Yes, it is that time of the year – there are decorated tress in public places, the shops are awful and hectic, Christmas specials are on the TV (I always like the Christmas special in Dr Who), Carols by candlelight has been playing on commercial TV, complete with has-beens and a smattering of current celebrities presumably appearing through some kind of show business altruism. And this is the Jeanette Friday 25 December special.
Anyone who knows me well knows that despite the fact that I am a Christian, I hate Christmas. I don’t hate the concept but I hate all the expectation – the fact that one is ‘supposed’ to have a big family gathering and lots of gifts seems really crappy to me given how many people out there do not have contact with family or have no money to but lavish gifts for their kids. A friend pointed out last week that the idea of Santa cClaus can be really difficult for poor kids who see their more affluent classmates and friends receiving loads of things from ‘Santa’ and the poorer kids thinking they must have been ‘naughty’ due to their smaller number of gifts. Another example of what seems like harmless fun having a rather damaging unintended consequence.
I usually spend Christmas with family, which is nice I suppose but I find the whole thing pretty overwhelming. The day concludes with a huge pile of wrapping paper on the floor and the kids comparing all their various books and plastic things from China. The adults drink nice wine and play board games with varying degrees of competitiveness. It is nice but it makes me uncomfortable and stressed too.
This years I did not spend Christmas with family. it wasn’t because I had fallen out with any of the other Purkises but was because I wasn’t quite as organised as I should have been about booking the furry boy in for cat boarding so I needed to stay in Canberra. I have a few surrogate families in Canberra who would have been happy to have me. I thought it best to be proactive and invite myself just in case it didn’t cross people’s minds that I might prefer to be with people on Christmas. After two families declined (one due to the impending birth of a little boy – who arrived on 22nd and has the beautiful name ‘Arlo’, like the folk singer – and the other due to family illness). I was left wondering if I would feel so lonely as to emulate one of my former public housing neighbours and buy a load of beer and get roaring drunk. I finally decided to invite myself to one of my my movie night friend’s family Christmas.
They said yes and I was delighted, if a little apprehensive for I had never invited myself to another family’s Christmas lunch before. I have friends who for various reasons struggle with Christmas so I planned to Skype with a few people and share a sincere ‘bah humbug’.
I spent the morning not quite knowing what to feel. Here I was on Christmas Day and there were no family members, no presents under the tree (actually no tree or decorations of any kind). I gave it a good think and realised it was just another day. It was Friday. I worked on a presentation about Autism and employment I will be delivering in March. It felt odd but sort of liberating. I was alone on Christams morning and the world was continuing to go on, I was not depressed or miserable, just a little reflective. I felt like the same Jeanette I always do.
After a postponement and good deal of catastrophising and on my part, my friend picked me up and there I was, being an honorary member of someone else’s Christmas celebration. I Knew my friend and her daughter (who is a also a friend) and her husband. My friend’s parents came too. I hadn’t met them before but they wrere very lovely and welcoming. The thought that I was like a homeless person or recently-released prisoner or a lonely older peson receiving Christmas ‘charity’ crossed my mind a few times. It didn’t feel like that though – I was accepted and welcomed. (And I also was a homeless person and a recently release ex-prisoner at various times in the past and in my experience these are not things to be pitied or patronised, just life stages that require love and the right support).
I was my usual extroverted self, and wondered a couple of times if I was talking too much and somehow ‘usurping’ Christmas. It was all good though. The youngest member of the family had lots of presents (including a copy of my autobiography). She was very grateful and showed her beautiful character, as she often does. The adults got mostly chocolates and some unintentionally amusing things from a Queensland-based granddad – a big bag of prunes and an even bigger one of figs! My present was the best of all though – lovely company and inclusion.
Time flew and I got home at after six. I got to Skype with one of my friends and we had a great conversation. It was funny because my friend really dislikes Christmas from what I imagine is mostly his own negative experiences. For me, in the past ten years at least, I don’t usually have terrible time but I just think it is unfair to put all the expectations on people – and parents of young kids – that they have to do some big family event and presents when so many people can’t. I remember the four Christmases I spent in prison and the misery of mothers whose children were in an entirely different universe and the best they could hope for was a ten minute phone call with all the other parents impatiently waiting behind them for the one phone which serviced 110 women.
I’m never particularly enthusiastic about the season. It was nice to talk to my friend via Skype. As we were about to sign off I said ‘er happy Friday’, because for me that is what it is, Friday. While I was very grateful to my friends for having a spot for a funny author person at their festive table, I now know that it isn’t all that important in my lfie. It is another day, that’s all. I don’t need to go along with all he expectations and excess. For me, the best thing about Christmas is the carols. I am listening to the King’s College choir sing traditional carols as I write and they are lovely. So while I won’t say ‘bah humbug!’ and I respect that people may see Christmas as a big event, for me it is a time of reflection and thought. People are important on any day of the year.
My best present is a more inclusive and friendly world for those who struggle in life