Christmas, a time where we can slow the pace down, and spend time with family. It can be fun and easy for some, the traditions do not change for some families, year after year. For others, it may be a struggle, torturous even. Christmas can be a beautiful aesthetic but arguably an expressive nightmare. Through the pressure, joy, tears and organisation, it is easy to get swept up in a world of expectation. We live that pressure enough day to day, but Christmas just seems to feel like an enhanced day of pressure.
While for mum and I, our image and at times our physical home was fragile, we engaged in small gestures to keep a Christmas spark. From mum and I lived in Amsterdam as a child, eating endless Guilian chocolates, to spending Christmas in the car when we were locked out, exposed me to the reality of what happens when you try to create “the perfect day”.
The pressure of Christmas can look different for everyone. Whether this means frantically rushing for the last minute bits, or trying to keep the family dynamic happy, all are legitimate stresses. What happens when you simply do not want to participate? That seems to be the case for mum and me, especially in the last few years. Between the stress of creating the perfect setup in the lounge and the Christmas scent circulating around the whole entire house, it seems that we do not bring to light what really matters here. We can coat this time of year in sparkles, presents, wasteful materials and (sentence needs finishing)
Growing up, Christmas was not the one time in the year that we “throw caution to the wind'', overindulge and forget about budgeting. Like many families, we had to be careful when the Christmas stock came out. Shelves and shelves are stacked up each year, filled with different coloured teddies and new upcoming cosmetic sets, not to mention the new designs of Christmas cards. That part excited me as a child, going down the isles in the supermarket, window shopping essentially. We would buy some things, potentially get a desk size tree, and buy a few ornaments. It didn't need to be extravagant, in fact, understanding value for money at a young age meant that I truly cherished every tree hanging ornament and the expenses that were not always so visible.
Activities and comfort with family members was also something that was not an annual tradition. I had my mum, and although our surroundings/circumstances changed throughout the years, we always spent it together.
During my teen years, mum and I managed to maintain a rather comforting tradition with our Christmas days, going to see my grandma Booba. I was extremely close to my grandma and so was mum, and I suppose the fact that we are all Jewish, alleviated some of the
pressure to create a perfect Christmas. The simple joys that we would experience as a three, were the ones that were minimal and cost-effective. Going to a McDonald’s drive-through, playing a game of cards and going for a walk around the shopping centre. Trying the fragrance in Boots but walking out empty-handed, and Booba treating me to the more expensive versions of food solidified a special occasion.
Despite where we come from and what we have all been through, the expectations of Christmas will continue. It seems to start earlier and earlier each year…
Social media expectations
It seems to me that social media plays a rather comforting but dysfunctional role around Christmas time. It can be that the predictable photos posted on Instagram bring some form of comfort. People posing in front of the tree, capturing the city lights, and photographing their dinner plate, fuelled the different food categories. If only everybody was that privileged, to capture the warmth that good food, people, and atmosphere bring.
Christmas is looking a little different now…
Now at 21 years of age, Christmas has never looked/felt so different. Although mum and I never really lived up to a “lavish” and “indulgent” Christmas, what we lack now is violently present each year. A few years ago, Booba passed away, and since then, I lost my father, granddad and mum lost her brother Jack. It is hard to paint a life without such present and eccentric characters, that fill parts of your life that you didn't even realise. All of them played such different roles in our lives, that words simply would not do justice. "Christmas seems a little comical; these past few years for mum and me. It doesn't seem right to plaster loss with Christmas decor and materialistic items. While we painfully feel the loss, it seems amusing to spend money. Instead, we have spent our time communicating ways that we can pay tribute each year, without expectation. This could be as simple as a walk around London, with a hot chocolate, talking about the memories we all shared. Avoiding the phone during this time seems like a good habit to integrate, in an attempt to avoid comparing to others.
Covid most definitely highlighted the importance of people needing people. I'd like to think that while it's great at the moment, buying into a commensal world, with glitter and overpriced wrapping paper, we are more humbled during this time of year. That inevitable dip that happens in January just doesn't seem worth it. It is easy for me to talk about the money aspect, instead of voicing how dreadfully numb the past few years have felt. Grief isn't a predictable process, and Christmas just feels like a fabricated playground.
While mum and I navigate how we make this time of year a stress-free one, we continue to keep our loved ones alive by talking about them. It doesn't get easier, but we try to maintain a pressure-free tone, especially during winter. Going on walks, and trying to stay as present as possible makes it a far more fluid process, taking it all day by day. Then, Christmas just feels like another day in the calendar year. I try to, around this time of year, journal a little more, documenting my thoughts. It makes the grieving process a little less heavy. Maybe, in years to come, reading it back will unravel some things, and make sense of how grieving works. At present, it doesn't make sense, but I know that these significant days make it harder.
In terms of reaching out for support, it can be a daunting process. It is needed though. We need to reach out when we are feeling vulnerable. In the past, just reaching out and discussing my worries or triggers, as we lead up to Christmas time has been helpful. Processing it all alone can be lonely but sharing certainly makes the weight a lot lighter to carry. Additionally, including someone, a friend or family member, to join you on a walk and something. It is a simple joy, but a good and active distraction.
As we enter the next few months, checking up on friends and family is so important. The people that you have thought about messaging, or maybe you are waiting for them to reach out first. Nobody can truly make sense of why we outwardly act out in certain ways, but we also never truly know what happens behind closed doors. Circumstances change and unpredictable events take place. Collectively, let's aim to be more aware of our own, and others' well being.
By Milli-Rose Rubin