Christmas in England

IMG_3475I always found Christmas in the Caribbean a bit strange. I know it is meant to be glorious and is the envy of all British folk in the cold, but carving a turkey in the heat and eating an enormous Christmas lunch always felt rather peculiar, especially when about to sport a bikini and wander down to the beach. Actually, being anywhere for Christmas other than home in England always feels a bit odd.

So I was really looking forward to this Christmas, being with my Mum, being snug in a warm lovingly decorated house, seeing other members of the family and generally feeling the Christmas spirit. Mum wanted to do everything, all we had to do was rock up as early as possible so that the children could decorate the Christmas tree.  We agreed five days.

It didn’t go as planned…

As soon as we arrived Mum was stressed that she had been given a ‘drop’ Christmas tree and the pine needles were falling everywhere. Guests were coming over that evening which always adds a huge burden of stress to my Mother, not that she will ever admit it. My children were scolded for touching the tree too heavily, it’s difficult to do put up decorations without touching the tree, particularly if you’re four! They were chastised for putting the decorations too close to each other. Mum was telling my daughter off for bumping into the tree, my poor daughter always seems to get the brunt of it. This touching scene culminated in my Mum yelling ‘Shit’ in front of the children when the vacuum cleaner fell into the tree so knocking hundreds of pine needles onto the carpet! I must add here that my Mother doesn’t normally swear so this was extreme but it set the tone early on.

On Christmas Eve my son put too much paper down the toilet following a no. 2 so blocking the toilet. I didn’t want to tell my Mum until she was over her tense busy period of preparing all the vegetables in the morning. When I tried to ask my innocent question, “Do you know where the plunger is?” she immediately knew I had known all morning and was furious at me for not telling her sooner. This led to tension, a trip to the shops before they closed and general stress all before mass that afternoon. Then on Boxing Day there was a leak soaking all of Mum’s meticulously folded linen and her carpet. Stress, tension, Mum ignored me most of the day. It seemed to be my fault again. I couldn’t wait to leave and I felt affected by her mood for days afterwards. Of course, we didn’t talk about any of these things. We don’t really talk about conflict.

Christmas Day was lovely though, it was protected from moods and stresses and everyone pulled themselves up to enjoy the day. Mum had prepared an amazing meal which everyone enjoyed. The glut of presents was enjoyed by everyone especially the children: my son pretending to faint on opening his Millenium Falcon and my daughter squealing with glee and hugging tightly her enormous cuddly toy. The Queen’s Speech, a film, more alcohol, it was cosy and lovely.

On reflection Christmas Day was a little oasis of celebration and happiness, but it was surrounded by days I’d rather not have had. Since losing that childish wonder of presents, I have often questioned how we spend our Christmases at home. So much money spent on presents, cards, wrapping paper (probably four bin bag loads of wrapping paper and cardboard waste in our house), food – was it really worth it? Part of me becomes a little puritanical at Christmas and I just want to strip it down to going to church, going for a walk (we never get to do this on Christmas day, neither church nor walk because one must BASTE THE TURKEY EVERY HOUR TO ENSURE IT IS MOIST!), maybe one gift or two for each person and a nice meal but not one which seems to involve SO MUCH STRESS! It’s meant to be a time of love, enjoying being with your family, and yet so often I remember the tensions, the focus on the turkey, it seems too much weight upon the woman to do everything and then it’s all over.

My Mum seems to experience a bit of a slump after Christmas, this year she got my son’s bug and was ill for about two weeks afterwards.  But I remember in the past her being a bit down after Christmas as if she had put in all this work for a big event, it ends, we carry on and she is left feeling rather ‘flat’. Mother Christmas is not an easy role and I don’t think I want it, or at least I’ll take it but a much slimmer version. Christmas so often is a woman’s making, one must make a Christmas cake, mince pies, send cards with little notes to everyone and considered presents, a perfect lunch, and meal upon meal, all of course home-made. It seems to build up in some sort of competitive frenzy.

I talked to the children about Christmas being Jesus’s birthday celebration (even if it is an approximation and the Christians plumped it onto a pagan celebration) and what that means, that we are celebrating the Light of the World coming into being. But I found it hard to grasp this during our Christmas. I think one has to pray daily to keep this in one’s mind and heart as you journey through the family Christmas.

You have to be strong to break out of the mould of Christmas and it’s not just you, you and your husband have to agree on how to spend it and what to spend. My husband expects there to be large amounts of toys for the children and calls me ‘Scrooge’ when I try and contain him. If my Mum or my in-laws come to us for Christmas, they too will bring with them expectations of what Christmas should be like. I will be carried along with the tide of expectations and will probably just about manage to get us to go for a walk.

It’s tricky. It’s easy to forget all the difficulties when you are overseas and you just remember the good bits and how much you miss your family. But then being in the UK, I felt a pang looking at Facebook and seeing my BVI friends happily grouped together on the beach, enjoying their day. It was simpler there. It’s difficult when you move to be truly happy where you are, particularly if you have recently moved, you often have a heart in two places. The answer is of course, nearly impossible, to try and be truly present. Now how on earth do you do that? Well there are hundreds of books out there explaining how to do it and I definitely didn’t achieve it, but at least it did go through my mind! That’s a start.

Post Christmas advice – maybe for 2017!

  • Keep expectations manageable
  • Think about the Christmas you want for your family and how you are going to achieve it. Do you want to do cards? How long is this going to take? Present budget? (we spent so much this year) Think about the values your Christmas will give your children.
  • Talk to the family about Christmas and what it means to you. Keep talking about it so the focus isn’t just about them receiving presents.
  • Get your children involved in choosing or making presents and wrapping them, so giving is part of their experience.
  • Don’t spend too long with your parents if you are visiting, three days is usually ample.
  • Send cards/emails to your friends in your old home, talk about them to your children.
  • Try and be present for your Christmas and appreciate your family. If you’re missing your old home, don’t look at Facebook, wait until Boxing Day!
  • Next year, plan on being at home then you can be more in control!

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