I really like christmas. I also have also had a pretty complicated relationship with it. That relationship changed a lot over time and there are some weird nostalgia-like feelings when I think about the way it’s changed, which then adds yet another layer to the complication of emotions.
(sidenote: I think “complication” should definitely be the correct collective noun for emotions)
When I look back, I can describe my experience of christmas in some fairly distinct stages.
This was the first ‘stage’ of my christmas experience. My earliest christmas memories are of indescribable excitement, eating chocolate all day, getting new toys, waking up before dawn with a rustling stocking at the end of my bed… all the typical childhood joys.
This was the part where childhood naivety started to run out. It corresponds with the time I learned Father Christmas wasn’t real, but also when I stopped being so desperately interested in toys or sweets. I have some fairly negative memories from this period. Times when I was still instinctively excited about christmas: often for months in advance! But then when the day came, I realised that nothing could live up to the mythical standards I was imagining. And it was over so quickly, after pinning all my expectations on that one day. Then I’d be left disappointed with the anticlimax, and miserable that I wasted so much time and energy being so ‘childishly’ excited for something so appaently unremarkable.
I created my own solution for the lost magic: giving presents. I’d spend forever planning and organising gift bags with sweets and small toys, deciding exactly what to give everyone and how to present it. This allowed me to be in control of my own sense of excitement. I was no longer waiting for an unknown to fulfil my hopes, because I was the one who knew what I was giving.
This phase started the most suddenly out of all of them. One year I was so depressed that I was barely able to comprehend the idea of a future, let alone the idea of looking forward to or planning for an event like christmas. When it eventually happened, it turned out to be one of my most content and enjoyable christmases of all time. This is when I realised what christmas is really about for me.
Even if you ignore all of the planning, presents, giving, receiving… (although all of that can add to it!). For me, the point of christmas is to find a way to make it through the darkest nights of winter. It’s so instinctive: when it’s dark and cold and times are hard, we get together to keep warm and eat and play and make our own lights in the dark. Nothing else really matters.
I’m looking forward to christmas this year. But I don’t feel bad about looking forward to it, like I used to. I’m not looking forward to one short day and a bedroom full of new toys. I’m looking forward to the uniquely human way of dealing with a cold and dark season. I’m looking forward to just existing in the company of all the most important people in my world. I’m looking forward to enjoying the frost and rain from a warm, bright place. I’m looking forward to creating our own reasons to be happy, for ourselves and each other.