I haven’t been looking forward to Christmas this year.
Usually I’m the complete opposite; I get excited by the lights, I’m obsessed with wrapping presents to perfection, and I make the best gingerbread you will ever eat in your lifetime (in the interests of Christmas giving, it’s this recipe). I get caught up in homemade presents, in making sure I hit every tradition, in trying to catch that perfect Christmassy feeling – but this year is different.
This the first Christmas we’ll have without my mother-in-law who, aside from being one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, was the epitome of Christmas spirit. Her house was so covered in decorations I used to say that it was like Father Christmas threw up all over it (which isn’t a pleasant simile I’ll grant you, but it’s certainly a descriptive one). She gave generously, she made it special and Christmas feels more than a bit weird without her in it. I miss her a lot, we all do, and 2016 has been a very difficult year because of that.
I honestly had no idea what to write about Christmas this year without sounding inauthentic. How was I going to do a post about being with family or feeling the joy of the season when this particular Christmas was going to be so hard? James and I were fortunately in India for the first half of December so we missed a lot of Christmas build up, but I was dreading coming home to a frantic few weeks of cold weather, present-buying and avoiding everyone’s Facebook posts of their trees and hot chocolates. But it wasn’t really like that.
There were a few Facebook posts, but not that many. Christmas shopping wasn’t as busy as it has been in previous years. The theme of this year’s carol service was “Hope in the Darkness” (which, as my friend Hope came with me, made for some hilarious puns). But it was brilliant. What I feared would be a twee hour of songs and nice stories about a baby was actually a very real look at what Christmas is for a lot of people this year.
Even if you haven’t experienced some sort of personal loss, 2016 has been fairly miserable for a lot of us. Almost every celebrity we love passed away, Brexit has divided our nation and a certain new President has divided the whole world. The Syrian refugee crisis continues and just this week a truck drove into a Christmas market in Berlin. I don’t think any of us are really feeling the Christmas joy right now.
I wanted to get away from Christmas; to slap a smile on, ignore what was really going on and wait for this stupid year to go away. But is that really what we need? To brush the sadness under the carpet, bite our bottom lip and power through this tinsel-fuelled day of mince pies and cheer? Christmas can be joyful AND miserable; filled with moments of fun AND grief. At the Carol service, Bekah spoke about the year her Granny died on Christmas Eve. Yes, her Mum still got up the next morning and peeled the potatoes, but the family also opened their presents from Granny and cried together at her messages. They were being family together, they were doing Christmas together, but they weren’t ignoring the tough stuff.
I don’t want a cookie cutter Christmas anymore; I want to acknowledge the year that has been so that I may appreciate the joy that will be. We spend so much of this season trying to be happy, but that isn’t the same as experiencing true joy. My friend Anna wrote about this in the Joy 2016 experiment this week (go read the full thing because it’s flipping brilliant). As she puts it:
“Lament is not the absence of joy: rather, joy and lament are two sides of the same coin, inextricably linked, the dark and the light which together make up the day. Lament is not discordant with joy; it is the harmony that brings out the beauty in the melody. To lament is to acknowledge that everything is not all as it should be. To lament is to raise a battle cry against the brokenness of this world. To lament is to refuse to accept hopelessness. To lament is to recognize that we are in desperately need of goodness. To lament is to seek a better world.”
I don’t know what kind of thing you’re up against this Christmas. Maybe you’ve lost someone close to you too; maybe you’re facing redundancy or stress at work; maybe you have family drama going on and you’re really dreading spending the day all together. Even if you’re just a little bit blue about the way 2016 has gone for our world, lament. Grieve. Rage against the dying of the light, and don’t try to stuff it down with too many Yorkshire puddings. If you’re happy, be happy. If you’re sad, be sad. Christmas is not about perfection; it’s about family and togetherness and a certain baby who came to bring hope to the darkness.
I hope you have a really good Christmas, and I hope you feel you are allowed to feel whatever life is throwing at you right now. But remember in all that lament and loss and rage and uncertainty, there is always hope and there is always joy.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti