almost pathological fear of Christmas to something bordering on enjoyment, came with an acceptance that I needed to look after myself, be kind enough not to run myself into the ground and to realise that other people were responsible for their own good times – or bad moods. I gave up trying to do everything for everyone and begun to expect others – in particular my children, to help too and suddenly, as if by magic we were connecting, we were actually having fun in a way that had previously eluded me – fun doing the washing up (I know that seems a contradiction in terms…) laughing together, slowing down.
So my recipe for this year is more of the same. There will be presents – not all of them from the charity shop…but maybe the biggest gift that I’ll try to give is something I struggle with in the day to day hurly burly of family life – attention. Attention for my children, my friends and possibly though I hardly dare say it, for myself too.