Hey, hey. Happy (belated) new year! I’m back. And it is, you’ll be glad to hear, a relatively happy new year so far.
And here I am with my confession: I don’t like December and, dare I say it, I’m not really sure I like Christmas either. I discovered this through the obligatory ‘how was your Christmas?’ conversations which have finally stopped happening. After multiple versions of the same conversation, patterns emerge. Through them, I have identified three main categories of people.
Category 1: The people who rave about Christmas, who get excited about Christmas, and whose Christmas lives up to expectation. These people are normally parents of little kids whose own excitement is rekindled by their children’s sense of wonder or they’re those who’ve never really known anyone who’s died. ‘It was great, thanks!’ they enthuse. I want so badly to be happy for them but sometimes I just want to punch them in the face.
Category 2: The people who rave about Christmas, who get excited about Christmas, but whose Christmas sadly falls short. These people, like the category 1 folk, get excited around October, if not before, buy a tree and new decorations, stock up on goose fat and luxury ingredients for Christmas cake, but they peak too soon. Their high point is when carols start playing on the radio and their anticipation is that of a child on Christmas Eve who still believes in Santa. But the day itself never quite syncs with that rose-tinted anticipation. ‘It had its moments’, they reply sadly with slight disbelief.
Category 3: The people for whom the whole Christmas season is tainted with some form of sadness or challenge. They reply: ‘yeah, it was good actually’. The fact that they see goodness in it shows that they’re refusing to become one of those miserly moaners (who I suppose would be a fourth category) who put bitter dampeners on the whole thing. But their use of the word ‘actually’ betrays their minimal level of expectation and their pleasant surprise that they survived it.
I realised that I am one of the ‘yeah, it was good actually’ people. And I discovered, through that realisation, that I don’t (actually) like Christmas.
I don’t like Christmas. There, I’ve said it. And I really, really don’t enjoy December.
It sounds like a simple statement but it’s a confession I feel bad about making. I hate that my mum would read that line and feel sad. Had they somehow messed up as parents? Were the 99p Christmas lights from Woolworths never sparkly enough? The childhood trees too small? By no means! On the contrary, I look back to childhood Christmasses with happiness and joy. But perhaps that’s the problem.
With every year that passes, those happy times seem to contrast more and more with the reality of now. Firstly, there’s that annual ritual of missing people who were so central to Christmas Past but who are not here anymore. People who died because they got old and people who died too soon. Either way, their absence is so much more evident at that time of the year.
Secondly, there’s that annual realisation that this isn’t how you expected life to be. It’s not that my life is bad – obviously – but Christmas seems to highlight what I don’t have. By my age, my mum had supplied her parents with two grandchildren to bring enthusiasm and wonder back into Christmas. I haven’t. At least my brother has ticked some of the boxes by getting married, buying a house, and a car, and a dog (ok, enough already). And it’s not just my life, it’s the world. It’s the fact that there’s still no peace on earth. No silent night. Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie? Yeah right.
Thirdly, it’s a time of obligation to be in certain places and to do things in particular ways. It’s a time of trying to keep everyone happy and a time when my confident, independent self fights other people’s expectations that I should fit myself into a certain cheery family-focussed mould. I just want to run away, probably to a un-Christendomised context where December 25 is a working day, and do things my way.
Bah humbug? Nah, not at all. I don’t want to be miserable and bitter because I still believe in joy to the world. Honest. But I like to think that there’s a joy that’s somehow more substantial than the seasonal mask of jollity they plaster over reality’s cracks. I believe in the messiness of an incarnation that responds to the pain of death, absence and separation, and to the reality of lives which fall short and a world that groans for restoration. An incarnation which deals with the fact that hearts are wired to autonomy and find sacrificial love so darned hard.
With that in mind I battled through the Christmas week and we had some happy moments. I still smile at the thought of me and my sister-in-law trying to figure out how to ‘remove the neck from the cavity’ [of the turkey]. Yuk. And mum was so happy that we were all with her at the end of a year that hadn’t been easy and whose challenges had yet to dissipate. So yes, it was good actually.
Nevertheless, when it was over I gave sigh of relief and headed optimistically into 2013. Over the past few weeks, as those around me have languished in the ‘January blues’, I’ve been on a bit of a high. Happy to see the back of the season to be jolly. Liberated by my confession that I don’t like it all that much and feeling more able to prepare myself for next year. Ho ho ho.
My January cheer was heightened by the fact that I never quite got round to new years’ resolutions. So while others struggled with short, cold days, made worse by no caffeine, no alcohol and excessively optimistic amounts of exercise, I just carried on as normal, apart from giving my room a good spring clean and chucking out some of the stuff-that-I-may-need-one-day. I’m not (unlike 3 of my friends) taking up netball. I’m not trying to read the Bible in the year. I’m not aiming to be married by this time next year. And I’m not going caffeine-free. To be fair, I did try the last one and got really bad headaches so have deferred that to the spring.
Instead, I filled a cold month with fun socialising and guilt-free evenings in alone. I sat in a crowded cinema with friends and a big tub of ice cream to watch Les Mis and adopted its narrative as my own post-Christmas mantra. There’s a life about to start when tomorrow comes. Bring it on.