Monday, December 21, 2015

The Myth of the Perfect Christmas

Christmas week.  You can tell the big day is getting near by the TV schedules: normally on a Monday night, for instance, the BBC would be giving us Panorama followed either by a serious documentary or a serious drama.  Today, we instead have a repeat of Miranda Hart followed by John Bishop's Christmas show - which is much the same as his regular show, but with tinsel.  God forbid that anything serious should intrude on Christmas - everyone is desperate to keep it all nice and family-friendly, lest the festive season be spoiled by real life.  Because we can't have that.  The concept of a perfect family Christmas has become the Holy Grail in the UK these days - if anything upsets it, then the whole year is ruined.  Or so it seems.

It's amazing how much we invest, not just financially, but also emotionally, in this one day of the year.  Increasingly, I feel that the build up starts as soon as September and Autumn begins, so much so that nowadays I find it difficult to enjoy that season for itself.  But all our hopes and aspirations, it seems, are invested in the twenty fifth of December each year - we must aspire to some kind of mythical 'perfect' Christmas, which involves families coming together and aspirational gifts being given and received.  It's all about chestnuts roasting on open fires, mince pies, tinsel and wrapping paper.  Except that the reality can never match up to the fantasised 'perfect Christmas' promoted by the media.  The fact is that forcing entire extended families together in close quarters for several days once a year is a recipe for disaster, as tempers become frayed, old animosities magnified by enforced proximity and differences of opinion boil over into open hostility. 

I gave up on family Christmases many years ago, as I was finding them far too stressful, (the final straw was a Christmas gathering which exploded into threats of violence over some imagined slight I wasn't guilty of commtting).   Nowadays, Christmas Day is a time of solitary comtemplation for me, (along with a fair bit of lethaergy and debauchery).  I feel a lot better for it.  More than that, I've actually learned to enjoy the festive season again.  In large part this is down to the fact that I have clear and limited expectations for it:  it is no longer some miraculous time of the year during which everyone will be happy and all my desires fulfilled.  That was always the problem for me - our family Christmases never matched up to the ones you saw in films and on TV, or read about in books.  Everyone wasn't happy.  They weren't all nice to each other.  Instead, the usual bickering, bullying and pettiness carried on as usual, but seemed worse because everyone was meant to be enjoying themselves and demonstrating good will to each other.  I remember many of the Christmases of my teen years, in particular, being thoroughly miserable - I couldn't wait for them to end.  Perhaps if my expectations hadn't been so unrealistic, perhaps they wouldn't have been so bad.  As an adult, I learned to control those expectations, not least becauase of my depression.  I realised that the frustration of unrealistic expectations at Christmas simply fuelled the depression.  Again, I've kept the black dog at bay since I scaled back my Christmases.

So, this Christmas, just try to keep it realistic - all your problems won't be solved, your hopes won't be fulfilled.  Simply focus on enjoying yourself and maintaining your own space and it'll all be a lot easier.

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