We haven’t really celebrated Christmas since 2019. To be honest, we were just too depressed. I thought that if we just ‘lay low’ then no one would notice that we weren’t active participants. However, my observant neighbour of twenty years, having seen that for the first time ever, I hadn’t put up an extravagant array of lights in my porch, asked me if I was ok. I replied: “No, but I’ll live. I think…”
It’s now three years later, and as far as I’m concerned, nothing has really changed to lift my mood.
However, Father Christmas is coming in a few weeks (so my younger grandchildren tell me) and, rather than pointing out their totally unrealistic lists given the cost-of-living crisis, I need to “get with the programme” and cast out my “inner gloom.” Nevertheless, the children are very aware of the situation, as there are visible signs of homeless people and families who are struggling, all around them.
Coming to terms with the discrepancy that exists in our current society is difficult, as it seems obscene that there are families with no roofs over their heads, no money for food, no warmth, or any basic amenities, whereas others have everything they need and want more. Inequality isn’t just bad for those with nothing, it’s also harmful for anyone who exists in such a society.
Meanwhile, I have been getting my instructions for Christmas. Apparently, those animated conversations that I used to have with ‘Father Christmas’ on the phone in the run up to Christmas can no longer happen with one set of grandchildren – as they are no longer ‘believers’: a pity, it’s a great bargaining tool. I remember the studied pauses while I waited for his (non-existent) response. I remember the manufactured emotional responses that I gave to his silences. I also remember, when I had my older children (in Yorkshire), the conversations between myself and other mothers in supermarkets, over the heads of our misbehaving children. They would go something like this:
Me: “Have you got Santa’s number? I can give it to you, if you like? I had to use it myself yesterday because my girls were behaving badly. He told me that he might not bother visiting this year!”
Other mother (with mock – but realistic urgency): “Have you got it? That would be brilliant! I’ve lost his number and as you can see, I really need to phone him.”
The now-silent children listened in paralysed horror as their dreams of an extravagant ‘present-fest’ receded before their eyes.
I could do this routinely with other mothers (who I’d never met before) when I lived in Yorkshire as they’re a little less reserved there. People don’t seem to be so enamoured with spontaneous role play with complete strangers in quite the same way in Sussex.
A few years ago (with my grandchildren), I even got carried away enough to manufacture a wife for Tom Christmas (yes, I gave him a name). I called his wife Beryl and we would ‘lunch’ together and so any child I knew would have to be careful because of course, Beryl would repeat to Tom what I had told her during our ‘ladies’ lunches’ about the children’s behaviour (I think it’s called ‘pillow talk’).
These tales grew in the telling, so I needed to remember my stories and sometimes it was hard to keep a straight face when on a call. One day when the house was full, the phone went and my husband announced, holding out the receiver, “It’s Beryl calling for you.” If he thought he could phase me – he was wrong.
Not such a festive time
Fortunately, Beryl and Tom Christmas have (mercifully) faded into obscurity over the last couple of years as the children have got older. It was becoming a little difficult, remembering the different strands of my story, especially if I got some of the details wrong and I’d have to be corrected by a six-year-old.
Instead – reality has kicked in: there are price limits on amounts spent; no shame is to be felt by pensioner grandparents for not being able to price-match richer aunties and uncles. As for Christmas cards? Many people I know aren’t sending them – postal costs are too high when people are trying to manage with very high inflation and stretched salaries. Besides, to be honest, my list of friends has diminished since Brexit and the general election of 2019.
Of course, at Christmas there will be food – perhaps not too much this year, as more and more people are watching their expenditure and because it’s now increasingly being perceived as tasteless to be too extravagant when so many people are struggling in so many ways. Many people who have enough to eat will just be grateful – that they have enough.
The best part of Christmas Day for us will be a walk in the woods with the dog and some of the children. To be surrounded by rustling tall trees somewhere in the countryside seems to be as special on Christmas Day as it is on any other day. Apart from that, to be with friends, family, or kindly people in a warm space, might just be enough…