I was always one who loved Christmas and although even as a child I knew it was primarily about the gifts, there was still an underlying 'hope' that with all the so-called Christmas ‘magic’ my mum poured in to achieve the perfect Christmas, it would somehow fix the discomfort felt in our family.
When I think back to Christmas as a child, the tensions I felt in the family amongst my parents and siblings were very apparent to me, as were the expectations everyone had about what Christmas ‘should’ look like and how others ‘should’ act and behave. We all had thoughts about what we wanted and how things should be for weeks in the run up to the Big Day. We all had preconceived pictures of how it would turn out, what people would think when they opened their ‘perfect presents’, how much we would be liked for what we had bought everyone. We were so heavily pushed with the letters to Santa, the Christmas wish list, it seemed like for once we had free reign to have everything for ourselves, like having a key to Santa’s Grotto, in his actual house.
I recall always knowing that Santa was not a real person, I always just knew, but I never told anyone. I carried the ‘Santa façade’ on for so many years because I knew that if I told my mum she would be devastated. Not the other way around. This was a parent who would be devastated. The child, being me, always knew it wasn’t true. My mum, she wanted Christmas to ‘be something’. There was a false reality where being caught up in the “magic” and make believe of Christmas made life a little more bearable and having the hope that the perfect Christmas Day would dissipate the disconnection and the sheer un-comfort-ablility felt by us all in the family.
So the magic of Christmas turned into its polar opposite. The ‘magic’ turned to dust in our hands as we took the gifts but they were never what we really wanted. What we wanted, and yearned for, was something else altogether. I would have loved to just hang out and chat and spend time together and to be seen as who I am, a person, not a child to be stuck in the corner. Difficulties in the family relationships at home were greatly amplified by the excessive drinking, eating and the way-too-many-presents-for-one-child. There were so many, that I would line them up and tell myself that I was special just because I had the gifts, but I didn’t feel special without them and there was always the wanting of ‘things’ to fill the hole inside me.
One of the clear memories I have as a child was watching the non-stop Christmas animations the day before Christmas. I’d watch these on my own, it would be the highlight for me, end to end magic all day, with wonderful stories all with feel good endings. The disconnection I felt within my family, was comforted and soothed by the animated figures inside the tv screen. Nothing could go wrong, no story had a bad ending, ever. One year I received a gaming console for Christmas, this time it was exactly what I wanted. With the gaming I could step away from my own family and lose myself in end-to-end animation.
The memories I have of Christmas were of a disconnected family that no amount of gifts could change. There was no true connection between us in the family, so a device that would create more disconnection was just what I needed. It could not have been more perfect in my eyes back then, yet the gaming console isn’t what I truly wanted. I wanted a family that were as unreal as the animated films from Christmas Eve, my family were not like that and never would be.
Real families are made of flesh and bone people, not Christmas wishes.
Real families are messy and don’t fit our pictures. No amount of Christmas wishes will make that any different.
I was always left feeling somewhat depressed and deflated after Christmas thinking it was the disappointment of not getting the gifts I wanted, or not getting enough of something I could never identify, but knew was missing. This was exacerbated by the over stimulation, overeating, over drinking and over-dosing on what wasn’t real for any of us. We were all wishing for something that didn’t exist. Above all it was actually the separation and disconnection I was feeling.
I was lonely in my own family.
It made me question what I was trying to create each year. If I felt lonely in amongst my family as a child, how much was the ‘magic of Christmas’ making us, all eight billion of us, yearning to simply connect?
When my own children were born, I wanted to make Christmas magic for them too, until I realised this was an entirely false magic. There was no love in it anywhere. There was no love in all the tinsel and glitter when I was a child either, just loneliness and depression. I decided that how I would raise my children was going to be different. Now as a family we want to make Christmas about spending time together, having-fun-with-lego time, having games and walks and adventures in the park. I realised this is what is so important and what my children really want more than anything money can buy.
While my children still ask for presents, my daughter told me that what she wanted was to hang with me more than presents.
This is something they want all year round, not just at Christmas. This is how we live 24/7, with no perfection, we just have fun together.
You may enjoy reading our other Christmas post - Family Christmas and Broken Banks