I have a funny ol’ relationship with Christmas. As a kid, predictably, I loved it. Presents, food, fairy-lights, days off school – what kid wouldn’t? I don’t have any siblings and my family aren’t particularly close so even as a kid, Christmas was always a quiet affair. There was no huge parties or having dozens of people round. It was usually just my parents and my grandparents on my mum’s side who spent Christmas day at our house; my dad would take my Granddad to the Royal British Legion for a few hours (something he still does) and my mum, Nan and I would stay in, watch some crappy Christmas day TV, drink tea and eat chocolate. That was just Christmas to me. I never knew any different.
But when my Nan died when I was in Year 8 (I think) of Secondary School, that was one less person to join in with our already minuscule Christmas. From then on, Christmas Day was pretty boring for me, being sibling-less and all my friends had wider families who actually spent time together so spending any time with them over the Christmas Day or Boxing Day was pretty much impossible. As I’ve entered my 20’s, I’ve tried really really hard to learn to like Christmas again. More-so since I started blogging where Christmas is thrust upon me everywhere I look and I’m bombarded with happy, Christmassy posts on social media every day from November 1st onwards.
I want to enjoy Christmas. I want to make the most of it and be festive, merry and happy. But no matter how much I try and enjoy it, I know deep down within me, I don’t. My personal experience isn’t the only thing that gets me down this time of year either. I often find I think more around Christmas and I become even more aware of all the trauma, the hurt and the injustices in the world. I get more sensitive towards charities and I feel a stronger need to help people in any small way. I hate knowing there are homeless people sleeping on the street at Christmas, that there are pets which will be discarded after the Christmas frenzy has worn off or that elderly people don’t have anyone to spend their Christmas Day with.
I felt that since November, I’ve been putting on this fake persona of someone who’s getting organised for Christmas because they enjoy it, writing Christmas cards before Bonfire Night has even finished, buying everyone’s presents before we’ve even seen 1st December and pestering my mum to get the Christmas tree down from the loft 3 weeks before anyone else has theirs up – why? To try and force myself to be festive and to enjoy this time of year. Christmas can be difficult for so many people, for so many reasons. Mentally, physically and emotionally. I’m going to continue to try and enjoy this period. If I fail, I fail. But at least I tried. But I also want to acknowledge the fact that Christmas is and can be hard and offer a few pointers in how you can support yourself and others this Christmas.
1. Be mindful of social media: If you’re affected by seeing so many happy, Christmassy posts then consider limiting your social media usage until the New Year, if that’s possible.
2. Concentrate on the New Year: Yes, it’s cliché and no, we don’t need a brand new year in order to “start again” but if you’re negatively affected by Christmas, then try and focus on the New Year instead. Set some goals, make some plans and look to the future.
3. Do what you gotta do: There can be so many expectations on people around Christmas in so many aspects of life. Work, food, social – you name it. But they are just societies expectations. You don’t need to eat a huge Christmas dinner if you can’t. You don’t need to attend every Christmas party you’re invited to if you can’t. You don’t need to do anything, just because it’s Christmas. Remember that.
4. Don’t neglect yourself: When you’re so wrapped up (literally) in buying presents for people, writing cards and getting organised it can be so easy to let yourself slip and forget to take care of number 1. Just put the wrapping paper and preparations down for one evening and have a goddamn bath with a candle, a bath bomb and a book (or whatever you do to practice self-care!)
5. Out with the old, in with the new: I find Christmas / December a great time to have a massive clear-out. This is particularly prevalent if, like me, you find Christmas difficult. The act of going through your stuff, getting rid of everything you don’t use or need and having an – almost – clean slate for the start of a new year can work wonders.
1. Don’t force Christmas upon people: You don’t really know how Christmas affects the majority of people you know. So if they don’t want to go to a Christmas party, watch a Christmas film, exchange gifts, don’t force them. And please, don’t call someone a Scrooge unless you know they’re 100% okay with it.
2. Don’t comment on others food habits: Christmas can be an extremely difficult time for anyone suffering with / have suffered with an eating disorder or any form of disordered eating. I know, I’ve been there. When 2 mouthfuls of my Christmas dinner was enough because I’d dreaded having to eat it all day long. Don’t comment on what people are eating / not eating.
3. But look out for people: But if you’re concerned about a friend or family member this time of year and feel they’re not being themselves, are getting mentally unwell or need some help, reach out to them. Don’t leave them alone in the dark at a time when they probably feel more isolated than ever.
4. Donate to charity: If you’re like me and think a lot about sad things this time of year, then it’s the perfect time to donate to a charity or do something for someone less fortunate than yourself. Donate food to food banks, clothes to clothing banks or even volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen if you have time.
5. Check on the elderly: As I mentioned above, the thought of elderly people being alone or lonely on Christmas truly breaks my heart. I know it’s not possible to do all of these things for everyone but checking on the elderly people you know this time of year, if you’re able to safely do so could be a huge help. Even just giving a neighbor a call or a small gift.