Worrying threatened to get in the way of enjoyment during the festive period. Next time, let’s get our priorities straight, writes Erica Munro.
We had Christmas fully squared away by January 2 this year: a record.
Ruthlessly, the wreath was torn to shreds, its willow ring saved for next year’s messy masterpiece. Baubles and ornaments rewrapped in tissue: the tealight reindeer, the sleigh with our names on it, the straw star, the acrylic star and, of course, Hairmione Hunbun, our plump raffia angel, with her crazy yellow hair.
Off to the loft you go, you precious and faintly stupid old tat – no doubt we’ll see you again next December.
Christmas cards, fewer this year, were taken down and briefly pondered, then dumped in the recycling bin. Finally, the naked tree was dragged out the front door, shedding needles in its wake, and symbolising that, for us, the Yuletide circus had finally left town.
Potentially dodgy sausage rolls were made with the last of the sausage meat in the fridge, bought for turkey stuffing, but not making the cut. My son will eat them for breakfast tomorrow, at 5.30am in Dalcross Airport, because the airport cafeteria doesn’t open that early. I know this because I took the very same flight three weeks ago, to attend the Christmas carol service at Westminster Abbey.
I tried (and failed) to feel enchanted
I look back on that event with a sense of unreality. The genteel queuing outside the Abbey, where fake snow swirled, a string trio played, and charming people proffered mince pies on platters.
Past the bank of paparazzi by the door, waiting to snap the royals, as it was the day the second half of Harry and Meghan’s documentary dropped on Netflix. Surprised disbelief at being given a real, lit candle to hold.
The lady beside me leaned in and whispered: “Isn’t it magical?” I lied and agreed. It certainly ought to have been, sitting as I was in a beautifully decorated, 13th century cathedral, rammed with royals, adorable choirboys and Mel C. If ever there was an event to kick off the joy of the festive season, I was in the deep midst of it.
Unable to see a thing, for such is the layout of the place, I watched the whole shebang on a TV screen screwed to a pillar, while, up ahead, a camera gantry arm rose and fell. I tried to feel enchanted, like the lady beside me, but ran up instead against an overactive brain which refused to connect.
Oh, the ingratitude. Or maybe not ingratitude, but certainly a waste. Anyhow, it kicked off a Christmas season which, for me, was less about overindulgence and more about overthinking.
So much energy is expended on Christmas
For decades, I’d started around October, sourcing cutesy whimsies for stockings. But, in recent years, I tried to ignore the faint feeling of discomfort as I watched my no-longer-children’s faces as they opened theirs, thinking: “You’re humouring me, aren’t you, guys?”
I don’t regret the treats, traditions and gifts, but I do regret the amount of headspace I afforded them
So much energy expended on cards, shopping, planning, cooking, freezing, decorating, wrapping, mincemeating and cakeing. And, whilst we had a lovely time on the day, the fact is that the only thing I accomplished in December was Christmas. Now it’s over, I wonder why that was.
I don’t regret the treats, traditions and gifts, but I do regret the amount of headspace I afforded them. Looking back from the cold quiet of January, it seems crazy.
Next time, I’ll retain a sense of perspective
Is this another state of mind to blame on Covid? Or the tortured economy, or the war in Ukraine? We’re lucky – we would have been fine without almost all of it, but it’s a risk I wasn’t prepared to take.
What if nobody showed up? What if, horror of horrors, my loved ones were disappointed by Christmas Day?
They weren’t! It was great! But I lost sleep wondering whether two puddings would be enough, or whether someone’s gift haul ought to be shored up with some slippers, to make things fair. It’s why I wasted precious time failing to relish the many lovely moments as I worried about the next one.
Not all the time, thankfully, but enough to know that, next year, I’ll do my best to listen out for that happy twang in my heart when we are all together, rather than drown it out with overthinking.
Christmas, especially for people with far-flung families, can be a period when emotions are squeezed into a glittery ball of expectation and effort to have a “special” time. The trick I have learned too late this time is to relax, retain a sense of perspective, and enjoy the festivities together.
Lots of people have to work over Christmas, some couldn’t afford to have much of a Christmas at all, and others give up their Christmas Day to help those in need. We could try something like that next time. Might the family object? Course not. They’d do whatever makes me happy, as would I for them.
My, but it was lovely having them home.
Erica Munro is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter and freelance editor