From the tinkling of those sleigh bells in a winter wonderland as the Christmas films begin, to Bing Crosby crooning out ‘White Christmas’ once again, from gleaming baubles, gingerbread baking, carol singing, card writing, the nativity play for the little ones, the present buying in the bustling high streets, the twisted ribbon streamers and bunting and garlands of twinkling lights festooning house fronts, the Christmas cake making and icing…all these things, which may have been begun with great enthusiasm, become a little jaded as the Christmas advertisements roll relentlessly on…no wheels left on the wagon but the wagon’s still rolling along…and we may become a little tired, a tad disillusioned…but never mind it will all be worth it…and on we go…right through to decisions about where to spend Christmas day this year. Whose turn is it this year to play host to the family gathering? And then there’s all the mammoth quantities of food to buy, the perfect turkey, then having to take into account the vegetarian options, and the house must be just perfect, all those little fix it jobs must be done right now, we can’t have the guests think we’re slacking, and we must have the perfect Christmas tree… and the front door must have the most adorable wreath on it to welcome guests to their perfect Christmas. Then there’s the phone calls to make the arrangements. What? Who has the gall to say there’re not coming? They can’t do that, can they? That’s a bit of a cheek! They want a quiet Christmas at home? Well, for goodness’ sake, don’t we all?!
Love it or loathe it, there is no escaping Christmas. According to writer and philosopher, Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, there are three modalities of awakened conscious living: acceptance, enjoyment and enthusiasm in an ascending order of desirability. We would expect all three to be operating within us at Christmas time, like they most certainly did when we were children believing in tantalising tales of Santa Claus nipping down chimneys and leaving bulging sacks of pressies behind. Plenty of joy, plenty of enthusiasm abounding, our cup runneth over. But as we grow older Christmas can be burdened by massive weights of expectations and assumed responsibilities, and we can open ourselves up to becoming vulnerable when the festivities don’t go quite according to plan. When hopes and wishes pop and go flat like the bubbles in the fizzy wine, when family members begin to bicker and spoil the ‘fun’. We may expect to enjoy Christmas and be filled with enthusiasm, yet end up struggling even just to graciously accept it. And as for peace? Where did that go?
So it seems to me we have two opposing poles working within us at Christmas time. One is the joy and wonder which we romantically crave, to light up a frequently grey and dreary wintertime, with the kind of sparkling Christmas we probably did thoroughly enjoy as children. But as time marches on and we grow older, we can be taken over by the other pole, the dogged materialism, and the fact that Christmas can be lonely for many, such as the elderly, the poor and the homeless.
Here is a poem to illustrate these two poles, entitled guess what – ‘Christmas’. I wrote it while I was doing a writing course, where it was suggested as an exercise we might open a book of poetry at random, read the first ten lines of whatever our eyes alighted upon and use this to stimulate a poem of our own. I found myself reading the beginning of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees’ poem, and I relished the rhythms and somewhat cynical tone, as well as the contrast between the awe of a child’s perspective compared to the weary adult one. Here is a link to T.S Eliot’s original. And here is what I developed from it:
There are many Christmases- magical and mundane,
To sample, to search for, again and again:
But not for a child the bubbles of booze,
The partying cry, the wassailing wailing,
At times gone by, the Auld Lang Syne,
The dribbling and drooling of hangers on,
Who should have left the party long ago,
Because time’s moved on.
Not for a child, the neglected and homeless,
The cold-chilled weary with threadbare jackets,
Shuffling to the soup kitchen for their Christmas cheer,
While the icy city shoppers shoulder them away,
Rushing to the early Christmas sales,
The red and white bannered frenzy – blood and body of Christ,
To pay the price and make no sacrifice.
No, not for a child the pious and pensive,
The grave church service of the ever so righteous,
Who leave their devotions at the doorway,
And go home to their tinsel,
And their real Christmas tree, uprooted,
From rows and rows grown fit for function.
No, Christmas for a child is a different world,
Of sparkle, excitement and twinkling fairy lights,
Of rustling paper and spicy smells,
Of oranges, lemons and jingling bells,
Of games and giggles and shiny new things,
Of Santa Claus and his band of elves,
Of falling snow and Jack Frost painting feathered scrolls,
On midnight blue panes, through which children see the stars,
And believe in those dreams that their parents once dreamed.
So what is Christmas really about? Well, apart from the religious aspects, it’s really about relationships, isn’t it? Good ones, bad ones, often where people who don’t get together all that often have to make Christmas cheer together. I love those American movies where a couple go to visit their respective families for Christmas, fitting them in on a Christmas tour. Where those skeletons pop out of cupboards, where issues arise and the bickering starts, then old grievances are hauled out for re-examination and the blame begins. A favourite of mine in this very vein is Four Christmases, with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn. But in the movies those issues are often resolved, the family members have meaningful talks, then move on from Christmas with a good feeling into a new year. In reality, its probably more a case of not resolving issues or not airing them at all, so nobody spoils everyone’s Christmas. After all, you’d probably have to be a qualified counsellor to even hope of addressing issues to a satisfactory conclusion in a short space of time! And that’s if the family members are willing. Should you have a go anyway? This is something I’ve thought about, but not put into practice. If you do go down this road, you have to be prepared for the potential fallout, and it’s worth considering that it might be best left for another time.
So what can we do to make our Christmas not just acceptable, not just enjoyable, but to have plenty of enthusiasm too?
Well, there will probably be some elements you really do love: it might be Christmas crafts, making decorations, singing Christmas songs in a choir, playing all those Christmas songs again – music is great for getting people to relax and for lightening the mood – it might be having a dance, eating your favourite chocolates, playing with the children and their toys. It might be enjoying the food prepping, it might be gazing at the perfect Christmas tree while you sip some mulled wine, it might be getting out for a long walk with the family dog, it might be getting to know a relative you’ve not seen for ages who you discover you have so much in common with. So have a think and make sure you enjoy these special things for yourself, mindfully, in the moment, and let the moments become many.
What will I be doing? Well, since my hubbie is a bah humbug type, I’ll be doing as much as the above as possible. I have a bauble twig tree with lights, a wreath on the cottage door, and Bertie, the snowman toy, is sitting on a kitchen shelf. I’ll be singing in a community Christmas concert, I’ll be seeing the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with a friend next week, ordering a couple of cheesecakes, which my hubbie loves, then going down to my Mums and my sisters and her boys for Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day. There has been no present buying to do, we banned it a few years back when we were all struggling to think of things to get each other, after we’d been there and done that too many times, (demonstrated by my returning a dress my sister had got me that suited her better, and her not wearing a gorgeous scarf I knitted her). No precise plans have been made about what to do for Christmas dinner, an unusual occurrence, as my sister and I usually decide for the small family that we are, but somehow I’m enjoying this dysfunction. We’ll play it by ear for a change. Can we do that? We’ll see!
Wishing you the kind of Christmas you most love and all good things for 2017, and a big thank you for your support of this blog. I’ll be back in the new year.
(images courtesy of pixabay)