I'm usually quite a cheerful, positive, optimistic person, honestly I am, but Christmas...bleurgh. This year I spent most of the school holidays sobbing violently, or silently or holding back the tears and then feeling extra guilty for 'ruining' the 'Christmas spirit' for my kids.
The thing is, I'm not sure how much they noticed as they were quite happy playing footy and non-stop talking about football.
But I notice. And so did Partner.
Christmas for me brings up huge amounts of sadness, some of which I think goes way back to childhood. My parents split when I was 10 and after that we never spent Christmas with my dad again. He would call on Christmas day and I could feel mum's hackles rise as she didn't like it so it would feel really awkward to talk to him. In those days you couldn't walk around with the phone in your hand, because it was fixed in the hall where everyone could hear.
Dad, of course, understandably, would try to be cheery on the phone, 'Merry Christmas' and all that but merry was so far from what I felt, that I couldn't maintain the pretence and just wanted to get off the phone in case the aching sadness leaked out of my eyes and into my voice and gave the game away.
Then first love's birthday is in late December and he died, when we were both about 25 at the start of January. The coroners recorded a verdict of suicide as a result of some mental health issues. Way back then (and still now) suicide and mental health issues were huge taboos and we were so young that I did most of my crying alone, and threw myself into overwork and then travel.
Then my own marriage finished in early January and although it was the right thing to do, of course it was sad for us all, especially the boys.
So for me December and January are months of loss and sadness and tears and Christmas just seems to call all that loss in. Even though I was with my kids and my partner, I just felt like I was soooo alone and I mourned the happily married family that I didn't have as a child nor that I was able to give my kids.
The thing I find hardest about Christmas is that the one day of the year when everyone is off work together, there is a lock down. You can't phone a friend or pop round as it is 'family time'. Which is great if you have a happy family you want to spend Christmas with.
I have one friend who loves Christmas, who can't wait to lock the door on the world with her and her husband (of many happy years) and children safely snuggled inside and I envy her; it's what I wanted as a kid and now as a parent. It is what I will never experience.
But then how many of us do?
So many people I have spoken to have stories of family rows, tensions, losses and disappointments. I have listened to people's stories of the juggling between his family and hers, whose turn is it to go where? Who's driving this year? Who's cooking?
Then there are the people who ended up going to bed early on Christmas day as they were just exhausted from working up until the last minute and then running around to do presents and food shopping and cleaning.
At my Red Tent a number of us had found Christmas tough, full of expectations which fell more quickly than the pine needles.
The first working Monday after Christmas is called 'Divorce day' by solicitors who see a spike in parting couples.
Mental health help line statistics also show a peak in calls at Christmas with people citing loneliness, debt, anxiety, stress among their reasons for calling.
So what to do?
One girl at my Red Tent talked about how her family do Christmas at Easter when the weather is nicer, when there are fewer conflicting demands so everyone is free and there is less pressure. I love that idea.
My favoured option would be to ignore the whole shebang in a non-Christmas celebrating country but the children won't go for that.
Failing either of those options I have decided that next year I need to:
- Plan to cry. Actually make a bit of a ritual for the tears to come without apologizing for them.
- Maybe plan a midwinter solstice gathering of friends as our main Yuletide celebration and then treat Christmas day as any other
- Go to a community where there will be other families
- Start planning now to make sure we're with people (preferably somewhere with sun
I don't have a clear answer but would love to hear if you do something a bit different from the happy nuclear family Christmas.