Like many I have nostalgic memories of Christmas as a child. I remember it as a time of magic, twinkly lights and fun. I loved being with my mother as she went through the family Christmas rituals.
Early December was the tree ritual, where the lights were taken out of the boxes and we waited with baited breath to see if the Cinderella coach lights would still turn on, whether Mum would find the fuse light or whether we would have to bid a sad goodbye.
Then later was the cooking as I watched Mum roll sausage meat into home-made sausage rolls and helped her ladle mincemeat into pastry cases.
Finally came the presents stacked under the tree all wrapped ready for the big day. I still love to sit in my lounge in the peace at the end of Christmas Eve with it only lit by the Christmas tree lights bouncing off the parcels that have turned the mundane into something magical.
Mundane to Magic
That for me was the key. The magic wasn’t necessarily in what we did. Boiled down to its constituents Christmas day activities were eating a roast dinner, opening presents and watching television.
But the way we did it, that’s what made it wonderful, even when it wasn’t. It seems to me that it was simpler then and few modern additions have crept in over the past few years that have threatened this year to turn me from a Christmas lover into a Christmas loather. Here are my top three.
It certainly was a black Friday. I don’t think the sun was seen at all that day. And if I had paid attention to the emails I received selling me things I don’t need or want at prices I still don’t want to pay I wouldn’t have seen it even if it did appear.
Some of this was my fault, I have left myself subscribed to email lists, but even if you unsubscribe they still seem to find you. Those Ugg boots I bought a year or two ago now give the company carte blanche to keep sending me emails advertising more of the same.
I can’t even reply to these emails, they won’t let me, the conversation is completely one-sided, which seems unfair. I’d be polite at first, along the lines of “Thank you for your email updating me on your latest stock. I still love the boots I bought from you but find that since they are well made and I still only have the two feet I don’t need any more. I’ll let you know if the dog eats them or I foolishly go out in the rain wearing them one time too many.”
Also Black Friday isn’t one day, it’s a whole weekend, or even longer. Why? It also seems to roll into Cyber Monday, or has that been abandoned now? And what happened to New Year sales, does anyone know what the price of anything is any more?
I used to quite like Christmas jumpers, there was something quaint and funny about them. Who, of my age and gender, can forget the dashing Colin Firth dressed in his Christmas reindeer jumper as he tried to flirt diffidently with Bridget Jones?
Then a few years ago it started going mainstream. It seemed like a bit of fun and we played along. Now though it has become a THING.
When did this happen? Now, among the secret Santa presents, the teacher gifts, the cards for the class, the Rotary boxes and the constant concerts and shows the children have a Christmas jumper day at school. This is intended to raise money for charity but involves the biggest charity being H&M, M&S or New Look as we frantically search for the last remaining Christmas jumper in our child’s size.
Elf on the Shelf
This for me was the kicker, the thing that broke my love of the Christmas season. I believed I embraced Christmas, from December 1st I will happily decorate my home, play Christmas albums on repeat, eat mince pies and spend hours wondering what I’d like to give people as a present. But no, this is not enough. I do not have an Elf on the Shelf. I have not allowed Santa to send a little helper to spy on my children and wreak havoc in my home.
I hate them. Really viscerally hate the beggars. They look creepy as hell and I have no desire or inclination to let one in twenty feet of me, let alone near my children. I also do not want to trash my home to bring the “magic” of Christmas closer. I have children, a husband and a puppy for that. Frankly half of my spare time seems to be either chuntering about the mess other people have made or clearing it up without any intervention from me, so why would I make a mess on purpose?
I am seriously considering an alternative where the elf is found murdered in 24 different ways over the course of advent. I have a few possibilities in mind – drowned in the fish tank, frozen in the ice-cream drawer, run-over in the drive way, hung from a coat-hanger, fallen out of a window; and the pièce de résistance – disembowelled by the dog on Christmas Eve.
Killing the Magic of Christmas
As you can see I’ve thought a lot about this. I have had enough of this and all the other things that are taking the joy and magic out of Christmas as they become part of the agreed prescription for perfection that none of us can ever reach.
Plus it’s all a distraction anyway. While we are working out what shade of white fairy light looks best with our curtains we are not thinking about the fever enveloping our world. While we are grabbing gifts at bargain prices for our family, sometimes out of the hands of others, we are neglecting to consider those in pain or poverty. While we are working so hard to make Christmas magical we are killing the magic of Christmas.
That is what I loathe, but what can we do about it?
Let it Go
The answer I think, as with many things, lies in letting this ideal of the perfect Christmas go. However hard we try we are unlikely to find resolution to all of our niggles or problems. Difficult relationships may well feel even more difficult under the spotlight of seasonal expectation, parties may start to become a chore or a drain on our energy as our bodies fight off infection and struggle against the desire to hibernate.
Illness, death, unhappiness, frustration, disappointment and grief are no great respecters of baubles or twinkly lights. The challenges of being human do not disappear under a mound of wrapping paper and cannot be stifled by mixed fruit based desserts.
But that is not the point of Christmas. It is not meant to be a place of perfection it is exactly the place we can park our imperfections and simply be, as we are, with each other.
After the bewildering overwhelm of black Friday where I was absolutely ready to embrace my inner Grinch and cancel any mention of Christmas until at least 23rd December I went to church on Sunday. I walked in to be faced with a gigantic Christmas tree and the lighting of the first advent candle.
And I remembered what Christmas is there for, why it is a comfort and how it fills my needy heart at this time of year.
Faced with the dark days of December and the loss of the sun, it is hard to remember it is still there to warm us, somewhere beyond the clouds. Christmas, with its message of light sent into darkness, is there to give us hope.
At this time of year Christians celebrate that God loved the world so much he chose to live among us, as a human being, in the form of Jesus Christ. Not everyone embraces that message but all of us know the transformative power of love and hope.
Love and Hope
Hope is what we have when faith is hard to come by. Love is what has faith in us even when we struggle to have faith in ourselves. Faith is what helps us believe in the sun and all the other things we know exist but cannot see. And this is the magic I want in my Christmas.
I don’t expect the conflict and troubles of our world will cease at Christmas, they are unlikely to even pause in our small family. Arguments will happen, people will have different opinions about the essential ingredients of a good Christmas, some of us will be nursing winter viruses or recovering from unexpected illnesses, many of us will be nervous about what the future has in store.
But beyond all of that, warming us from the inside, are faith, hope and love: faith that we will be enough to face whatever life throws at us, hope that there are brighter days ahead and love for those bewildering, frustrating and complicated beings that form our friends and family.
While we stop for a moment and share a meal together, let us allow the magic to flow through us, unbound, unbottled, and let us wonder at the way in which humanity has, unrestricted by time or geography, embraced the message of hope and love which lies at the heart of Christmas. And in that love let us find a way to accept each other as we are, imperfect and here, ready to listen, ready to learn, ready to be part of the magic of Christmas.