If someone asked me to describe my family Christmas traditions, I would simply point them to the Pogues Fairytale of New York and the television obsessed drama series The Royle Family - you can draw your own conclusions from those clues.
The pace is certainly picking up on the lead up to the big day, with the restrictions now eased in most areas, people are taking to the shops making up for lost shopping time. Which camp are you in, are you in the ‘taking easy’ camp or are you in the ‘making the most of it’ camp?
This time last year I was becoming a regular at the Glasgow meditation center, I recall a lady in the group who, after the meditation session, burst into a state of anxiety about her own mother joining her for Christmas. The lady seemed incredibly unnerved at the thought of her elderly mother ruining her special mother-daughter Christmas. The lady wanted to spend the day with her daughter, perhaps her elderly mother wanted the same? Whatever the reasons, this lady was deeply troubled at the thought of entertaining her mother at Christmas. She wanted a perfect Christmas, at that point I could not hold back, I tried to console the lady and pointed out that there is no such thing as ‘perfect’ – my words failed to penetrate the anxiety.
We seem to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create the perfect Christmas but what is the perfect Christmas? You could be fooled by the countless low budget Christmas movies all with the same story line of, falling in love, everything turning out good on the big day, a parent’s determination to get that perfect gift, blah blah blah oh, and someone always seems to save Christmas and Santa – come on!
If someone asked me to describe my family Christmas traditions, I would simply point them to the Pogues Fairytale of New York and the television obsessed drama series The Royle Family - you can draw your own conclusions from those clues. Our favorite family memory is now the great Christmas of ‘Ronnie’. Yes, after a few refreshments at the local pub, Ronnie joined our table after receiving a last-minute invite, falling off the dinning chair and drunkenly lacking fork to mouth co-ordination certainly brought some ‘entertainment’. In true Ronnie style he spent the rest of night telling is all how much he loved us all - I think it was the booze talking.
There will always be the memory of my first Christmas abroad whilst serving in Iraq during Operation Telic, the local kids enjoyed nothing better than throwing stones at the compound gate, the occasional stone finding my helmet. My Christmas guard-duty was followed up with Christmas lunch at our makeshift cook-house on the dusty sand banks of the Shat-al-Arab, a locally employed civilian mistook the communal cranberry sauce for his starter and enjoyed spooning it down his neck, needless to say, he enjoyed his cranberry and we all enjoyed turkey with a very watery army issued gravy. In true squaddie fashion the day was spent keeping each other’s moral high, jokes and banter at one and others expense, taking the day in your stride and accepting the circumstances for what they were.
When growing up my older bothers loved a practical joke, one year when we were all kids they decided to rummage around the house collecting empty boxes of all sorts. They wrapped up all the empty boxes, stuck my name on them – To Lesley, From Santa and placed them under the tree. I woke up on Christmas morning rushed downstairs, bouncing through the living room door to a scene filled with magic and wonder – Santa had been. I was so excited with all these presents under the tree for me, heaps and heaps of presents. I had the most presents amongst my brothers and sisters, I honestly believed Santa loved me the most. My mother was rather confused as gift after gift was passed my direction, scratching her head in state of confusion, questioning her own abilities to budget for the equal value and distribution of gifts. Excited as all kids are, I tore open my special gifts from Santa, still so chuffed that Santa loved me the most and feeling extra special for it. My bothers at this point were red in the cheeks, trying to avoid all eye contact, peering out the side of their eyes watching the events unfold, fighting hard to hold back their laughter. My Christmas morning crashed into a state of confusion wondering why Santa would bring me: 4 x empty VHS cases, 2 x empty boxes and 4 x empty cassette tape cases. My excited feelings of magic and wonder slowly sank into sadness and pity. My bothers were in hysterics, my mum hit the roof and I sat sobbing my eyes out.
We also enjoyed an extremely late Christmas dinner one year, that would be the year the oven was not switched on! Christmas dinner was almost a late-night snack! These things happen I suppose. If it were not for the local post-office shop opening on Christmas morning then you could expect to read more Christmas fail stories: forgot the gravy, forgot the double cream, forgot stock cubes, my family owe a lot to the local shop being open on Christmas morning!
Christmas 2014 was my worst Christmas due to personal circumstances and going through the darkest time of my life so far. Christmas 2014 made two Christmases in war torn Iraq seem exceptionally good. But brighter days were just around the corner, after the storm comes the sun, whatever your circumstances are this year, Christmas can be what you want it to be and want you need it to be.
I don’t aim for the prefect Christmas, I don’t believe such a thing exists, it’s taken many festive occasions to bring that reality to the surface. I was someone who fell for the ‘magic of Christmas’ myths that you get from over watching festive movies. I tried to recreate those moments and each year I failed and the only person to be let down was me. I put so much expectation on others, I put so much expectation on the day, all that resulted was stress and misery. If you want to enjoy and make the most of Christmas, aim for a carefree imperfect one, here are my 5 tips:
1. Don’t aim for perfection – perfection is a myth. If anything, beauty is found in the imperfection. Have your own unique Christmas, family quirks and mayhem included.
2. Don’t put expectation on others – Accept friends and family for who they are, have your own drunken Ronnie fall off the dinning chair.
3. Make slippers mandatory – Slippers are now a mandatory requirement if you come to mine for Christmas, there is a sense of chilling out and relaxing that comes when you slip on those slippers.
4. Merry mornings – Go a walk on Christmas morning, there is something genuinely nice when you meet all the Christmas morning dog walkers with funky hats and scarfs, everyone greeting each other with ‘Merry Christmas’
5. Dump the Bird – If you don’t like turkey, then why are you eating it? My lot are a steakpie lot, we can forgive a dry or a burnt turkey, but we cannot forgive a burnt pastry on a hearty steakpie.
Make Christmas yours, not what the TV says, not what the movies say and certainly not what society says. It’s your public holiday, it’s your day off, it’s your time to unwind and de-stress after what’s been a miserable year, it’s your day to enjoy with the kids, family and friends. So, let yourself off the hook with ‘perfection’ and just enjoy being in the here and now, with those who matter to you.
Let’s face it, many people will be wishing for the day to pass quickly. The financial burden will be too much for some and many will be spending their first Christmas having lost a loved one in 2020, the feeling of injustice and being taken to soon due to COVID-19 will be raw in people’s hearts. Whatever Christmas means to you this year – let it be what you need it to be for you and your family.
From all the team at BKRG, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a very happy Hogmanay, may 2021 bring hope and happiness to you all.
If you are finding this particularly difficult at this time of year, the team at Willow Grove have been an incredible support the team at BKRG. : https://willowgrovecounselling.co.uk/
You can also contact the following:
National Helpline on: 0800 111 4000
South Lanarkshire Wellbeing: 0303 123 1009