The Christmas Conundrum ~ what is the spirit of the season?

The Christmas Conundrum ~ what is the spirit of the season?

Every year it sneaks up on me and every year I am unprepared and become anxious and then grumpy. Yes, Christmas.

I struggle with Christmas these days. I struggle with balancing my own views with those of the society around me. I struggle to avoid being a nasty grumpy, Grinchey old killjoy who hates pretty much everything about Christmas. I struggle to keep quiet about my views because in the end, they’re just my views and everyone else is as entitled to theirs.

But I don’t hate Christmas. I do hate what it seems to have become, in our current society. I’m not even going to go into the faith-based ideas about Christmas, because when it comes right down to it, actually most theologians would pour cold water on most of the so-called facts of the Christmas story. It doesn’t stop it being a beautiful story, though, or stop me from believing in it even though I know that the events almost certainly did not happen as the tale tells.

At the moment, I see and hear on a daily basis what people are doing and planning and buying for Christmas, and I also notice the increasing levels of stress and worry that accompany all these preparations, and it worries me. We’ve all hear of the traditional blazing rows at the dinner table on Christmas Day and all the accompanying nastiness.

 The following short extract is from Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather: 

The wassailers stopped and watched them in horror.

Neither party noticed, as the beggars oozed and ambled up the street, that little smears of black and grey were spiralling out of drains and squeezing out from under tiles and buzzing off into the night. People have always had the urge to sing and clang things at the dark stub of the year, when all sorts of psychic nastiness has taken advantage of the long grey days and the deep shadows to lurk and breed. Lately people had taken to singing harmoniously, which rather lost the effect. Those who really understood just clanged something and shouted.”

 For those who are psychically inclined, there is great truth in this. It’s one reason why for thousands of years in the cold Northern countries (I cannot speak for warmer ones) a festival has always taken place in the midpoint of the year, when the winter has begun to bite, but when the sun has begun its slow climb again. Humankind needs a midwinter festival to get them through the darkest of days that are coming, and whether this is Saturnalia, Yule, the Natalis Invicta , Christmas or whatever, it’s something of a psychological necessity. We need the hope and the light of gathering together against the dark and the cold.  

Apart from the odd sulk over washing dishes, I don’t think we’ve ever had a Christmas day row in my home. But I also think I know why. It’s all about expectations. Let me tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

The first Christmas we spent in Darkest Norfolk was probably one of the best Christmases we’ve ever had. We had friends come and visit, bringing partners, children and assorted hangers-on, to such an extent that I think virtually every item of bedlinen got used, and people were kipping on couches and pretty much anywhere there was space. There was food and drink and music and laughter; the living room stove was made up each morning and was kept stoked and used for roasting chestnuts and toasting marshmallows and warming ale until the last of us crawled to bed at 3am or later. People turned up, with other people, and the house was full to bursting. All the guests got on with each other and tasks like cooking and washing up were done communally and with a lot of giggles and joking. Scented candles were lit at dusk, and the house was an oasis of fellowship and love. It was agreed by everyone it had been a totally magical time, and we’d do it again next year.

Big mistake. We had more or less the same cast of characters, and the same food and drink and music….but a year had gone by, life had happened to folks and the magic was gone. Two friends managed to have one of those rows that never blaze up but become acidic and nasty within half an hour of arriving; it took another 5 or 6 years before they were on good terms again. Everything was the same, externally, but the whole thing was flat and rather lifeless.

We’d tried to recreate the magical atmosphere by assembling the same ingredients, the same components, but this doesn’t work. Think of the money and effort and thought that is spent on a great number of weddings, to recreate a fairytale wedding for the photographs. My husband has seen weddings where the marriage failed within three months; some even failed by the reception. Seriously, I do not jest; the bride used the honeymoon to go on holiday with her mother.

You cannot make Christmas by buying every “essential” item, or by eating or drinking certain things, or by attending carols services or Christmas parties. In fact, you cannot make Christmas at all. Because Christmas exists beyond all the external manifestations we think ARE Christmas.

Christmas is about love. Love. Not tinsel or presents or mince pies or films or music or anything that you can hold in your hand or look at. It’s intangible and elusive; if you try to grab it, it vanishes. And yet, a home that is filled with love will be filled with Christmas throughout the entire year…..and probably little will change for the month of December. That’s the spirit of the season, and it lasts all year in the hearts of those who are filled with love.


21 thoughts on “The Christmas Conundrum ~ what is the spirit of the season?

  1. I can’t agree with you more. I do not dislike the whole idea of celebrating the return of the light with family and friends before we enter winter, but I am grumbling at all the preparations, spending, expectations, advertisements and everything else that has taken over November and December. I keep reminding people, “It’s only one day!” Yet many begin the prep work and celebrations weeks (if not months) beforehand. By the time that week arrives, I’ve had enough of the whole festive thing.

    Great post. We need more like it to remind people it’s not about the money you spend (which you’ll pay back in the next year), but family and friends.


  2. I could barely read on after reaching, ‘it’s slow climb.’ Change to ‘its’ immediately! As you know very well, I’m only messin,’ as even you, whose attention to detail is legendary, misses the odd typo.
    This is the best piece about the lead-up to Christmas I’ve read in a long time. Never mind the tinsel the gaudy wrappings, the excessive food and drink; just take one line from your post and make that the basis of your Christmas. Then use it as a motto for the rest of the year. The line? Oh, that’s easy.
    ‘Christmas is about love.’
    Yes, it is. Or it should be. Thanks for this.


    • Typo restored to correct form….! And yes, I do(as does everyone) miss the odd typo.
      Thanks, glad it hit the spot.
      This Christmas cannot possibly be worse than last Christmas, which was very nearly spent in hospital(and indeed, I did end up there on an IV drip of antibiotics at New Year) and so, some of the pressure of expectation is off. So I am able to enjoy some of the run-up activities like choosing gifts for loved ones.


  3. Spot on. Again 🙂 You’re right: one cannot grasp the elusive and recreate the serendipitous conjunctions that brought about THAT moment: that’s what it is: WAS: past tense! No looking back: live in THIS moment and give thanks for all that God is giving now…


  4. Love it, Viv! Just returned from a few days in the country and was amazed at how far the stress barometer in Sydney has risen over this short period, with everyone babbling about their shopping, turkeys, trees, recipes and how many parties they’re attending… With a spinning head I sat tonight & read this post and sighed an ‘Aaaaahhhhh yes…’, took a breath & relaxed again. Thank you!!!


  5. I don’t know…that is to say that I’m not quite sure about Christmas or anything else, for that matter. Personally, I adore Christmas, because there have always been , first children, then grandchildren, to be assured of magic.
    ( Yes, “Father Christmas”, “Santa Claus”, “Saint Nick”, is truly coming). The homemade shortbread was always gone, with a few magical tell-tale crumbs left on the plate, the glass of milk, hastily drunk- the man is busy after all!

    The Christmas Story, whether we see it as fundamental truth, or a glorious mythology, begins with the birth of a child. It is about Birth, period!

    It’s not about whether we have children, or how traumatised we percieve ourselves to be. It’s too easy to take this albeit commercialised marking place as an opportunity to haul out old wounds for another moan. ( And here the mythology of Scrooge rises up before my inner eye)

    We are truly missing the point, religiously or otherwise, when, as adults, we act, as disappointed children.

    What I’m hearing here is “Ohh, I got coal in my stocking!”

    Do whatever you want with the opportunities for joy that come your way. That is between you and God ( however you understand that Complete Being).

    I intend to play joyously with The Child!


  6. Perfectly put. All we – ALL of us – can only ever see the world from the spot from where we stand. (As Luther once said) ‘Here I stand, I can do no other.’ But we CAN relate (or not… thinking of Sara here *wink*) to shared experiences, because our lives always do overlap with the same experiences, that is what bonds us as human beings. ‘Our shared experiences.’ I am neither a practising Christian, nor a believer in God,(or anything ‘other’) But I feel a connection to Viv here because I too celebrate Christmas, (because the world is more than what I THINK it should be) I am surrounded by those (family and friends) who love this time of year, and so what if it is made up – SO WHAT? In the darkness and misery of a British winter it brings lights and joy and closeness like no other time of year.

    We all have our scars that we carry, Christmas carries some of my deepest, but even so, I cannot wait for that day to come again, and the days leading up to it and inbetween the new year… becasue I feel that bit closer to those I love. And yes, like Viv I wish that feeling could stay in others throughout the year, sometimes I DO despair of my fellows and the lack of ‘love’ they show. If we need special occasions to ‘feel’ this love… well… so be it. I will take it.

    And as for what our capitalist system has done to it all?… I agree. And as for trying to recreate what was once, once more? I also agree. We should not try, because in doing so we lose the whole point of the thing. So have yourself a wonderful Christmas… and just ‘be’ in the moment with it. 🙂


  7. Rudolf ( and what a perfect Christmas name!) Did I understand your comment (wink) correctly, as implying that I could not understand another’s experience? Or did I misunderstand?

    It is entirely possible to understand another’s point of view, having lived it, and having moved beyond it. It is also possible to state another reality in a generous attempt to provide balance, and to honour the intelligence of those who, perhaps, are interested in an exchange of ideas, rather than the ego-soothing blanket agreement that so many confuse with unconditional love.

    If this exchange is for our inner children only, then, I’m not in the right place ( which is a distinct possibility!

    But, my dear Rudolf, if I misunderstood your written word, well, then, all is still open!

    Merry Christmas! ox


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  10. Don’t know how I missed this on the 5th December! It is now the 23rd and the piece rings truer today. I especially resonated with the impossibility of reproducing what had happened spontaneously, and for me this is the essence of what undermines joy. We go through the motions knowing that what should be spontaneous has been hijacked by obligations! This year I find myself incapable of pretense. This was one of your best!


  11. yes, I noted from FB that it’s a ‘old’ post yet never rang newer …

    Thank you Viv, Christmas is a time of love and fellowship. Sharing and caring. Hugs, light and laughter and much much more if one looks at the historical and religious aspect of it.

    Yet, it is known that Christmas can bring out the worst in people who use this time when family and friends are got together and the host and hostess have worked all out to make all beautiful, and there are those who get up-ended … and up other places as well … do they drink too much and their tongues get loosed? Are they in destruction mode in some way or the other?

    Who knows … and anyways … thank you for this post, a timely reminder and a very Happy and Merry Christmas to you and yours and the gp’s …


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