“Tis the season to be jolly” someone wrote over a hundred years ago in a carol, so it must be true, right?
The soundtrack of our festive ‘experience’ reminds us repeatedly that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, where everybody’s having fun. Mariah’s high-pitched warbling and Slade’s manic “IT’S CHRISTMAS!” sums up how I feel about this time of year: It’s aggressive, loud and you can’t escape it. Bah humbug! Roy Wood from Wizzard wished it could be Christmas every day. Thankfully, his wish didn’t come true.
So, should we all be having a merry little Christmas now?
Well no, not really. Christmas is never perfect and pretending to ourselves and each other that it is or should be, just makes matters worse.
It’s OK not to be OK, so the more we talk about our feelings with others and realise that there’s no such thing as ‘a perfect Christmas’, the happier we will all be.
Although Christmas is rooted in Christianity, regardless of our religious beliefs, all of us would probably agree that spending time with family is an important part of the festivities and celebrations. That doesn’t mean we will all be roasting chestnuts on an open fire or rocking around the Christmas tree (despite what friends on Facebook may tell us).
Many people will be missing loved ones who will not be with them this year. There will be people spending Christmas alone or in hospital waiting rooms, grieving for grandparents, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters. There will be people mourning a recent break-up, family rift or relatives living abroad and unable to visit.
One thing the majority of us have in common at Christmas time, is that we are missing someone. It’s the time of year that grief rears its ugly head and catches us when we least expect it. Grief is always there, but we become experts at disguising it and pushing it down into some part of ourselves that we rarely acknowledge. Perhaps, because we can’t escape CHRISTMAS, we are all forced to face-up to the fact that loved ones will not be with us. Some people will be able to manage their grief better than others and have what will resemble a ‘happy’ Christmas.
My dad died recently. This will be the first Christmas without him. We didn’t have an ideal relationship. It was a typical father-daughter relationship, with arguments, resentments and missed opportunities to put things right. There will be people who will feel the overwhelming sadness to see an empty chair at the table and no amount of novelty tat, gin or chocolate will put that right.
This time of year, many of us have to resemble an octopus and be able to navigate the Christmas crowds carrying multiple shopping bags, while on the look-out for the perfect present for those we love (and some we don’t even like but who may get us something). Mothers expertly manoeuvre prams and pushchairs with numerous gifts precariously balanced. Everyone’s flustered and has probably spent more than they can afford.
In a queue today in the pound shop an elderly lady asked me if I was “excited for Christmas”, we looked at each other with an unspoken understanding that the answer to that question was different to what I was about to say, but I played the game and said in as genuine a voice as I could manage, “yes, can’t wait.” She smiled, probably pleased I hadn’t told her my life story and I was relieved she didn’t do the same. I wanted to cry.
At the self-service checkout I had an unauthorised item in my bagging area and had to ask a disinterested elf, probably on zero contract hours to help me. He wasn’t amused.
My environmentally friendly paper bag from Boots disintegrated when it started to rain, spilling my 3 for 2 offers onto the floor outside the Cleveland Centre, I did cry, because I miss my dad. I never knew what to get him for Christmas, he didn’t want much apart from his yearly supply of “colourful socks”. They would’ve been easy to carry!
I managed to wedge the contents into other more practical bags, noticing people who were homeless, huddled in doorways to keep warm. I wondered where they will spend Christmas and felt guilty for getting upset when others will be in a much worse situation.
The thing is, most of us are struggling at Christmas in one way or another and for those of us who are not ‘feeling the joy’ this year, it’s OK. It’s more ‘normal’ than you might think. We tell ourselves we have to be strong for others but we have to be kind to ourselves too. Take the pressure off.
In doing so, it means we can truly be open to what Christmas is all about: remembrance, kindness and love.
Tees Valley and Durham: Cruse Bereavement Care
Visit www.crusenortheast.org.uk to find out which services we offer.
Darlington and Durham: 01325 288633
Guisborough: 01287 610734
Middlesbrough: 01642 210284
Ageing Better. Middlesbrough offers a Coping with Grief and Loss Workshops for people over 50.
01642 257 030
North East and Cumbria Suicide Prevention Network @StopSuicideNENC
Samaritans 116 123 firstname.lastname@example.org
CALM anonymous and confidential helpline and webchat open 5pm-midnight every day 0800 58 58 58 www.thecalmzone.net
Shout 24/7 crisis support service Text: 85258
Papyrus Hopeline UK. For young people under the age of 35.
0800 068 41 41 Text 07860 039967 email: email@example.com
You can also ring your GP and ask for an emergency appointment.