The vision of a perfectly dressed tree, and a roaring log fire to keep out the cold. The spiced waft of a roasting bird in the oven as the family bundle in from tossing snowballs outside, full of cheer and joy and merriment. The perfectly welcoming house full of twinkling crystal and sparkling decorations. The intakes of breath at the splendour of the perfect feast laid before them. And a table set as perfectly and tastefully as the immaculate conception itself.
But then, as the Big Day arrives, our vision melts in to the true horror of Christmas unwrapping around us:
- The long to-do list, that seems to be growing branches and roots of its own
- The shopping trip that goes all wrong because Tesco’s run out of sprouts or chestnuts or cranberries or gold leaf for the handmade chocolate bonbons
- The last-minute rush to get a gift for Aunt Mavis, who got left off the list by mistake
- The cat leaping onto the Christmas tree because the shiny baubles represent an army of sparkling mice descending from heaven for his delectation
- The turkey that is still frozen an hour before it is meant to be cooked
- The children who are fighting over the remote control to watch Krampus instead of Carols from Kings
- The relatives who turn up way too early, already sozzled from their previous engagement and expecting the jollity to continue at your house and at your expense
- The underlying friction when people who don’t get on at the best of times, trying to be festive with each other
And amongst all of this, the woman (most likely!) or man of the house:
A towering vistage of willing prowess and fortitude, striving to produce miracles in a kitchen too small for the elevated plans. Swearing wickedly inwardly, whilst trying to appear composed, festive and stoically sparkling on the outside. The dazed smile being mainly due to the excess of cooking sherry that landed in the cook instead of the trifle. Together with half the bottle of bubbly meant for the toast. And the entire batch of failed mince pies.
Every year, on Boxing Day, millions of emotionally scarred women (And some men) emerge ashen and drain from the carnage of Christmas. Their role now is to rake over the pathetic remains of the last sprouts and a few roast potatoes, in the hope of creating just one more meal from the remains of the feast. And vowing beyond all hope that next year, they will go somewhere hot for Christmas to escape all this madness.
But does Christmas have to be like this, full of desperation, disappointment and exhaustion?
I don’t believe it does. I think I have discovered a formula that will help us all to cope better with Christmas. And to enjoy it for what it is, instead of what we hope we can make of it.
You see, I am the veteran of 25 Christmases like the one I describe. In fact, make that 50! Because we used to do 2 Christmases each year: One on Christmas Eve for step children and their ever-growing broods, as well as for friends and assorted family members to feast, revel and depart. And another one on Christmas Day, for the at-home children to enjoy a traditional home-cooked Christmas meal to interrupt the lazing about in pyjamas after the present-opening frenzy.
Every year, at the end of the Christmas Eve romp, my house resembling Ground Zero and a crowd of revellers streaming out of my door, often not even bothering to leave a present or thank you behind, I would vow not to do it again. Until the next Christmas came around, like Groundhog Day. It wore me down and wholly contributed to the stress revels that caused me a bowel cancer scare. I used to fear and despise Christmas.
I always believed that there must be another way. And yes, there is one. And believe it or not, it is dead easy! In five simple steps, every single person who is feeling the dread of Christmas dragging them into a quagmire of Grinchy desperation, can rise back to being their sparkling, serene self and even enjoy the “run up to Christmas”.
In the spirit of Christmas, I created a seasonal acronym for the 5 steps: GIFTS!
- G is for Gratitude
When the Grinch comes to steal your Christmas away from you, take a moment to reflect on how much there is to appreciate. Take a few moments to write down 5 things that are meaningful to you (Christmassy or otherwise) and say thank you. Even if you feel you can find absolutely nothing, then simply be grateful for the intention to be grateful. It’s the simple things that are the most important. It’s amazing what the realisation of how much we truly have, can do to lift the spirits and return the spring in our step.
- I is for Inhale
Because every inhale is followed by an exhale! Breathing slowly is a most natural and effective way to manage stress and reduce tension in the body, whilst calming the mind. When we feel stressed out or anxious, we tend to hold our breath or to breathe too fast, which in turn raises our already high adrenalin levels. Insufficient oxygen levels lead or bodies to believe that we are suffocating, triggering the survival response of fight or flight. This can also make us feel aggressive or irritable. A good way to slow down or start up the breath is to count it: Find a quiet spot where you can focus on your breath. Inhale for 4 counts, hold it in for 2 counts, exhale for 6 counts, hold it in for 4 counts. The repeat the cycle after doing 5 to 10 rounds (Or more!) Notice how much calmer and in control you feel, before diving back in to Christmas. As you get used to counting the breath, you can play with varying the lengths of each section to explore more.
- F is for First
That is: You First! At Christmas, we tend to forget about ourselves as we are so keen to please others. It is far healthier to take care of ourselves first (Physically, mentally and emotionally), so that we are in a position of power when it comes to serving others. Staying in touch with our own feelings, emotions and patterns help us to remain aware, centred and calm. So, take a bit of time to invest in the things that are important to you: Sit down for a quiet chat with a loved one. Drink enough (Not alcohol!) to stay hydrated. Eat what you like without worrying about calories or weight. It’s Christmas, after all! Have a rest, watch a Christmas movie – whatever pleases you. Most of all, set an intention that for you, this Christmas is going to be a calm and happy one. Then let go of any judgements, expectations, emotions or behaviour patterns that are the real thieves of Christmas joy. If you choose to be happy and festive, that is exactly what you will be!
- T is for Tuning In
Tune in and become mindful of the true spirit of Christmas. It is about peace, joy and goodwill to all men. Tune in to the present moment, which is the only one we really have any control over. Tune in to yourself, the only person whose actions you are truly in charge of. And allow that goodwill to extend to yourself, too. Deeply held memories and emotions from the past, which are most often no longer valid, can be a real sparkle stealer at Christmas. Breathing in the present and breathing out the past is an easy visualisation exercise to let go of the oversights, hurts and slights of the past once we make the choice for being happy and joyful in the present moment.
- S is for Sufficiency
Christmas tends to be a time of excess. Not only do we eat and drink our own bodyweight in overly rich fare. That striving for “the perfect Christmas” leads us to spend far too much money on way too many gifts. It pulses us into stress about delivering unbelievably high expectations. Ask yourself (And be honest!): “How much is enough?” And then deliver just enough. Too much causes stress, is not required and can be left undone.
- Will 3 courses do instead of 5?
- Will Little Willy miss the extra gift, if there are already 12 under the tree?
- Will Aunt Mavis suffer a terrible consequence from sitting next to Doris, this year?
- Will anybody notice that the mince pies are from Morrisons?
I can go on with this list, but I have made my point. Lao Tzu once said:” When the cup is full, stop pouring!” And don’t worry about it (That last bit is my addition).
The point of having a happy, peaceful Christmas is to stop getting in our own way, and allow Christmas to be what it is. Without judgement, expectation, creating unnecessary strain or friction on our own part. Just go with the flow and let things unfold.
This Christmas, may you be peaceful and happy.
May you be free from inner and outer harm.
May you be as centred and strong as you can be.
And may you enjoy the season with the ease of wellbeing.
I wish you a blessed festive season, wherever you are.