A Note To Self: What Christmas Means To Me
Most people roll their eyes when I say that I have a 5ft Christmas tree in my office all year around and many are vocal against my Christmas countdown that starts on September 1.
The thing that they don’t realise is that my early excitement is never about receiving presents, striving for festive perfection or battling crowds of list-ticking shoppers. It’s actually a nod to a time when I dreaded Christmas. There was a time when I believed I’d never feel hope or joy again. Now, every year in the few months before Christmas, I remember my survival and my defiance, and somehow that makes me appreciate and celebrate that little bit more.
My love of all things Christmas is well documented online. People can roll their eyes and grumble away when I tweet the number of sleeps until Christmas Day in September. I like that I’m hyperaware of the festivities creeping in. The opening of the first tub of Quality Street is celebrated, the first film being watched on Christmas24 is applauded and don’t get me started on the pleasure that is derived from highlighting ‘must watch’ programmes in the festive TV Guide. I have an appreciation of glittery baubles that is possibly beyond normal, twinkling lights never fail to make me smile and I gain a ridiculous sense of satisfaction when I finish a roll of Santa Claus covered wrapping paper. I revisit my growing collection of Christmas novels and Christmas DVDs annually, I have a magnificent assortment of festive jumpers and the number of ‘spare’ gingerbread scented candles I own is possibly best not discussed. As December approaches, I eat Christmas cake with cheese, I know never to cut a mince pie with a knife and I weep every time I hear a choir singing ‘O Holy Night’. Added to that, I genuinely feel that the frosty festive air is full of magic and that one time it snowed on Boxing Day is entrenched in my top five Christmas memories forever.
Yet, for me, away from tradition, custom and consumerism, there’s so much that people don’t realise about what Christmas means to me. It’s a personal thing with particular reasoning, but for me December is a time for forgiveness, for new beginnings and for courage. For me, Christmas embodies gratitude and hope. September may start my countdown and excitement, but when I get to Christmas Eve, I stop. I pause.
In my family, festive celebrations and tradition spreads over four days. In that time I don’t go shopping, I don’t sit at my computer and I switch off social media. Instead, I focus on the people I love and we celebrate the traditions we’ve built together over the last few years. I have time to listen, to talk, to build Lego, to go for wintery walks, to play boardgames, to laugh, to argue, to eat a ridiculous amount of After Eights and to be fully present in those days and with those around me. I like to think that I offer the best possible me to those I interact with at Christmas, and I know that the visitors arriving on and around Christmas Day are the best possible versions of themselves too. It’s not that we have to pretend or force ourselves to be different; it’s more that when we strip away the stress of daily life, we can go back to basics. It seems that Christmas gives people permission to pause and to celebrate life, and I love that it does. Perhaps this reflection will be even greater, will be even more necessary in 2020. I do hope so.
With my friends and family we have an unspoken understanding at Christmas, or perhaps we simply all want to embrace those few days where we stop, we recharge and we show that we’re truly grateful for each other. I’m talking hugs, laughter, swearing; no striving for perfection, no high expectations, but still taking time to acknowledge those who are no longer with us and to hold those who are that little bit closer. Christmas shows me how truly fortunate I am.
And why the 5ft Christmas tree in my office all year? There’s a simple answer. It’s about hope; it’s my daily reminder of my own personal journey. It's why I had to write a novel about Christmas.