Barbara's blog: Have yourself a merry little Christmas…
Is anybody else buckling under the pressure of Christmas expectations? A flurry of demands that start to simmer around October, when the days get shorter and colder and the shops are poised on the start line, barely waiting for Halloween and Bonfire Night to end before whipping out the Christmas stock. This year I banned the C word (Christmas!) until September, lest my Yule-loving 13-year old daughter play Jingle Bells in July. But, come the Autumn, even I had to admit defeat.
As children, my Christmas and my husband’s were very different. He remembers a house full of relatives, long makeshift tables laden with traditional home-cooked food, lots of gifts, noise, music and not a church or carol in sight. I remember mine through textures and smells. It was quieter, focused on setting up a nativity scene at home – known in Italy as ‘presepe’ - with moss that had been gathered from walks in the woods and old ceramic statuettes of shepherds that belonged to my great-great grandmother, a real tree sparkling with glass baubles and being photographed by my parents in a velvet dress and patent leather shoes. But memory is a kind enemy that might have blurred the lines between reality and romanticism, conveniently forgetting that I used to be frustrated by receiving “useful” gifts rather than toys and having to go to church in the morning!
Because we experienced Christmas in different ways, we tend to value different aspects of Christmas and our children are pretty much the same, so it is a constant balancing act on my side to ensure that the material and the spiritual have an equal place in our festivities. Both children attend a catholic secondary, so they endure their fair share of religious celebrations, but outside of school they embrace Christmas in different ways. Daughter unleashes her creative side in a flurry of hand-painted cards and ingeniously wrapped gifts for her “besties”, gorging on an extravaganza of lights, decorations and music. While our 12-year old son sees Christmas as an opportunity to forage through Amazon, drunk on the possibilities that Christmas day might bring.
By December, each member of our lovingly dysfunctional family is chasing his/her own yellow brick road of potential. And for me, the pace of life accelerates.
My calendar pings mercilessly with reminders to write cards, buy gifts, plan festive meals, book the much-coveted food delivery slot, make time for friends and family, on top of the ordinary everyday chores: helping the children with homework, attending parents’ evening, discussing GCSE options with daughter, cleaning, cooking and of course working full-time, one of us in the City and the other on day, night and week-end shift-work which adds a degree of complexity to our lives. Flexible working means that I can be at home on a Friday, bringing time to focus and some light relief from the daily commute.
And while I chase my own private dream of a magical Christmas, by booking ice-skating – the fairy lights on the trees at the Natural History Museum are so pretty! -, and seemingly rejecting consumerism (while dropping tens of pounds on family tickets!), I find myself waltzing around the decked halls of Christmas, faster and faster, in a frenzy of activities, the music growing into a frantic crescendo until…
… news reaches me of the London Bridge stabbing attack. The music stops. A moment is frozen in time where I am the observer of my own life, instagramming the banality of expectations. Two people, just going about their daily lives, will not be home with their loved ones for Christmas. The rest pales in comparison to the magnitude of this realisation.
Since then, I have resumed the Christmas-related activities, but I have been decidedly selective, trying to avoid self-inflicted perfectionism in favour of things that bring our family together, that encourages us to see friends, spend time in nature, be creative, set time aside to think of others and be kind. It is all too easy to be blinded by the desire to fulfil an ideal, but sometimes we have to lift our heads from the hustle and bustle of life and appreciate what is important… and have ourselves a merry little Christmas!
Barbara works for a regulator in Canary Wharf but lives near the Sussex Downs with her creative and cheerful 13-year old daughter, ingenious and funny son and brilliant husband.
Category: A Citymother's Diary