Okay, it’s all but over for another year. You may view this with a huge sense of relief or you may feel sad and wish Christmas could go on forever. Which ever camp you belong to, I can guarantee your waist will be thicker and your bank balance smaller. Your family may have driven you nuts and you wish you’d been born an orphan or lived alone on a desert island! So why do we do it? Why is this festival so important to us in what is a largely secular society? In a society that is currently pretty hard up and full of split families?
With all the enforced jollity, I guess we have time to put aside any problems and pretend the world is all sweetness and light. (Oh, that is was…) We can look forward. We can be optimistic about the future. It will be better than the past. It must. Being with family and friends and sharing a celebration together makes us feel supported. We are not alone. The whole nation is part of our circle of friends, because everyone is doing the same thing. There is safety in numbers.
Yet, many more parents than in the past will be alone on Christmas day. Once our children become adults, they often leave and make lives for themselves in far-flung places. So this year, and I sense increasingly as time goes on, couples will sit in front of their computer screens using Skype to connect with their offspring on December 25th. Across thousands of miles, the faces of their children are projected on to a screen and they will hold a conversation as if they were sitting together on the sofa in the living room. It’s bizarre! Of course, when your kids are young, they are wrapped up in their lives; to them, seeing you on a screen is perfectly adequate. But for many mums and dads, it can be poignant but frustrating. You want to hold them, to kiss them, to go places with them, to have them eat your carefully cooked Christmas lunch. Half and hour on Skype just doesn’t hack it. But you stay buttoned up because you know for them, it’s enough and your greatest Christmas present is to know they are happy and safe and well.
Then there are families who are separated, through break-up and divorce. Kids can have split loyalties. It’s a time when mum and dad should be together. Kids want to be with both parents at the same time, but when couples split, children have to come to terms with feeling a deep sense of loss while trying to show their parents individually, that they are happy, because this is the time for people to be happy, isn’t it? Making sure that parents are civil to each other during a separation, is challenging. Being civil about marital break-down is difficult at any time, but at Christmas, nobody wins really, because underneath all the jollity, it’s likely that everyone feels that sense of loss.
But then, as I said, it is also a time of looking to the future and seeing better times ahead. Kids adapt and if there is a positive and loving atmosphere around them, they will cope. That’s why extended family and friends are so important. It takes a whole community to raise a child. It takes the love and care and consideration of a whole community. It takes an awareness and understanding that kids caught up in a painful divorce need special love and attention that continues, after the celebrations are over.
I still want to be able to guide my children and grandchildren. I look back at the mistakes I have made and I know that at the time, I didn’t see them as mistakes. It’s only in retrospect, that I realise how badly I went wrong at times. So do I have anything to offer my offspring? Well, I do but the problem is, like me when I was young, they may not want to listen. I have to accept that we all have to make our own mistakes, but it’s hard for parents to see this happen, when they have been through the same, and know that a different course of action might lead to a better outcome. Yet, that’s how it is.
At Christmas, we can show our families that support is the one thing that will never go away and is never a mistake. Supporting your family now, more than any time I can remember, is crucial. Whether you believe in the story of the Nativity or not, it has a good plot, because it’s about a family. All of us start our lives in some sort of family and family memories are the most potent. Christmas is a time to remember that.