There. I’ve said it. There is no place for joy at Christmas. That is not to say that there is no place for happiness, of course there is, but joy is asking too much.
There has been a tension in the air over the past couple of weeks that is almost visible, not so much a winter fog but a lightening storm crackling behind it, ready to break out and set fire to the Christmas tree. The pressure to be joyful.
Everyone, mainly me, has been in a terrible temper. It’s more than just the ‘Mum’s gone to Iceland’ cliches of too much shopping and preparation, it’s all a bit darker.
My husband will say ‘I told you so’ as he has been miserable about Christmas since the day I met him. However, to me it always comes as a bit of a shock. I love Christmas. I still get excited about the decorations, the food, the Hazlenut Baileys but these days that Christmas spirit is harder to earn.
Someone talked today of FOMO. I am not down with the kids so had to have it explained to me: It’s the Fear Of Missing Out; the constant feeling that someone, somewhere is having a better time than you, or actually seeing that better time plastered all over Facebook as digital confirmation of your social suicide. They were talking, of course, about the never ending onslaught of festive social engagements, invitations and celebrations that you are obliged to accept, that make us overtired and overwrought.
This year, I don’t have that excuse as my diary has been fairly festive free, a poor show.
However, Christmas is all about what we’re missing, and that’s what makes everyone in such a filthy mood. We are ordered to concentrate on how lucky we are but, like a dieter trying not to think about stollen, it’s the gaps, which normally lie unnoticed on the wall, which are suddenly swathed in tinsel and fairy lights.
I find the run up to Christmas hard because my parents are no longer here. This is not recent, or remarkable, but the ghosts of Christmas Past weigh heavy. I am not alone in my missing pieces. For every person complaining or arguing about who’s coming for Christmas, there’s someone wishing they had somewhere to go or someone to invite. For everyone complaining about their overexcited, ungrateful children there is someone who would be grateful for any child at all. And for all the empty chairs at tables there’s someone looking at the person sitting opposite and wondering whether they wouldn’t all be better off somewhere else.
I should actually be spending this evening writing my Christmas cards, but I hate to do it. It’s a reminder of my failings and the friends I’ve neglected; the ones that I should call or visit, or just keep in touch with more often, if only life (and Twitter) didn’t get in the way.
I’ve realised that my Christmas glass has become half empty, which just makes me even more cross at my own grumpiness. If any one is still reading I’ll be a little disappointed in you.
We don’t even allow ourselves self-pity. Christmas is a time for joy and goodwill to all men. So amongst the neverending onslaught of happy, perfect, joyful families we are surrounded with images of those worse off than us, the homeless, the children in poverty, the lonely. We’re wedged.
Obviously we all live like this all year round, it’s just that at this time of year it is in such sharp relief and we spend so much bloody time talking about it. We shout loudly about the shiny side of our lives and shove the dark bits up against the wall, pretending that all we’re just stressed about how much wrapping there is to do.
There’s a reason that It’s A Wonderful Life is such a Christmas staple. It’s a tale of one man’s regrets and wonderings at what might have been, whose guardian angel shows him where to find his happiness – maybe we all need to invent our own Clarences at this time of year.
So the only thing to do, in this FOMO world (I’ve just stabbed myself in the eye so you don’t have to) is to roll with the punches, forget about the overriding need for joy and concentrate on the happiness.
If you are after a Christmas theme tune, I can only suggest Tim Minchin’s White Wine In The Sun . It has the right amount of cathartic melancholy for my Christmases past but is everything I want my children to feel about Christmas in the future.
I haven’t made a Christmas cake, or mince pies, or artful table decorations, but my children have got through an awful lot of glitter at my kitchen table, which will still make me smile when I’m finding it in April.
We are continuing our tradition of eating out for Christmas lunch (thank you Grandad) but my husband and I will have our annual War of the Trifle. Arguably noone needs that much cream in their lives but it is our unspoken way of inviting our mothers for Christmas.
I will be making Ham in Coke but only to prove that I am, and always will be #teamnigella
I’ve opened the Baileys.
And now I, once again, feel better about the world and ready to embrace the happiness that the festive season should bring. The children are wound up and primed, the extended family have their trifle spoons at the ready and I’ve ruthlessly sorted the toy cupboards.
It really is a wonderful life.