So, a short blog today, as demanded by the pressures of my last day of work this year and three kids at home with no family nipping in to offer seasonal fun for the kids and some respite for us.
I just wanted to recognise the uncertainties, the last minute changes and the sense of loss that has come with this most unusual of festive seasons. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this time of year with school holidays and bank holidays often mean we get together with family and friends and enjoy some form of festivities in the darkness of the depths of winter (I hate the darkness of the depths of winter!).
This year will be different, and the losses of tradition and connection can feel a little bit overwhelming and not a little bit sad. In an attempt to counteract the sadness, I’m trying to consciously find ways to feel more ok. And here’s how I plan to do it:
Tomorrow is our official family gingerbread house making day. This is tradition for us; me and the kids make and decorate a gingerbread house every year. It’s somewhat (VERY!) chaotic, quite stressful at times with hot sugar for glue and everyone and everything covered in varied amounts of icing. I think that to other people it probably looks like more hard work than its worth; I look stressed and under pressure, there’s often arguments over who had how many chocolate buttons and who gets to lick the bowl and this year we don’t even have lots of people coming over to help us eat the end product (which is often more ramshackle than architectural wonder).
I love it because it’s ours. I love it because it’s something I know the kids get excited about each year and I hope they’ll remember into their old age. I love it because it links me and us to our past, our present and our future and because the meaning and value is so much more than that haphazard pile of sugar at the end of the process.
It’s an occupation that is part of me; I like to bake, it’s part of my history. I remember baking with my Grom (Grandma) and my mum and I like to feel Im passing that memory on. It makes me feel like I’m doing something that's really practical, that makes me feel like I’m ‘mumming’ and that is just ours in what is usually a very busy week with other family memebrs, friends and festive commitments.
It signifies Christmas and togetherness, and it is about so much more than what you see happening in the sugar laden carnage of our kitchen. It really is an example of the process being the thing that really matters, not the product.
So, some of this is different this year; I dont need to carve out time 'just for us' this year- we have plenty of that! It’s also not going to be something we share with our loved ones, although maybe the neighbours will find small boxes of sugary treats on their front steps. But, even though the environment and some of the purpose is different, the joy of the moment can be the same. And this is what I’m suggesting is the thing to keep an eye out for.
For you it may not be (probably won't be!) a gingerbread house, it might be something you do by yourself or with a friend or your partner (it definitely doesn’t have to be with kids!). It might be in person, at a socially acceptable distance or on Zoom (other video calling services are available!).
But there will be something.
Something that is more than the process, something that matters to you for a wide variety of reasons, something that links you to your values, history and life.
Look for those moments, find the bits that connect you to yourself, your family, your friends.
Look for the activities that link you to the past and the future to remind yourself that 'this too shall pass', and that hope is bigger than the present moment.
But having said that, when you do find those moments, indulge in them, cherish them, fully participate. Try not to focus on what isn’t, try and really feel the good stuff, even if only for that moment.
I really think it helps. I’m not saying it solves everything or that you’ll feel brilliant all Christmas, I’m just hoping that it might mean you get some moments of joy in what is likely to be quite a different Christmas period for lots of us. It won’t replace the hugs from loved ones, it won’t bring festive cheer to every thought. But if you can find and really notice the things that matter to you, acknowledge why they’re important and fully immerse yourself in the joy that brings, I think you can find moments of seasonal good stuff in a Christmas overshadowed by change and uncertainty.
On a practical note, writing down the worries or concerns about the festive period and then organising these a bit can be helpful. It can be useful just to see what is and isn’t likely to be affected by your efforts so you can ‘save energy’ by focussing on the things you feel most confident about influencing or controlling.
I’ve put a couple of templates in the file share on the website but basically you think about the worries or difficulties that you envisage over the Christmas period. As you write them down, put them roughly into categories of person (things about you), occupation (things about what you do) and environment (the physical and social spaces around you) and then use the spheres of control worksheet to organise these worries into:
Circle of control: things you have direct influence over
Circle of influence: things you may potentially have influence on
Circle of concern: things you are unlikely to have influence on
Once you’ve done this, take the things from the circle of concern off your worry list, off your to do list and save that energy to put into the things you can influence and directly control.
Be creative in how you approach the possible solutions or things that might be help with your worries or stressors; it might not be the usual plan, the usual way of doing things but sometimes just stopping and seeing the worries written down means different ways to approach them or solve them or put them into some sort of order can pop into your head.
By doing the structured thinking you are breaking the habit of worrying and doing things the same way- this can bring opportunity to find new ways to manage your stuff, whatever your stuff is.
Wishing you all the best Christmas you can find, some peace, some joy and some hope for whatever comes next.
Thanks for reading