When I was a kid, the most exciting day of the year was Christmas. Even when I learned about Santa, the thrill wasn't diminished - it was a day of family and food and gifts and cricket games and sunshine and Aunty Erna's punch.
When I hit my mid-teens, there was a shift. Family, food and gifts became less important - what I wanted was to be able to make a choice about how to spend Christmas ... sadly, choice didn't feel like an option. My mother is a beautiful, compassionate woman but come Christmas she used every skill in her play-book (guilt, aggression, enticements, begging) to get me to wherever the family was spending Christmas. So for the next 30 odd years, I resentfully trudged along to wherever the family Christmas was, managing to escape just 3 of them.
What you need to know is that I treasure my family and love hanging out and breaking bread with them ... but I found Christmas a strain. At 48, I finally put an end to everyone's misery and opted out of Christmas for a few years. The break did me good, and I found my way back ... happily choosing to be with my family on Christmas day.
On reflection, if I'd taken a stand a few years earlier, I would have saved everyone considerable pain. Feelings of obligation lead me to make the day out to be a whole lot worse than it actually was. But a perspective (and proportion) came about only when I stepped outside of the expected norm.
It's a rare individual that doesn't have some degree of misgivings about Christmas. Below are some ideas in response to some common Christmas challenges. Essentially, they're about good self-care, but equally they may help you to make Christmas a bit brighter for your family.
For some, spending Christmas with the family is a form of loneliness hell. The newly separated may especially struggle, but many independent and happy lone travellers can also find it difficult. Having gritted my teeth through a few sad Christmases ('everyone's happy except meeeeeee') and I don't recommend it. If you think it's going to be a tough day, bring along a good friend or else keep your time with the family short and friendly. Do I need to say 'avoid alcohol'?
When it's time to leave, give them all a warm hug - tell them you love them, then skip off to see friends, take yourself to a movie, or go serve evening meals at the local nursing home.
Christmas parties, clothes, Santa photos, special food and drinks, gifts, wrapping, post, decorations, travel, Christmas light electricity bills ... sigh!
Christmas is a huge blip on the financial calendar. Those lucky people blessed with the 'sensible' gene do advance plans and budget for what they can afford and shop early. The rest of us blow our mental budget expectations accompanied with either acceptance or misery. If you haven't made a plan spare the damage, grab paper and pen and calculate a dollar number you can (genuinely) live with. Then, for the next three weeks, cut your cloth to fit that number.
Don't spend what you don't have ... people send themselves broke in their endeavours to impress people with how rich they are. Make love not debt!
By nature, I'm a curious person and find it difficult to resist learning more about what makes anyone tick. However, I park all that on Christmas Day. Christmas gossip is filtered through the stress and emotional challenges of the season. Don't listen to bad stuff, don't share bad stuff - your day will not suffer and neither will whomever you are talking to. Even if you have to embody the acting skills of Cate Blanchett, communicate positive, positive, positive or at the very least neutral news.
Tired and Stressed
We race through most of December finishing off work before holidays, putting the house into some sort of order, all the while attending endless social events, drinking and eating more, sleeping less whilst squeezing in shopping, cooking and making plans for a happy gathering on 25 December. Many of us are also responsible for attending to the socialising, eating, drinking, shopping, preening and sleeping of other members of our household. So we arrive at Christmas Day - so very tired, so very worn out - and feeling a teensy bit disappointed that Christmas (and our family) aren't meeting our expectations. How to resist the urge to externalise our weariness with a snarl? Perhaps taking a breath and recognising that everyone feels pretty much the same way.
For many, the highlight of Christmas Day is the period just after lunch when ease creeps in - then people sprawl over the lawn or start a game of cricket or yack in the kitchen. If you feel like snapping at someone, pull them in for a cuddle - ease will arrive
The ideal: take 2-months to thoughtfully identify and purchase 10-15 gifts that don't blow the budget. Hand out your beautifully wrapped parcels and watch them be opened and received with delighted glee.
The reality: madly shop the week before Christmas, circling department stores all the while recognising the hopelessness of sticking to a budget, instead buy things you hope are interesting. Watch on stoically as your hurriedly wrapped parcels are dutifully acknowledged, before the receiver moves onto the next gift.
The only way Christmas gift giving can end well is if you start early, be thoughtful about what the recipient values, spend only what you can afford and ENJOY giving the gift.
Don't equate spending with love ... love instead!
Image sourced from Shutterstock 'Bokeh Blue Lights' by Triff