This must be the first year I didn’t write Christmas cards in the first week of December. To be honest, I couldn’t face it. Maybe thoughts of the heaps of cardboard, paper, packaging and waste were playing on my mind. Some changes in my own and friends’ lives, world events -- and becoming more mindful -- have made me reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
I LOVE Christmas. Christmas is magical. It’s about the rituals, traditions, spending time with family and treasured friends, and some amazing memories. I will always remember the excitement that built up as my sisters and I decorated the tree to bursting, sang carols, embraced the family traditions on Christmas eve, and eagerly awaited the arrival of my grandparents laden with sacks of gifts on Christmas Day. Through my eyes as a child nothing could beat the magic of Christmas. It was truly all about home -- and it still is.
Fast forward to now, and I’m still eager to kickstart the celebrations as early as possible -- maybe a yearning to feel Christmas as it was in my childhood. The difference is, now I’m struggling to keep up with the doors on the advent calendar, rather than waking up eager to see what’s behind them. And church is a case of whether I can fit it into my super frantic life, rather than a routine ritual.
Presents are a buzz for children. For me the mountain of presents seemed to get bigger and bigger every year. And the best part of Christmas Day was literally diving under the tree to hand out the gifts (so much so this pleasure was delayed until after lunch). Nothing could beat the warm fuzzy feeling inside of touching the gifts at the end of my bed on Christmas morning. Today, the closest I connect with this feeling is watching my nieces' and nephews’ reactions when they tear open their presents on Christmas morning. If I could, I would bottle that feeling up and drown in it. Christmas is the only morning when adults wake up at stupid o’clock to witness the hysteria unfold, and justifiably so. It’s awesome to watch!
But what about the dark side of gift giving? Christmas consumerism starts with the Black Friday stampede. We rush from shop to shop as the pressure of meeting self-imposed deadlines to buy gifts that meet arbitrary seals of approval mounts. Unfortunately, many of us push the limits of our spending power just to prove that we love each other. Then add the super power of advertising into the mix, where we eagerly await the release of a five-minute snippet that portrays beautiful people enjoying a perfect Christmas and the anxiety and pressure can really mount.
Gifts no longer increase my sense of wellbeing. I’ve lost count of how many people I hear--including me--say “I have so many gifts to buy, it’s stressing me out.” Despite all the time spent racing around buying thoughtful and thoughtless gifts (do we really need an inflatable Jesus or another deodorant selection pack?), we’re often no happier for having ticked the present list off and received some ourselves. For all of the gifts and treats given and received, we live in a depressed and lonely society, with a terrible work/life balance. My thought process now with gifts is: “Do they need it?” and “Will they gain pleasure from this or use it?”. And don’t forget, gifts don’t have to cost money.
It’s not about what’s under the tree that matters most, it’s who’s around it. Bit of a cliché scenario, but stand in an airport arrivals lounge at this time of year and try not to shed a tear or feel warm inside as families reunite. I shed a tear today as I remembered overhearing a fragile lady on my way home last night on the phone to someone after visiting a very sick relative: “I feel so bad as I’ve not bought any presents for anyone, I feel awful.” I didn’t have the courage to give her a hug and say the response that immediately came to my mind: “Don’t worry about presents for they are nothing compared to your presence.”
Christmas is a day when families make an effort to come together and rejoice. However, some people face the day alone, or are taking one day at a time in their battles against mental or physical illness. Presence really does matter.
It’s an orgy of greed…fact. We’ve gone from advent calendars containing pretty pictures to those full of artisan chocolates and beer! We can get through around 7,000 calories each on Christmas Day alone. You may ask the question “who cares, it’s Christmas?”. Valid as this after all, is a time for celebration, but when Gaviscon is transmitting adverts over the airwaves a week before the big day, it’s clear over-indulging is considered normal… a tad disturbing for me when I consider the thousands of calories I eat and drink. Is this really the true meaning of Christmas? No.
The price of the U.K. Christmas dinner increasing is a first world problem against a backdrop of millions who struggle to put food on the table every single day of the year. As U.K. foodbanks expect their busiest Christmas ever, the more fortunate frantically dash around the supermarkets grabbing as much extra food as possible -- much of which ends up wasted. The pressure to “eat well” and “provide or entertain lavishly” at this time of year is everywhere, just listen to Tesco’s advert “For those who still have stuff to do…there are Tesco Express stores open.” Pretty much translates into “quick, get out and spend, spend, spend before it’s too late”.
This year I’ve chosen compassion over cruelty. Since following a vegan diet, I have never felt better in my life physically, mentally, or spiritually. We don’t need to put turkeys or other defenceless creatures through hell.
Christmas is…not the same for everyone
Beyond the media’s images of a perfect family Christmas, there’s lots who hate it. We need to respect that. It can be a painful time for looking back on life, or for just trying to survive the present, which for some, may be full of fear, anxiety, or loneliness. Not to mention the heartbreak of those facing one last Christmas.
Some of us hate the glittery graphics that remind us how many days remain before the big day as it promotes feelings of stress, anxiety, and even dread. Look at the number of articles on the internet titled “How to have a stress-free Christmas”. How did it end up this way?
Christmas is…also about you
Yes, Christmas is about rejoicing with family and friends, but don’t forget to do what you want to do too. Or truly embrace what you need right now. The pressure may be on to fulfil commitments, but if you don’t want the added stress of preparing for a Christmas party or to drive 200 miles to visit relatives, it’s okay to think of yourself. You are totally enough.
Going back to giving and receiving, what do you “really” need? Christmas usually brings time out from work and in the pressure to partake in a “perfect” Christmas, we often forget to treat ourselves with some loving kindness (Christmas often brings an illness and exhaustion epidemic). For me, this year is about “unplugging” and relaxing.
Christmas is…kindness and helping others
This is Christmas. Doing good does you good. Helping others in need can help reduce stress and improve emotional wellbeing. As news comes in of Philippines’ typhoon Trembin, let’s not forget that Christmas is about delivering a message of hope to those less fortunate than ourselves.
I echo the words of my mum, the person who has always made Christmas so special for me: “Christmas makes me focus on the joys of family life, past and present, and also on those people who are suffering in the world and who are less fortunate and need our love and human compassion.” If I could have one Christmas wish and make it come true, it would be for everyone in the world to be happy and healthy.
Great article on the theme of consumerism: The Gift of Death
A somewhat different view of Christmas (again touching on consumerism and greed): This December, it’s time we put an end to the cult of Christmas once and for all