Going with the flow at Christmas
For me, it doesn’t feel quite as smothering as it usually does; it usually feels as though the bombardment begins in September and never finishes, even when you are in early January and fuller of pudding than you are of person, and more bucks fizz roams your veins than blood.
That’s just 2 years after I left the ear-wormy Christmas-on-a-loop-and-advent-calendars-delivered-in-August peculiar discomfort that was working in retail.
(Those of you reading this with your eyes glazed over from incessant Christmas music and with hair now always flat from Santa hats behind a checkout, I see you. I see every one of you. I was you. Keep going. January will come soon, along with it hoardes of zombies giving you their festive cold and lurching at you for a discounted box of mince pies. It’s all to play for, kids.)
And because it doesn’t feel as smothering, it has hit the 16th of December (as I type) and I am panicking because I don’t feel like I was fairly warned about it.
Now…I know what you’re thinking.
Christmas is kind of an annual thing, I’m aware, but someone slipped off with October and I barely noticed, but November appears to have sauntered off right at the start and I don’t think I remember any of it and now… I am panic–buying selection boxes with the manic look in my eyes that used to make me roll them when I was in retail.
It’s been coming for ages, I would think judgingly as I tried desperately to shake Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer out of my head before it stagnated there and lowered my IQ.
I don’t know if this very disorganised, mindless way is preferable to what I usually do: my usual sombre dismissal of consumerism from October onwards, moaning about how Halloween is first and more important, how I can’t afford it, how people should know I love them without buying stuff… (valid points, but not taken seriously when said in an arms-crossed huff) or if this year’s gentler approach where I take things day by day, shrug when I see a mince pie before I spot a pumpkin, roll my eyes when my partner buys baubles while I pine over fake cobwebs and fondant eyeballs.
This year I didn’t moan about money when she booked a Muppets Christmas Carol Singalong (yes, booked it, not just at home like normal people) and I realised that Christmas isn’t just capitalism wrapped up and sold to you at a mark-up disguised as a discount, but it is a pretty good excuse to add glitter to everything (environmentally friendly where possible).
This year, I have stopped and enjoyed perusing the Christmas aisle in Tesco way earlier than I feel like I should. I realise that the ability to buy little gifts for your friends - and in doing so, in thinking about them and what they’d like you realise how much you love them, how great they are and how you wish you could buy them all houses and round-the-world trips, is what makes all the other crappy things about Christmas completely worth it.
Why has this year been different?
Well, a couple of things have changed.
1: I haven’t had the time to think about putting any weight of expectation on myself, of what to buy, what I can and can’t eat (since banning diets from my life food has been something I feel sane about for the first time in 20 years, but more on that soon!), and I really do think that lifting the ridiculous things you expect from yourself out of view really helps.
2. I have accepted who I am. I know that I will most likely never get away with running away to the mountains and ignoring the world for December (and the rest of the year), and that I will have to, at some point, face the conversations. Face old school friends you only see when they visit home for the festive period but, on the third day in their childhood bedroom, need a gin, and the conversation inevitably feels like this:
Me: ‘It’s so LONG since I’ve seen you, you look glowing, bloody beautiful, how was your year?’
Them: ‘Oh, you look well… [this means fatter], thank you! I have had the best year. When I wasn’t teaching, I went to an orphanage and saved babies and I just feel really good. How was yours?’
Me: ‘Oh, that’s amazing. I… finally got a selfie with my cat where she looks like she doesn’t want to chew on my face, I got rejected by basically every person I showed my writing to, and while this vat of gin is a nice cheek-pinkener for you, it is the only thing getting me through how this conversation makes me realise that compared to you, I am a bit…rubbish.’
Or words to that effect.
And while my gorgeous pals will often laugh as I intended, any ensuing empathy they find with me at feeling like life is just a labyrinth full of dead ends and wormholes – it somehow feels like sarcasm. That is not intentional on their part, of course. It’s just that British empathy usually comes out in the language of sarcasm. We can’t help it. Duh.
It’s not just the friends – it seems like sibling rivalries come out in much the same fashion – who is further in life, who is the favourite, who is better at games?
It is exhausting. It is silly.
But it is fine.
I know who I am even if I have trouble mentioning it in these conversations with people. I know what I have done and what I will try to do even if I don’t know what I will do; I forget to mention that I have tried so hard and carried on through every rejection, that I keep sending and sending because the world is much bigger than the pool I currently swim in. I know that the things I want from my life can’t be measured by anyone else’s standards, and that comparison is foolish and wasteful when there is so much more to gain from watching people come alive as they speak about what they love. My Christmas present to me is to try and remember that for the entirety of the silly season.
3. The older I get, the softer I get, it seems. Years of diamond-coating a hard shell seem to wither and it turns out you were using diamantes, and they are useless against the passage of time. Things chip away. Life grinds you down like a creep in a nightclub. Dementia ads make you cry then you have to hide it.
But I’m happy to explore what Christmas looks like without a grumpy cloud telling me about how it should be the pagan winter solstice and how Frozen is actually a movie SET IN SUMMER.
Merry Christmas, all! I hope yours is great and that if you are struggling to see the shiny side, this has helped you!