Do you remember that 2018 Christmas advert for Asda?
It’s the one where Santa fires a canon and the whole of Christmas avalanches down a hill towards a house. A little girl runs out and is delighted by the whole thing. Everyone is happy.
Now I’m not sure whether it’s just me, but that year, the advert cranked up my anxiety levels to pretty much the same level as they’d be if someone started up a jackhammer in my living room.
Because, come 1st December, it feels like a real life Christmas canon has gone off. We go from zero to Christmas in 0.6 seconds: Christmas music plays on loop in every shop you go into, tinsel is mandatory on everything and comments on social media about ‘just finishing off my wrapping and I’m ready’ make me go into a cold sweat.
I’m not trying to be a Grinch (although my daughters would say I definitely am). I do like Christmas, I do really! But whether it’s my age or just a shift in the social norms, Christmas to me can feel like a massive to-do list in order to fulfil everyone’s expectations.
I’d love to be the sort of person who, like my friend Judy, spends a few nights running writing thoughtful messages in Christmas cards, fuelled by a glass of red and with carols playing softly in the background.
Or like those people who lovingly start making a Christmas cake in November, feeding it regularly with brandy in anticipation of sharing it once the big meal has gone down. Or one of those crafty types who makes all their Christmas gifts by hand, pouring endless hours and creativity into making beautiful things for all their loved ones.
But I’m not. Truth be told, by December I’m generally feeling slightly frazzled, prone to beating myself up for not being superwoman and completely overwhelmed by the Christmas circus.
But this wasn’t meant to be a rant.
There are many, many things I appreciate about Christmas, but they tend to be the quieter things: reading our new books snuggled up as a family on Christmas Eve; warm toned fairy lights in houses as you pass them at dusk; the smell of the Christmas tree when you come downstairs in the morning; stollen; listening to Christmas carols in a dimly lit room; Christmas cards with chatty news in them; playing board games; a warm glass of mulled wine on a cold evening; time spent with friends and family, coming back to a sleeping house after my solo trip to midnight mass at the church round the corner, and the feeling of a guilt-free down tools for a few days, knowing that nobody is going to expect a reply to their email for a bit.
These are all things that can very easily be drowned out by the roar of shopping and ‘shoulds’ and the 6439th playing of ‘Fairytale of New York’. But I will protect them with all my heart because they, for me, are the real meaning of Christmas.
A while ago, I wrote a blog post about Christmas traditions and rituals. I stressed then my philosophy that if a tradition works for you, embrace it; if it doesn’t, chuck it or change it.
I wholeheartedly stand by that advice and yet, at Christmas, I sometimes struggle to stay centred and still in the face of the inescapable avalanche.
So today, I was grateful when this message popped up on my Facebook feed, reminding me of what’s important:
And so, lovely reader, I’m sharing that message with you now too. Identify what you love about the Christmas period and embrace it wholeheartedly, whilst having the courage to stand strong against the avalanche and not feeling obliged to do anything just because it’s tradition.
Just like I say about the ceremonies I conduct: it’s your day, your way. So put your own stamp on your Christmas holidays, say no to the Festive Dictators, ditch the guilt and may your days be merry and bright.
Oh, and if there’s a proposal in the air, you know who to call…