Thinkpiece, Thoughts On...

Festive Dread

This post is for anyone who feels somewhat at a loss within the festive period.

For the past few years, I’ve approached the festive period with a low-level anxiety and existential dread: “What should I be doing? The thing it is that I’m supposed to be doing simply doesn’t feel like an option for me. What will I tell people when they ask what I’m doing for Christmas?”

To keep it simple, my family situation is not straightforward. So the stereotype of the idyllic family Christmas with about 10 people around a table, pulling crackers and enjoying fun and connection is not really available to me. I won’t be seeing my family at Christmas.

For about 6 years, I’ve always at least been in a relationship over the festive period, so I’ve usually spent Christmas with my boyfriend’s family. This is something I’m extremely grateful for. I’ve always been made to feel very welcome and part of the family. But this is the first Christmas in 6 years where I’ve been single and that it’s actually no longer been an option. So naturally, it’s forced me to confront the reality of my situation as it presents itself this Christmas.

This wouldn’t be so bad, in itself, if the ideal of a family-orientated Christmas wasn’t plastered literally everywhere around this time of year. The songs, the advertisements, the food, the pressure to buy a million presents and send a million cards…

It’s in the interest of big business, naturally, to promote this stereotype because it costs money. But I’m not a political/economic commentator so I’ll leave that conversation for somebody else.

For those of us for whom Christmas evokes a sense of anxiety and dread rather than joy and excitement – we’re bombarded with the message that everyone else is going to have a brilliant time; and that our exclusion from this joviality potentially indicates a wrongdoing on our behalf. Comparison is the thief of joy and these advertisements certainly invite us to compare ourselves to the supposed experience of other people.

For anyone else who is not seeing family on Christmas, isn’t celebrating it or for whatever reason is not looking forward to it – I see you. Your experience is valid. There is nothing wrong with you. After not too long, it’ll be over, it’ll be the New Year – a new opportunity to define life based on your own terms.

And I know it’s easy to say “it’s just another day”. But it’s not the length of the day that matters, necessarily – it’s the weight of it. Maybe people around you are all heading off to celebrate Christmas in the traditional way and because of this your loneliness has a different flavour to it – an added displacement. Maybe you are spending time with family but your relationship with them is strained and difficult. Maybe you feel as if you’re vulnerable to abuse and bullying when you’re around them. My thoughts are with you if this is the case. Maybe you’re worried that you don’t have enough money to have the kind of Christmas that you really want. I feel you. You’re not alone in that. Maybe you’re working!

Aside from the anxiety and dread that can arise as a result of not having a traditional Christmas planned, something else that can manifest is shame. When we have people around us questioning how we’ll be spending our time over the festive, it can feel embarrassing to share that we won’t be seeing family – or that we don’t actually have anything all that special planned. The last thing we need on top of all this is pity or interrogation from someone else.

And the questioning can be completely innocent – it’s normal conversation at this time of year – but it also invites unsolicited judgement from people. A good mantra for navigating these kind of conversations is: “Forgive them father, they know not what they do” – they probably don’t know the impact they could be having. They’ve probably never considered the possibility of an unconventional Christmas or the possibility that we don’t want to celebrate it – or the possibility that it’s none of their business how we’ll be spending our time.

People who react strongly to our responses to these questions are people who would likely struggle not to spend Christmas the way they always have – it would likely fuel some existential dread in them that they’d feel uncomfortable facing. That’s their shit – not ours. We have nothing to feel ashamed of. We do not need to justify ourselves.

Personally, I’m going to be spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day (and potentially New Year’s Day) volunteering for Crisis with the homeless. It just made sense to me. How can I truly feel bad about my lot when some people don’t even have a place to live at Christmas time? And that’s not to feed into this whole “you can’t feel bad about yourself when other people have it worse” thing, it’s just an opportunity for me to look at the situation in the larger scheme of things. I might not be able to have a big family Christmas but I can certainly do my bit to bring some festive cheer and light to people in a truly unfortunate situation.

Arriving home from my volunteering induction on Saturday, I started practicing singing a certain Mariah Carey Christmas song and for the first time all month, I actually started to feel festive. Because for a while I wasn’t thinking about my personal situation, I was thinking about how my singing might cheer someone up who’s down on their luck. The unrelenting compassion that emanated from the Crisis representatives conducting the induction was awe-inspiring.

At their Christmas events which run over the best part of the whole course of the festive period, Crisis offers an opportunity for homeless people to: get a Christmas dinner (or 5), get a haircut, get their feet seen to by chiropodists, get a hot shower, see some entertainment, play games, get a massage and learn about mindfulness and most importantly get some advice and support to allow them to take the first steps out of homelessness.

If you’re also at a loss on Christmas day or at any point over the festive period, why not consider volunteering? If there’s one thing that we’re always in great need of in our society, it’s compassion.

Thanks for reading. Merry Christmas. 😒

– SMUT. ❤ xxxx









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