Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Pressure and Perspective at Christmas

This morning I heard a woman being interviewed on the radio, claiming that she was not sure how she’d cope if her delayed Ocado delivery did not arrive. Oh please, I thought, is this what we've come to. Could she not lift herself from her despair and go to a shop? And is it really THAT important, will it change her life? Have we gone mad as a society, have we completely lost perspective?

I felt saddened by this woman’s whining and it encouraged me to finally post something I’ve been thinking about for a while...

On Sunday I had a strop. I seemed to be in the kitchen clearing up all day and felt more like a skivvy than a mother. The next morning I chatted with a friend who said she’d had a similar day. With my hands in the sink I’d started to think about all the mums feeling the same. I don’t want to seem bitter, a martyr of my role “oh poor me with all the washing up to do”. I’m not getting into the male-female-shared housework debate here; my husband contributes (when he’s at home). I am very aware that men and women are different animals who see and do things differently and this creates pressures when living together. That’s not what I’m thinking about here. The point for this post is; what is it about Christmas that does this to us, why was I feeling stroppy and hard-done by at the supposedly happiest time of the year?

Is it just the sheer weight of celebrating – there are more meals, more parties, more people so more mess and clearing up? Is it because it’s the middle of winter when living is harder, it takes longer to do simple things in the cold and dark? Or is it because emotions are more intense – we so want everything to be perfect for our families on that one day that we put more pressure on ourselves?

I’m sure some would dismiss me as a miserable old bag but there are aspects of Christmas I find difficult. I like it to be a family time when we can enjoy being together without the pressure of deadlines. Last year M and I eventually stopped rushing around and got down on the floor and played their new board games with the children and it was great, for all of us. But this can be a difficult moment to get to.

I refuse to get stressed about Christmas – it is, after all, supposed to be simply about celebrating the birth of Jesus. One wise person told me to separate the two Christmases, to accept that there is one religious festival and one occasion of consumerism and feasting. That goes some way to helping justify the contradictions between the two. Although this week, with the Copenhagen summit in the news, I feel uncomfortable about the excesses of Christmas. As individuals I believe we all have to do our bit to help preserve the Earth’s limited resources. Obviously we do not have the power of world leaders, who have prevaricated then flown home in their private jets. But we all have to take responsibility, in whatever way we can. So much is wasted at Christmas, so much packaging sent to landfill. This is not a way of life I feel comfortable with.

“But it’s Christmas,” people say, “lighten up!” Okay, so if this is supposed to be the most joyous time of the year, why does it make so many people unhappy in different ways? I’ve seen mums distressed about Nativity plays – because they couldn’t get there or because their child didn’t perform as expected. Should we be creating this pressure on everyone? Children line up for school ghostly pale, exhausted by the hysteria – do they want to sing these songs and perform these plays for their expectant parents or would they be happier in the classroom? People ask “are you ready”, in expectant tones, creating the intensity of a crucial deadline. Is it really that important what we have for pudding on Christmas Day? And I’ve not touched on the major issues of people spending money they don’t have or domestic violence increasing. When did this become “celebrating”?

My point is, if Christmas is supposed to be a special family time, why have we created a plethora of fuss around it so that mums, with their hands in the sink, just feel stressed and unable to enjoy their families? I understand that celebrating Christmas is about traditions – everyone has their routines they like (or have) to go through, without which it doesn’t feel like “Christmas”. But surely there is a way of preserving these traditions without making it such a contradictory Event? Certainly, I often find my “Christmas moment” in the most unlikely of places. Maybe it’s since I had a baby at Christmas, but I can’t help feeling emotional about how it all began; Mary, raw in her motherhood, and her precious new baby, wondering how their life together was going to turn out.

If we could take a step back, reduce the obsessive consumerism, just give a few gifts and enjoy a few simple family meals together, would it not mean that everyone could properly enjoy the occasion rather than feeling harassed about the next job that has to be done in the seemingly endless quest to create the perfect, fabled, but elusive Christmas?


Anonymous said...

There are so many different opinions on celebrating Christmas, not least the many religious aspects of it. I think it all depends on how we are as a person; if we find life stressful as a whole then Christmas will only increase our tension, my mum is one of these people. But I speak only for myself when I say, being laid back helps me at Christmas because we take it as it comes. I buy presents and send cards, I shop till I drop (mainly online) and I buy far too much food, but I refuse to get stressed. I love Christmas more than any other time of the year and feel that if I allowed myself I could quite easily lose the magic I so adore.

Very interesting post. Happy Christmas to you, and a peaceful new year.

CJ xx

Motherhood and Anarchy... said...

Thanks for commenting Crystal Jigsaw. I would be interested to hear what makes Christmas magic for you and how you think you could easily lose that magic - by getting sucked in to all the stress and pressure or by the cynicism of others regarding Christmas, or if you didn't prepare and celebrate in the way you like?

Potty Mummy said...

That's such an interesting post Saffia. This year, due to our move, I've had to let go of a number of what I would before have called 'traditions', and guess what? No tree, no cookies, no wreath on the door, no last minute drinks (or at least, only the ones we're having to say goodbye to people), and it STILL feels just like Christmas. It turns out it's the people that count, after all. I think that minimal may well be the way for us to go from now on...

Anonymous said...

Christmas has always been a very special time for me; I was brought up in a household where my family loved Christmas and New Year, getting into the festivities and making my two siblings and me adore the wonder of it all. The magic comes from my dad; he passed in 2001 but this time of year was always his favourite. I have so many wonderful memories of his smiling face on Christmas morning, watching him adorn outside trees with fairy lights, gathering us up in the car to visit friends.

I will never allow myself to forget his face on that special day when he watched his three children as happy as he had been able to make us. For him, he put family first before anything else, and always insisted that we made the most of our time together as a family.

These days however, my mum doesn't like Christmas. She can't get into the spirit of it anymore and finds it all incredibly stressful; the shopping, the cooking, the preparations, wanting to make every one happy. I think she feels she can't do what my dad did but we know she can, and does.

Christmas will always take me back to my childhood, back to some of the happiest days of my life. And now that I have a daughter of my own (she's almost 10), I want to give her exactly the same feelings of joy and magic that my dad gave me. He obviously loved me so very much; and that's what makes Christmas so special for me.

Best wishes, CJ xx

Mummy Zen said...

Really great post! You make lots of good points and it's worth remembering what Christmas is meant to be about, rather than stressing over the small details to make it 'perfect'. I think a lot of the pressure comes from unrealistic expectations of what should happen, what the family should do, what elaborate meals should be cooked etc. It's hard to achieve all that, as well as fit in all the usual things and that leads to pressure.

Keeping things simple and enjoying those simple things as a family makes for an enjoyable and more relaxed time.

Motherhood and Anarchy... said...

PM - I agree but I think it's very difficult not to get sucked into what you are expected to do, especially when you have young children, without a very good excuse - like travelling. It's almost a relief when you have a reason NOT to do all the additional bits and pieces and can just enjoy the holiday time.

CJ - thanks for sharing this. It's wonderful to hear how your dad worked so hard to make Christmas special for you, and how his love of it has passed on to you.

MZ - I'm so glad you liked the post. Yes, we all give ourselves unrealistic expectations. I'm trying to stop doing and just enjoy the time, but I still seem to be clearing up a lot! We had a lovely evening with the children, so that has been a good Christmas moment.

Muddling Along Mummy said...

Great post - I think part of the problem is our obsession with perfection instead so instead of focusing on everyone enjoying a good time together it becomes that we try and emulate the TV ideal of how everything should be

I refuse to get stressed by it - its not going to work out perfectly and the memories of Christmases I have from my childhood are not the presents or the food but the pleasure of spending time together as a family - that's what I'm going to focus on

Motherhood and Anarchy... said...

MAM - you are so right about trying to emulate the TV ideal, wanting everything to be perfect. This year, because my husband had been working abroad so we'd not seen him much, we kept things really low key and had a great time, just doing things together at home. Like you say, the most important thing is spending time together as a family, not worrying about the table decorations.

That's why it annoys me so much that in the run up to Christmas we are bombarded in the media about "perfect ways to decorate your table" etc. Who has time for that, without completely stressing themselves out, and it's actually so unimportant!