Finding that Festive Feeling

I’ve rushed up from the kitchen all teary eyed to write this post , because in the last hour in particular I’ve had a significant personal reminder that Christmas isn’t consistently jolly for a lot of us. Today at home I’ve felt nothing but an inconvenience to be honest, and right now I couldn’t feel less festive, and have zilch quota of that inner warm and fuzzy that many of the movies and adverts makes us believe is the norm this time of year.

This Xmas, for the second time only in my life I will be spending Christmas away from my family, instead spending it at Si’s mum’s house with his sister, her husband, his mum’s best friend and her two rambunctious Whiton terriors. How lucky I am to have an option btw!

With past long term partners I’ve turned down opportunities to experience a different kind of Christmas away from my family because I felt too guilty about the prospect of leaving my parents, I worried that they’d see it as some sort of abandonment, or as a sign that I didn’t care about being with them. As older parents I also thought I should make the most of the remaining ones we have together. But in saying no to these alternative Christmas experiences I sacrificed some of my own happiness (and that of my partners who wanted to share it with me). This year I decided to accept the offer to take a few days out of my situation and head to Burnham ,where Si’s family lives, to enjoy a Christmas with a different, hopefully less stressed atmosphere. I want to say my decision to finally do what I want this year has come directly from a new mindset, one of prioritising my own feelings a bit more, but I was actually only felt comfortable to do it when I discovered my brother and his wife were going to come to our family home which meant my parents wouldn’t be on their own, and the house would feel as full as it ever has been before. It gave me the perfect opportunity to keep Si happy, and escape for a bit, without that feeling of guilt I would have felt normally.

I won’t go too far into the many reasons why Christmas isn’t always so cheery at my family home, it’s Christmas eve eve so I don’t wish to spend my afternoon posting my usual style of lengthy essay, nor bring down those lucky folk feeling that child-like excitability. But the first year I saw a real shift felt was the year we lost one of my grandfathers on Christmas eve, and I’ll never forget seeing my mum and Grandmother trying to stifle tears all of Christmas Day. Hearing sobbing through the kitchen door, and all of us chocking up when we did the Christmas toast at the dinner table. Inevitably every year memories of this year and other sad ones that followed have tainted the festive period for my mum in particular, and that has infiltrated the rest of us like emotional osmosis.

I’m not here simply to talk sad stories. We’ve all got them, and unfortunately we will continue to gather many more, that’s part of the ups and downs of life, but I just wanted to mark it via my personal blog as a way to tell other’s who are struggling, for whatever reason, that it’s ok not to feel that buzzed about Christmas, and all that it involves. One of my best friends, who has always been a massive fan of this time of year is almost refusing to acknowledge it as a time of celebration this year having lost the most important person in her life very suddenly in 2017. It may make others feel uncomfortable if you don’t want to enjoy the normal traditions , but sometimes it’s about doing things in a way that will help you  cope, or merely get through it this time round.

There’s also that feeling of guilt you can get if you dare to even attempt to enjoy Christmas if you believe it’s a time when you should be grieving or showing respect to absentees. In short

It’s complicated, so we just need to be aware that people are going through some very unique and emotional/stressful ‘stuff’ that will effect their ability to revel in the next few days how many would expect them to, or in a way that is deemed doing Christmas properly.

Another reason why I wanted to get all this down before I shut up shop for Christmas was just to remind people of the plethora of reason why December might be tricky, just so that we can all be a bit more sensitive and kind to one another….

If they’re on a diet for some reason they might be feeling stressed about being surrounded by tempting food for days on end. They could be worrying about their will power, or alternatively worrying about whether they’ll be diluting their enjoyment by sticking rigidly to their diet.

Perhaps this time of year tends to be an unlucky time of year for them and it has a certain feeling of inevitable doom about it. They may feel anxious or have that horrible sense of foreboding.

Maybe something tragic or sad happened this time of year and it’s steeped with sadness, regret or grief. The fact that it’s a time of year that we’re mean to be full of joy can make it even harder to deal with as the comparison to the natural feeling is so stark.

The end of the year is always a time for a reflection. so if it hasn’t gone how you hoped it would, you can me left feeling negative or hopeless.

Lack of sunlight means that a lot of people are suffering from the effects of S.A.D, so purely the fact that it’s the deep of winter may mean mood is hampered considerably.

If you come from a family who has experienced divorce you may have had to make stressful decision on the run up to the big day. Knowing who to spend Christmas with for instance (although where possible I suggest alternating). If you don’t get on with the new partner or step siblings that could be causing tension or worry. Perhaps you all come together at Chistmas and you know snide comments and niggles likely.

The present swapping part of the day may be a major cause for concern. Perhaps you know that your offerings are far smaller or inexpensive than the ones you are likely to receive, and that makes you feel embarrassed or inferior. Perhaps you’ve overstretched yourself so that you can give like for like, and know that you’ve put yourself in a precarious position financially. Perhaps you know you haven’ been able to get your kids that gift they’ve written in capital letters on their list for Santa, and you therefore feel like you’ve let them down (even though you haven’t and they will always understand when they’re older). On this subject can I remind you that the feel of the day is what you remember the most, not the presents.

Perhaps you suffer from a chronic or terminal illness and it doesn’t allow you to get as involved in Christmas as you’d like. Perhaps you feel isolated, like you’re constantly missing out, or that you can’t contribute as much as you’d like or used to.

I have a friend who is an alcoholic and he finds this time of year particularly challenging. Alcohol is more prevalent than any other time of year, with many viewing it as an essential part of embracing the festive period fully. Due to the increase in people offering it, it will mean far more declines followed by questions as to why you aren’t indulging in that Mulled wine, sherry, Bucks Fizz, shot etc.

I personally always loved being single at Christmas (it’s far cheaper) but some people want another half to share Christmas with, movies like Love Actually and The Holiday probably not helping on that front. The mere concept and supposed function of Mistletoe can bring home your single status a bit more too.

Some people have jobs that don’t allow for time off over Christmas. While we’re all banging on about putting out out of office settings on, or saying goodbye to the office till January, many won’t have time off to look forward to. Perhaps they’ve had to agree to work over the Christmas period because they’re not in the position to turn down the opportunity for double pay or extra tips. Perhaps they have the sort of role that is a 24/7 commitment, whatever time of year or occasion it might be.

For full time carers there is no time for rest. It’s a day where you potentially have even more to juggle throughout you already full day of tasks and attention. They may find little time to enjoy it for themselves, instead focused on the wellbeing of others.

The Homeless. There are so many wonderful charities and initiatives trying to ensure as many people as possible have shelter and food over the Christmas period, but there will still be people out in the cold without company and without proper food. Seeing people stumble past, wobbly and merry for Christmas drinks and office parties, or laden down with full bags of food from M & S can’t be easy. No doubt many will also be thinking about the families and loved ones they’re estranged from.

That’s just a few reasons why it can be hard for many to embrace the christmas card picture perfect ideals of this time of year.

If you’re not feeling festive in your situation, what can you do??

I’m not going to appear naive and pretend these things will fix the problems that some of you/us are facing. but they may make a weeny bit of difference in terms of shifting into a slightly more tinsel filled headspace.

Don’t be scared to say your struggling, that you’d like company or that you’d like help with something. So often people are sad or alone simply because people haven’t been aware of their situation. Allow people to help.

If you have some money, why not go ice-skating, places like Hampton Court or The Natural History Museum look particularly twinkly and romantic, and if it’s good enough for the Made In Chelsea guys it’s good enough for me. Something about being around kids, families and couples having a good time and feeling that pure Christmas magic can be infectious too.

Volunteering is a great way to give you some of those warming feelings. Christmas really should be about giving, and that doesn’t have to mean just money or gifts – it can mean giving time, effort, a non judgemental ear, a shoulder to lean on, encouragement, information…the options are endless.

Is there a neighbour that lives alone or a relative that will spend much of the time in isolation? Pay them a visit, bring round some traditional christmas treats and spend some time sitting with them. Just having company while watching their normal TV shows will make a huge difference to them.

Do you have that friend that is always uplfiting or positive to be around. One of those rare breeds we refer to these days as ‘radiators’. Or perhaps you have that pal who just LOOOOVEES Christmas. Why not schedule a quick catch up with them and see if it rubs off you on and makes you see the positives that this season brings.

Get your cosy layers on and go for a wintery walk. We always go for a stroll where all of our dream houses are in a private road nearby. We love to gaze at the big posh houses with their exuberant light displays and OTT statues and decorations and imagine what Christmas would be like there inside. I know this sounds kinda depressing, but dreaming can be fun, and it  sort of feels like you’ve stepped on to a street like the one in Home Alone.

Go to your local farm shop if there is one. We went to ours this afternoon and it was decked out in Christmas themed set ups and decoration. Even though they were for vids we sat in them and posed for pictures. There were even two adorable reindeers munching away soundtracked by George Michael. It’s lovely being around all the fresh produce too, and imagining all of  the tastes and smells they might create come Christmas day.

This leads me on to a huge point….We spend all year round having to worry about very adult things – health, finances, mortgages, difficult forms, death etc – rediscover that inner child (relatively easy for me) and allow yourself to be silly for a while. It’s so rare we get an excuse to let loose – dance, sing, be merry AND  without any guilt. If you have kids enjoy the fantasy and magic of Christmas if possible, you can always say you’re doing it for the kids if anyone accuses you of being completely ridiculous. We used to make a minute grotto in one of our wardrobes when we were young. Filling it with fake snow and other xmas paraphernalia. Barely cost anything, but so many fond memories were created building this little fantasy.

If you’re struggling financially and don’t have the money to attend events that have an admission charge, go to a place that you know is filled with decorations and lights. Perhaps you know a spot in town that often has a choir performing, perhaps your favourite cobbled street that has the beautiful twinkling lights or the best array of red and green wreaths. I know some people hate the noise, chaos and tackiness of places life Winter Wonderland but for some it can quickly inject some festive spirit. I go to simply soak up the atmosphere, I don’t spend lots of money on rides or stalls, but just enjoy being around the festive vibes. It always helps to get me more in the mood. Eat at home before you go so the temptation of Churros doesn’t overwhelm you.

If you don’t have money to spend on the kids, get in touch with your friends who also have kids and take turns at being at each others houses. Just the change of scenery will make the day feel different or special, and they’ll have different toys to play with (that they will hopefully share). See if you can borrow someone’s Netflix codes or box sets if you don’t have your own sky/virgin/amazon/Netflix, so that you don’t have to worry about not having enough to occupy the kids while you’re cooking, and so you can hunt out some great christmas movies to watch together once all the duties are done.

Go to the local carol concert. Most churches will have Christmas concert or events that you can get involved in, which will not only allow you to remember what Christmas is/was about, it will reconnect you with local people too. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy a good sing song and some classic Christmas hymns.

Use some of the days off to think ahead about the exciting changes you’re going to make in the new year. Planning for the future and thinking about the wonderful possibilities, can give you a feeling of optimism that dwelling on the current might not be able to do. Maybe put some things in a new 2018 Diary that you really want to do in the new year, whether that’s meet up with a friend or booking an exciting trip.

Why not do some home baking. Find a recipe online, get a friend round, or team up with a relative or partner, and make some homemade mince pies…..or just a classic trifle if you have limited culinary skills like myself. Don’t get in the way of the person responsible for the cooking on the main day though, no doubt many of them will be prepping days in advance so try not to pick a bad time where you get in their way… or you may regret it.

Games night. My family generally always refuse to play games, much to my annoyance. I managed to get them to do ‘who am I’ with postets briefly last year, but not all participants really got in the true spirit of it – My Dad chose some scientist guy none of us had ever heard of. Last night I was round a friends cosy house in Hackney and a gang of us played games together and it was hilarious fun, and reminded me how much it can bring to Christmas Day. Throw in some tipples and that hilariously competitive pal, and it can be an absolute hoot. If you can afford it buy a new game from WHSMITHS, but if not there’s plenty of free ones, hell, you can even make your own.

Friendmas. Not everyone has close relationships with their family and some have the family members that are located very inconveniently. On the day or before, why not have a Christmas lunch together with friends, so you can have that feeling of togetherness with the sounds of laughter and pulled crackers, even if your unit of companions isn’t the stereotypical family one. Remember how fun the Thanksgiving episodes were in Friends? Who doesn’t want that? Not that I’m suggesting a game of touch football while the Turkey roasts. Some freelance friends of mine who don’t get an work christmas do put out Facebook statuses to try and gather fellow freelancers together who were feeling bereft about their situation.

If you’re bed-bound or enable to be around other people for whatever reason, why don’t you reach out to others in a similar situation (or not) to arrange some sort of online meet up. There’s so many live tools you can use via the internet these days it’s easy to talk to multiple people, presuming the signal strength is good. If you’re part of a health forum or group, see if anyone else is due to be stuck in bed or in the house ,or unable to socialise in 3D form, and be there for one-another. Whether you have a quick chat or attempt to play a game via a computer screen, it will at least gift you that feeling love and friendship that everyone should have at christmas.

I’ll wrap this up here now, as yet again I’ve delivered a horrendously lengthy essay of depressing truths. It really wasn’t my intention to dampen anyone’s mood here, I promise I’m not a perennial Negative Nancy. I hope I’ve just reminded people to be thoughtful and mindful of other people’s situations, and try help and remove further stress for them where possible. I hope I’ve also sparked some ideas of how you can at least attempt get out of your scrooginess if you’re feeling a tad Michael Caine/ Bill Murray right now.

After my kitchen based wobble, I decided to get out and go to my fave local spot, put on Back to the Future, and then achieve some cathartic healing via this blog post. I’m so so lucky and need to focus on the very many things that make my Christmas safe, warm, dry, funny, unique….

OUTFIT: I’m absolutely obsessed with this star print cardigan from Everything5Pounds. It’s really thick and cosy, with popper buttons (minimum effort -bonus) and I think it’s perfect to throw on over a fairly simple outfit to give it a bit of interest and wow factor.  I just teamed with my ASOS farleigh jeans, Primark Boots and Topshop earrings ( I thought these were a cheery festive addition). BTW if you make a purchase on Everything5Pounds use the discount code  SOPHIE5 to get a further reduction.

P.S would usually be afternoon napping at this time, and my brain wooer was stretched during the quiz last night so if none of this makes sense, please forgive me.

1 Comment

  1. Elizabeth McDermott
    December 29, 2017 / 1:49 am

    Hi Sophie! I enjoy your writing so much! We share so many of the same feelings. You articulate so well many things l have thought over the past 20 years or so dealing with Fibromyalgia/CFS. Holidays are especially hard because as you said there is an expectation of what we all should accomplish. I don’t think healthy folks can meet the ideal easily. Since I’ve found your YT channel and now just reading the beautiful way you express yourself! As I said you remind me so much of myself many moons ago!

    Warmly,
    Elizabeth

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