Anyone who knows me (and I can see friends and family members rolling their eyes in recognition!) will know that I am just a bit ‘bah humbug’ about the festive season/Christmas. The idea of it is wonderful, cozy, glittery and delicious. Somehow I find the reality all a bit overwhelming. I am not religious so I can’t revel in that side of things. Culturally, we are a Judeo-Christian household so things get a bit blurred here – opening advent calendars and giving and receiving Hannukah gelt (chocolate coins), for example (Some festive things I do like to take on board!) I also love the links to our ancient past that are still there in our present-day festive symbols: Yule log (even if it is chocolate!), mid-winter solstice, fir trees. But I hate the jingly demands to ‘buy, buy, buy’. I have to watch those major department stores’ Christmas narrative adverts through half closed fingers for fear of them ‘setting me off’. They always seem to exacerbate my sense of isolation from the whole ‘meaning of Christmas’ thing – that perpetuation of the ‘Christmas Is For Children’ myth.
Hibernation and Reclamation
Over the course of my ‘childless years’ I have lurched from festive hibernation to trying to totally immerse myself in all the seasonal jollity… and every coping mechanism in between. What is clear is that no matter the distance between my giving up on having children and now, this time of year is still particularly tricky for me. I can’t count the number of times I have tried to express how the festive season seems to add a layer of longing to my sadness and then have felt instantly guilty at the thought of taking the edge off others’ joy. As for so many people who are experiencing loss, for whatever reason, the festive season/Christmas is complicated. For me it is the anniversary of our final cycle of fertility treatment and our subsequent miscarriage. Thus, many of the sights, sounds and scents of this time of year produce very mixed and viscerally felt emotional and physical responses. Your experience may not match mine completely but I’m guessing that, no matter the cause of your grief, your reaction might be similar.
In recent years, I’ve tried to find small creative pursuits that could potentially help me re-engage with a little of that warm festive feeling – a kind of reclamation of a time in the year from which, for a while, I have felt excluded. Last year in my blog I wrote about my ‘Advent Box’ that I filled with promises to myself for the coming year. This year my idea came to me as I was pulling a book from the front of my bookcase and a moth-eaten, dog-eared paperback fell out from the very back of the shelf. It was a book I absolutely adored when I was a child and it is the only book I have ever read more than three times: Enid Blyton’s The Christmas Book. It cost me 20p in 1971 (no comments about my age, please!) The book is filled with snippets about festive symbols, their roots and history and I was so fascinated by the ancient ‘backstories’ to how we mark and celebrate midwinter, that I read it several times each Christmas.
So, this year I’m going to share my own new and updated foray into the signs and symbols of the festive season and the creativity they inspire in me. I can’t say yet where this venture will take me but I’ll try to do even a small something for each day of advent and an extra ‘creative bauble’ on the 25th of December. I can’t wrap these little ‘mindings’ for you but I’m hoping in some small way they will serve as a thank you for reading my blog through the year.
Bale, Rail, Indulge, Refuse: you choose
Nothing can take away our sense of lack, the spaces at our table, the sadness that we cannot share in those cozy festive rituals with our own children – or with people we have loved and lost. But we can choose what to focus on and we can take control of our festive involvement. If you’re anything like me, you might not always get it right (if there is such a thing as ‘right’). I’ve had years when I’ve baled, years when I’ve railed and years when I’ve simply refused at the Christmas fence. But I’ve also had years when I’ve approached Christmas with an open heart and focused on how, and whom, I can nurture – and how I can be nurtured too.
What is important is that we know how far is far enough. It’s not a failing if we say we just don’t feel like taking part this year. Nor is it a betrayal of our grief to try to reclaim, and indulge in, a little of that ‘festival of light’ spirit. Over the years I’ve felt judged and criticized for my approach to the festive season. I’ve also had sensitive and compassionate gifts that money cannot buy – support, understanding and space.
So this year, my lovely friends, we can truly nurture our creative spirit – in whatever guise that comes. In a world trimmed with fairy lights and glinting tinsel, we have a right to shine – if we wish. In our darkest moments we can light one candle for our loss and another for our glorious, amazing and very human journey towards resilience and emergence – and we can find comfort in the glow of both.
1st December – Today’s Festive Minding:
The Subversive Advent Calendar
Advent calendars have evolved from the German Lutherian practice of chalking the days of advent on a wall or burning and advent candle. Now they come in all shapes and sizes. (Although I wonder what the 19th century Lutherians would have thought of a Prosecco advent calendar!) One of my personal favourites is an online calendar with a photo of a Hubble Telescope image for each day of advent. You can start opening your ‘out-of-this-world’ advent calendar here. Recently the lovely idea of the ‘Reverse Advent Calendar’ (where you give one item to a charity each day of advent) has gained in popularity.
My advent offering is a frivolous one, devised in the hours of insomnia this very morning, using a colander, paper numbers and some Brussels sprouts. Who says those dark, mid-winter, pre-dawn hours can’t be creatively productive?!