Reigniting my Christmas sparkle

Baubles worn as earrings.

Decorations emerging from the attic early October.

‘Happy Holiday’ sung to greet family throughout December… and always with a sway.

Home made coleslaw, mince pies, upside down kisses and black bags of freshly cut holly.

The cryptic clues behind the strangest of presents.

The best dishes, oozing with mushy peas.

Pre-Christmas nausea caused by the anticipation that ‘he’d be here soon!’

Me, Christmas morning, 1982

I had THE best Christmases as a kid. Santa’s sleigh was usually pretty full when it arrived on my roof, but the best bit was the people around me, our traditions and the smells.

I loved Christmas. I even put my husband-to-be through the shame of getting married during the rugby season, just so we could sing the classic ‘Home Alone’ anthem, ‘Oh Holy night’… although, no one knew the words!

Then, approaching ten years ago, my Nana died and my Auntie’s health took a serious turn for the worse. Two figures central to my Christmases and family traditions, no longer there or as they were.

I could never understand the people who told me they didn’t like or didn’t ’do’ the festivities, but now I do. Conscious of the void left by people who’ve gone, December and especially the week leading up to the main event have become a real personal trigger.

Now I’m out the other side of another Christmas, where I’ve tried to make it sparkle for the squatters, just like my parents did for me, I recognise that perversely the constraints of Covid have delivered my best Christmas in nine years – the best since before the kids arrived.

Our choices have been removed, and with that, I’ve felt empowered. Said out loud it makes no sense, I know.

While there was initial disappointment of only being able to see my parents for Christmas Day, and not the full five days as originally anticipated, I’ve been pushed to look for alternative ways of ensuring the Christmas spirit is alive around here.

We’ve built a new Christmas thing.

I’ve been mandated by government (dramatic, aye!) to rethink December, and with that, I’ve come to realise that I’ve spent too long tiptoeing around the gaps left by special people, whilst trying to maintain the routines associated with them. There’s an irony that Scrooge and his boney finger is one of our family Christmas things… and I, in a roundabout way, became him!

Mince pie web tutorial – yes, that’s my dad pulling faces in the background.

What have we done differently that we’ll be keeping?

  • Santa’s big shop was done mainly online, but once I’ve put today’s order in, I’m challenging myself not to spend a penny on Amazon for at least the next six months. Totally achievable ***insert pained face!*** This wasn’t a new thing, obvs – I pay Bezos’ wages! BUT, the new thing we did this year was to consciously spend more locally, and so our Christmas dinner – the meat, veg and pud – were all bought from kitchen bakers and independent shops round ‘ere. I still filled a trolley in Tesco, but mainly with booze and nibbles, because it was Christmas! From now on I’ll definitely do more to support businesses locally, and a challenge for next year might be a festive pantry stocked entirely with locally sourced stuff.
  • I started following the ‘Family Lockdown Tips & Ideas’ FB group at the beginning of this shambles. It’s a great place. There are so many different perspectives on things within the group, and the one that stood out for me was a conversation about presents from Santa. Do all the presents come from Santa, or do you have an alternative? There was a big conversation about it, but the crux was how the child who got very little from Santa feels when others are talking about his delivery of a new bike, iPad etc. Did the little girl who got a board game from Santa deserve less than the one who got the games console? I’d never thought of it, because I was never that kid. Once I’d read the thread, I was fixed on it not being right, but wondered how we could move away from what we’ve done up until this point, with all presents that appeared in our house on Christmas morning coming from SC. We decided to wrap their main presents and explained that they were from us, and left those from the big guy, unwrapped in the sack. Neither of them questioned the change, although I’m pretty sure squatter No.1 no longer believes and is going along with it to keep us happy.
  • Fortunately, our jobs have been secure throughout the pandemic, but I’m very aware that that hasn’t been the case for many. I’ll occasionally pop a dried item or two into the food bank box at the supermarket, but it’s not been a conscious family thing. I was between meetings while working from home and read a post on FB that there was a big community collection for a nearby food bank. The organiser had posted a list of the things they still needed and said they’d be at the drop-off point for a little while longer. The squatters were both at home, so I rounded them up and we headed straight to the CO-OP. They had a couple of big shopping bags each, hurried around the aisles gathering the things that were still needed, and handed their donation over at the collection point themselves. While the youngest struggled to grasp why we’d done it, the eldest explained to her that it’s been a really tough year for lots of people and that this was one way that they could show that they cared. To donate wasn’t an altruistic decision on my part – there are lessons for them and for me in doing this – I want them to understand that while this period is really hard for a lot of people, it’s hard for so many people so much of the time. We can share more and be more mindful of others, and this is definitely something we’ll continue to do throughout the year, and the focus of a big December shop.
  • Not being allowed to spend the time we’d planned with my folks on Christmas Eve, was really hard. Having spent the last nine months on virtual meetings and zooming (!) with friends, I thought the kids might enjoy a bake along with their Nana. It was brilliant. We made mince pies together. My mam was like Delia Smith in her kitchen, and it was like an episode of 90s Fun House at our end. Dad made a guest appearance and we were all in stitches. While we obviously hope that more of next Christmas will be spent together, I’m definitely thinking about how we can utilise tech more to engage with family and friends, particularly to undertake activities together. It was recorded without me realising too, so to watch back as a memory of the Rona Christmas is wonderful.
  • We started our Christmas earlier, because there was no rush (silver linings). The decs went up around the same time, but everything else was cracked open, supped, watched, wrapped much earlier… and it was lovely!

The Christmas we had wasn’t the Christmas we’d envisaged when it started to become clear that normality wouldn’t be back with us by December.

For us, it was a different Christmas that has helped me find my festive cheer again. In doing that, I’ve not forgotten what made my very merry Christmases special – my Nana’s memory is still central to our family celebrations with some of her decorations used and repurposed here – but the ‘order’ to pull back on the usual celebrations, has been permission to metaphorically pack some stuff away in the depths of the attic as memories, not to be used as a storyboard for how things should be done.

*Don’t tell me he’s not real!

**Squatters = Kids, nine and five.

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