The thing with Christmas is that it’s full of traditions, which is one of the sweetest and hardest things about the season. Because traditions bring a sameness to proceedings, and that sameness encourages us (okay, me) to contemplate all the Christmasses that have gone before. And comparison is fine, if you’ve had a good year, and this Christmas is better than last Christmas. But sometimes, just sometimes, the comparisons are bittersweet.
So this year, instead of doing a compare and contrast of the previous few Christmasses, I’m taking a slightly different approach. I’m taking Chriistmas as a marker on my journey, a journey that started a long time ago, a journey that is not done yet. Sometimes the journey is easy, and sometimes it’s hard, but always it’s a journey. We’re not done. This is a moment to stop, reflect, rest, recover, or maybe just straighten our helmet and wipe our sword before we go back into the battle of life.
This year, I’m taking the long view.
When I was a kid, Christmas was all about the presents. Did I get what I wanted? Was what other people got closer to what I wanted than what I got? And the food. And the crackers and the decorations and avoiding helping with the washing up. When I was younger, it was magical, and the Christmas tree seemed to reach to the ceiling, and more people meant more presents and that was excellent.
But then the Christmas tree shrunk. And the tinsel got a bit tatty, and I started hanging my homemade decorations at the back of the tree so nobody could see them (except the lovely glittery polystyrene bell I made one year. That one looked fine, until Little Person broke it last year). And people meant noise, and presents that I had to buy, and my mum getting tense because Christmas dinner had to be just right. Or else it meant sitting on a little stool that wobbled while everybody else had proper chairs, and wondering if I would ever feel like a grown up.
And then I had epilepsy. That meant trying to avoid flashing lights. Christmas was incredibly tense for a few years, and I wanted to hide in a corner and cry.
And then I moved countries and had my first Christmas without friends or family. And the dogs opened my present because it had biltong in it. And I sat on the top of the stairs looking out the window at a grey and heavy sky and told a little girl that it was okay to be a little sad at Christmas. That I would miss my mum too on such a day, but let’s try and find the happy moments too. And I hugged my bear I’d bought myself and cried myself to sleep.
Then I met the Dude, and Christmas was weeks before my wedding, and I realised I hadn’t done enough, and I would never be good enough, and I would never ever ever fit into this family. But then we had Christmas Day, and after all those years, a hot Christmas dinner finally made sense. And it was okay that my family was on the other side of the world, because this was my new family, and everything would be alright. Wouldn’t it?
Then I was married, and I had a home, and I could finally have my Christmas. I learnt to cook turkey, and that table glitter is really a pain to clean up, and that pregnancy and Brussel Sprouts don’t go together well. I learnt to make Christmas special, with an open home, and meals cooked to family and friends’ specifications. And I felt happy. And tired. And I looked at all the faces and decided that working myself to the bone was worth it, because Christmas only comes once a year, right? Right?
But this year has been different. This year, my friends don’t gather around my table because they know the food will be great, but because they love me, and want to spend time with me. We’re marking another year in the journey of life together, we are reaffirming our place in each others’ lives. We’re celebrating all that has been good and commiserating over all that has gone wrong. Simple. Bittersweet. Slightly understated. A bit like my year has been.
And come Christmas morning, I will be waking up in my own bed for the first time in eight years. I will watch the sun catch the frost on the grass and be thankful for another year in my journey. Another year simpler, another year wiser. And I don’t know what that day will bring, but I know this. I will love, and be loved. And that is enough.