Cally Phillips offers a timely reminder that Christmas just isn’t for everyone. We’re often taught that the best thing you can do at this time of year, is to reach out to others and make them feel included. For some people, this is exactly what they need and a gesture that should always be considered. However, for some, the best gift you can give is a bit of peace and quiet. So, what does Christmas mean to you my love?
In the build up to Christmas both your wallet and your mental health can take a pounding. The season seems to get longer every year and the demands of friends and family can be overwhelming. Counting the days off one by one during Advent - chocolate advent calendar anyone? - is just the start. The shops are full of bright, shiny ‘must have’ things and individualism is sacrificed firmly on the alter of ‘you having fun yet?’ It’s that time of year when we are all expected to be party people.
However, in Christmas as in life, expectation can form part of a cycle - with unmet or unrealistic expectation leading to disappointment and then crisis. It’s like a sugar or caffeine rush - fun while it lasts but the after-effects can take their toll.
Before I build up your expectations too far, I’m here to tell you Santa Claus doesn’t exist, and Christmas isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for us all. Oh, and it’s okay not to buy into the festivities.
If you are one of these people who celebrate Christmas big style and love every tinsel and turkey filled moment, I wish you well. But can I put out a word for those for whom the big C is a fixed point on the calendar (an ever expanding fixed point which now starts before Halloween is done and dusted) - a stress point - and in some cases a time which triggers PTSD responses.
It’s well documented that Christmas is a stressful time. Even those who love it know that. Some people feel that stress is good for you. (I suspect they are the ones who don’t suffer from stress anxiety or similar disorders.) If you are an entirely healthy person (have you ever met one of those?) this may be the case; but for the rest of us mortals, it tends to be negative - especially when experienced to extreme, or brought on by circumstances outwith your control.
What is more out of control than a 21st century Christmas? I’m not just talking about out of control consumer capitalism, though you might think about that for a moment too. No, this time I’m getting personal.
Trust me when I say I know that if you ever dare to say you don’t like Christmas, you’ll find yourself accused of being a party pooper at least, more likely a grinch or humbug… and it appears to be too dark to mention any time after Halloween that for some people Christmas is a trauma trigger.
I have observed over the years that in December it seems impossible for the average person to accept that some people who seek to avoid Christmas aren’t ‘lonely’ people who just need you to come and give them a Christmas present or turkey dinner and ‘cheer them up.’
I ask you to take just a moment to pull yourself out of your festive jumper and present buying regime and think about people for whom this time of year is mental torture… and how best you might respond.
When Christmas is a time of fear and flashbacks, December can be increasingly overwhelming. For some ‘survivors’, simply having the signs of Christmas all around are more than enough. Don’t try to ‘festive’ them up or encourage them to ‘face the fear.’ Would you encourage someone who had survived a near death car crash to go watch banger racing with you?
It’s time to accept that some people just need to avoid THE BIG DAY. And that this is almost impossible to achieve. It can require going almost entirely off grid which is not ‘normal’ for most people. In reality, often the only way to not celebrate Christmas is to be on your own.
This can be hard for festive people to accept. Christmas is a time of giving, right? I understand that, apart from all the other things its about, Christmas offers people a chance to display hospitality - and if a person rejects that hospitality it can be hurtful. But please stop to consider why this might be. It is probably not about you at all. Read me loud and clear: It is not a rejection of your hospitality. It might be about trauma triggers. You don’t always save a life by inviting someone in. Sometimes you aid their mental health by letting them alone. By letting them deal with things in their own way.
Ask yourself, are you willing to forgo Christmas to spend a ‘normal’ day with a friend on December 25th? It’s a lot harder than going to a soup kitchen, which is a lot harder than just kicking back with the family. I’m not asking you to make the sacrifice. But relationships work two ways, right? If you don’t want to do without Christmas, then what right have you to expect someone else to ‘buy in’ to it?
So if you have a friend who doesn’t ‘buy into’ Christmas perhaps instead of trying to ‘convert’ them, try understanding and respect. Friends are for life, not just for Christmas, right?
If you’re lucky enough to enjoy Christmas - enjoy it. I genuinely wish you all the best. But might I suggest that what those of us who don’t celebrate Christmas might like this year is the gift of sensitivity. If that means no cards, no carols, no presents and no ‘Happy Christmas’ text on THE BIG DAY I have a message for you - life goes on after December 25th and your non Christmas celebrating friend will still be there for you come January to help you through your January blues!
For an alternative advent calendar, why not open Kirsty Eccles Advent McSerial online. A new episode of The Greatest (Advent) Stories Never Told pops up every day from 1st December. Episode one HERE https://www.mcstorytellers.com/day-1.html
I’d say it’s better than a chocolate advent calendar… but that might not be entirely true.