Somehow the run up to Christmas this year seems even more frantic than ever. Every year I promise myself I will be better organised for the festivities and every year I fail to do so which means this pre-Christmas week becomes a frantic search for more hours in the day!
For some folk however, Christmas brings out very different emotions. This year Christmas Eve is a Sunday. One previous Sunday Christmas Eve, when I was a parish minister, I led the Sunday service, visited a family in hospital whose twins had been born the previous day 10 weeks premature, met a bereaved family whose father had died the previous day and then conducted a wedding – all before taking the midnight services. A whole plethora of emotions all in one Christmas Eve!
I remember doing a wedding preparation class with 10 couples. 5 of them had one partner who had lost a close family member on Christmas day.
I spent many hours listening to a young woman who hated Christmas because it always brought back memories of the painful violence she knew growing up which always seemed to be worse at Christmas, and another who struggles with anything connected to religion because of trauma they experienced as a child at the hands of people who claimed to be religious.
More recently I spent time with a friend who for the first time won’t see their children on Christmas day because of the breakup of their marriage and another who is single and has no immediate family so for them the nuclear family narrative of Christmas is pretty exclusive.
And then there are those excluded from the festivities because they have no home to go to, for whom Christmas will be another day on the streets.
The list could be longer. I know it seems very depressing. I don’t mean to be downbeat about the festive period but we in our festive activity do need to be cognisant of what it feels like for some folk to be surrounded by celebrations and images of a particular narrative of a “perfect” family life which they struggle to meet.
There isn’t one answer to these complex issues other than supporting and celebrating great initiatives like the Christmas Day meals at Hearts and Hibs, reaching out when we can to those we can support ourselves and supporting organisations who will be there for those whose needs we cannot meet, not just this Festive time but who offer #365daysofsupport whatever the challenge folk are facing.
The deeper questions about changing the narrative about the unachievable “perfect” Christmas will take longer to unpack. Shifting the conversation away from perfection being about a specific present and a particular meal is a tough ask in a retail economy where 50% of profits are made during the festive period and 24% of sales are made on the Black Friday sales.
Unless we choose to change our habits as consumers that is not going to change any time soon. However if we can bring ourselves (me included- I am very bad at overdoing things in the Santa dept!) to choose to buy less it would not only help our bank accounts but hopefully give us more time for what really matters – enjoying the relationships we value, sharing food we enjoy rather than we feel we ought to have, and having time simply to be still and to breathe, to listen and to be silent. If we could create that kind of space in our festive celebrations we might discover a different but less rigid understanding of “perfection” – one that cannot be bought but will feel much more valuable to each of us.
20th December 2017