Christmas is a stressful time for many. So many expectations to conform to. So many traditions to uphold. Feeling that we SHOULD do it the way society tells us. We should have a picture-postcard, Instagram-perfect festive season, complete with sparkling tree, flashing fairy lights, mountains of presents and excess food and alcohol. We should have wall-to-wall TV: movies, box sets, Christmas bumper specials. We should invite all the extended family and neighbours round in one great social whirlwind. If we do these things, and only if we do, so we are led to believe, we will have a happy festive season. Infinite love and peace and goodwill will be extended to us.
We could, on the other hand, be like Scrooge. Why is the story of A Christmas Carol so popular? Because Scrooge at the start of the story is the antithesis of everything we are supposed to be at Christmas. We could give no presents, invite no one round, wish no one a happy Christmas, complain that it is all a commercial deception. We could even carry on our regular work, pretending it is just a day like any other. Was Scrooge autistic? Maybe he was, not that that’s an excuse for his behaviour at the beginning of the story. Perhaps it’s an explanation though.
I believe there is a third way, the way in which my wife and I have been celebrating Christmas for years. We have a very quiet, modest celebration, just the two of us. We have muted decorations, many recycled from previous years: no tree, just candles, baubles and a selection of cards we are lucky to receive. We don’t believe in the religious aspect of Christmas, but we do mark the day. In the morning, the lightest part of the day, we take a long walk through local park and woodland. We enjoy the peace of shops shut and no public transport. A flask of coffee is essential. The afternoon, as darkness begins to close in, will consist of maybe a game of Scrabble, maybe some festive choral music on CD. We will open modest presents, just a few small useful things each. We will have dinner at our usual time of 8pm: nut roast, roast veg and of course plenty of Brussels sprouts. We will have one or at the most two drinks, a glass of red wine or sherry, or a bottle of lager. We will probably not switch on the TV all day. We will read books, both quietly on our own and out loud to each other. We may take a bath with healing salts and scents.
We are lucky. We have the best gift of all, which is each other. We have enough, in fact more than enough to eat. We are relatively rich: Christmas does not bankrupt us for the next couple of months. We have leisure time, a full two weeks off work. We are able bodied and healthy, something we try not to take for granted. We are not tied down by children, we chose not to have any. We don’t avoid our extended family, but visit them on other days during the holiday season. We are not saying our way of doing Christmas is perfect, or the only way, or better than anyone else’s way, nor even achievable by many who may have commitments to family and traditions or who do not have the health and wealth that we have. I would just like everyone to be less hampered by tradition and feel free to do Christmas in their own way, whether that is alone or with a few select friends, pursuing favourite hobbies, eating what we like, using the festive season as a true time of rest and recuperation rather than the stressful circus it has become.