Christmas is a marker in time. The lovely Mr Hunt always used to feel it took him by surprise, and that used to fray my nerves because it happens every year. I’m a planner and gifts are sorted by October and menus by the start of December. This year I had all the veggies pealed, cut and frozen ready to go, the turkey boned and stuffed and a salmon filleted and skinned a week clear because I was terrified of being ill and not being able to properly host my guests.
And I still had guests, despite lockdown, because my three carers/au pairs need hosting and the children need feeding with the specific things they will eat. There is no muddling through here.
It was a strange tipping point this year, with none of the children having large plastic toys. Clothes and personal grooming products took centre stage with the usual showstopper from their aunt, which we never try to beat. The low-key nature of the preparation was relaxing: their cousins being similar age, I had very little to buy as they had all reached the age where money and personal choice are key. But others went even more low key, and when it came to it, there was not a single present for me under the tree.
Strangely, this felt ok. I thought I would miss the days when appreciation from others came in the form of gifts. But we have spent a long time working on recognising each other’s love languages, and actually, this was just a reflection that gifts are not a love language I am receptive towards.
The things that were important to me were honoured. Mr Hunt shows me his love by getting on board with the planning, despite this not being his natural style. We shared food, which to me is crucial. We made time to incorporate lots of the religious bits of Christmas that are really important to me, including gathering the household in the garden to sing carols at the top of our voices (in a well-ventilated way). The tender respect of all the traditions that are important to me and their significance in my life was very special.
Of course, Christmas was adapted this year. But then, for families, I think it is every year. We never stay the same. Relationships start and end, friends become geographically distant, and children grow. The mythical perfect Christmas has never existed, but our memories will tidy up the difficult parts and distil it to the best gifts, the best party, the best company.
This year my parents, living less than a mile away, may as well have been on the moon. My sister, 250 yrds away, likewise someone I can wave at from 8ft, when what I want to do is touch her. There are always crisis though. In 2008, with a new baby, the lovely Mr Hunt nearly died of swine flu and spent the lead up to Christmas in intensive care with pneumonia. In 2011, we left our third child at the crematorium and went straight to our eldest’s nativity play. In 2015, we were waiting between the charging and court appearance of our children’s attacker. Being apart from people because we love them is a walk in the park comparatively.
Courage is to take what you have and create as many of those happy, shiny memories as you can. The ones which sustain you going forward. It’s minimising the bare spaces, noting them and making emotional room for them, but focusing on what is there. I can’t imagine how hard that must be for people facing their first Christmas alone, as every adaption I’ve needed to make has seen family standing with me.
It is also courageous to make your Christmas/ winter solstice / Hannukah unique to your own needs and those of the people you love. I am religious and like my Christmas focussed that way, which can be very out of step with my peers. But the lights that cover my home are far more focussed on driving out the winter darkness as we reach the turning point of the year. Christmas this year has been about incorporating the traditions and needs of my guests from France and Spain. Innovation rather than hanging on to the things we can’t have has been important, kept us focussed and sane. It was easier for the grandparents to all join us via videocall than it is for us to focus on only the set who are visiting. Our Tapas lunch is amazing, but its flexibility is designed to make sure there is something on the table each child will eat and enjoy and that will never be a roast dinner.
Hope is something I have learnt a lot about through learning to parent. Without getting political, some people seem to think hope is a moon-shot. Aim for the stars and wait to see if all the pieces come together. Like promising the best toy when there is neither money for it nor availability and disappointing with what is delivered.
Hope needs to be grounded in reality. Hope is the top end of a realistic plan.
It is not I lack optimism, but I am not good with uncertainty. I’m a long hauler. I’d rather a downplayed, slow burn relationship than the promises in “Last Christmas”.
Christmas is just a day, an anniversary and public marker we (broadly) societally share, but you always need to look back with tenderness, face today with courage and aim for the top end of what is possible, with kindness and consideration to yourself and others if this can’t be achieved.