It is coming. I can duck, dive, weave and hide but I cannot avoid it. Yesterday, as I walked through our village to the gym, I saw the first decorations glittering outside a house. To misquote Eddard Stark, Christmas is coming.
I used to love this time of year. I would bake my huge fruit cake in October ready for the children to ice and decorate on Christmas Eve. Throughout November I would make copious present lists and place numerous online orders. I would write more cards than I needed to send; spend days composing and rewriting my annual update, carefully choosing photographs that I felt depicted each family member’s year. I enjoyed this preparation and looked forward with excited anticipation to the big event.
As the day approached there would be dinners out with friends, celebratory drinks and house parties to attend. I took pleasure in putting on my glad rags and heading out into the cold, dark night to drink and chat with my lovely friends. The children would take part in organised events at school and their various activity groups, bringing home goodie bags of sweets and small toys. It was a joyous time.
And then it all started to go wrong. Little things happened that took the shine off the anticipation. That general feeling of wellbeing and joy slowly dissipated. Friends fell out and would not accept an invitation if another was to be there; the children were less keen to partake in organised events; I was asked by one recipient of my annual update to please stop sending it. The relaxed, happy expectation leaked away to be replaced with stress and confusion. I found it harder to please even those I felt close to; I began to worry about everything.
But before all that, before I began to feel that I was a square peg in a round hole, sometime in between the joy that it had once been and the drudge that it is threatening to become, before it all started to go wrong for me, there was The Best Christmas Ever. For three days running I was as relaxed and happy as I believe it is possible to be.
It started on Christmas Eve, after a typically manic December. We closed the curtains to keep in the warmth, turned on the corny Christmas music and filled the oven with party snacks before starting the little family party that had, over time, developed into an annual ritual. It was a time together between the plethora of parties and socialising with others. The children were still young enough to enjoy the company and attention of their parents. We chatted and ate and messed around together before snuggling up on the sofa to watch a funny film. Afterwards I read aloud ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas and we all settled down for our long winter’s nap to allow Santa to visit (we had been good, of course).
Christmas Day started early with much excitement as presents were opened and happiness reigned. This day was even more special than usual though; this was the only Christmas Day we have ever experienced when it was just the five of us.
With only us to please it had been agreed that we would forgo the big turkey dinner and let the children choose what we ate; they chose pizza. With only us to please there was no need to get dressed so we spent the entire day in pyjamas. With only us to please we could do what we wanted, when we wanted, so we spent the next two days watching the entire, extended edition of the director’s cut of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy on DVD. Each film was around four hours long but we still managed to watch loads of the extras as well. How they managed to film grown men alongside each other looking so wizard tall and hobbit small was impressive.
Between disk changes we would dash out to grab food from the fridge, refill drinks and take comfort breaks. Other than that we stayed sofa bound, in our pyjamas, with the curtains closed for the entire time. It was fabulous. I don’t believe I have ever felt so snug and happy as I did over those few days, alone with my family, eating what we wanted when we wanted, the rest of the world ignored.
It is not something that would be easy to repeat. My children have become less satisfied with me as they have grown older. I am no longer regarded as amusing, but rather foolish and behind the times. We can still spend time together and enjoy that time, but the underlying antipathy towards me from one teenage child or another rarely goes entirely.
Last year I tried to recapture the spirit of the season but it all went wrong. I tried to turn back the clock, but it cannot be done. For now, my wishes are no longer heard or are not regarded as important. My family have their own ideas about how they wish to celebrate, and much of what they do involves me only as a facilitator.
And so to this year. If we choose to have a cake it will be shop bought. Only my nearest and dearest feature on my very short present list; I have yet to place any orders. Cards will be sent to just a few people; I have not prepared a Christmas update and am undecided if it would be worthwhile. I have declined all invitations to outings; my children will organise for themselves any that they wish to attend.
The day will happen and I am steeling myself to cope with whatever expectations my family have. I will cook the big dinner if it is required and try to fit in around the plans that are now made without consultation. I will make the most of any moments when we can recapture the joy that can still be shared if the five of us choose to spend time together, but I will try not to expect such times to happen for fear of disappointment.
Last year I did not manage to get through the festive season unscathed and it took me many months to recover. This year I will be more aware of the catalysts that bring me down and work to manage them. There are some things in life that can neither be avoided nor changed and I must cope.
Alongside all of this I will hug the knowledge that we once enjoyed The Best Christmas Ever. I have that happy memory, and January brings a whole new year of opportunities to explore. Life moves on and, just as Christmas was once a time of joy, it may become so again. I will do my best to go with the flow and keep my head above water. Who knows, I may even find a new way in which I may celebrate that I can enjoy.
My mum died 2 days before Christmas last year, 2 weeks after the death of my mother in law. I’m especially thinking of my mum today as it’s her birthday – my first one without her. Christmas changed forever for us last year as a family, so this year Matthew, John and I are going away for Christmas – first time we’ve ever done it. Time moves on and we move with it, whether we want to or not. And I must admit that snuggling in front of a log fire in the Lake District for a few days is something we are all looking forward to. But we’ll be looking back fondly to lovely Christmasses past; not trying to recapture, but gladly moving on.