It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas... is that good or bad for you?
The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (December 4th 2023)
Here are some tips for surviving the festive season... primarily schedule some joy for yourself, not just everyone else!
Maybe it’s the frosty trees, still glistening white in the foggy sunshine past midday – or the fact that I had my first roast turkey and sprouts lunch last week (thanks for inviting me AWTE). But it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!
I confess I haven’t got a tree yet, or the festive lights out or put up any tinsel or holly. But I did go and collect my elder daughter (well to be strictly accurate just her stuff cos she was off to a party) from university today. And I went on a pre-Christmas round of visits to wider family in the midlands and came back from the arctic cotswolds with a bootload of Christmas presents (my aunt is seriously efficient!) . So I reckon with exactly three weeks to go, it is definitely upon us and I wanted to share a few thoughts…
Now maybe you are one of those who just loves all things Christmas, who starts buying presents in June and can think of no higher happiness than the entire family in matching festive PJs under the tree for mass action selfies. In which case, bully for you! But it’s equally, or perhaps even more likely, that the so-called festive season can feel and be anything but. I know from experience that for anyone with any kind of break, or split, or loss in their family then Christmas can be the hardest time. Someone said to me last week: “What I’d like is to be administered with an anaesthetic on about December 23rd and to be woken up again on New Years Day” – she’d lost her beloved husband, her kids were abroad and the prospect of facing Christmas largely alone was not filling her with joy… Or take this from another Queenager: “My daughter got married this year, she’s spending Christmas with her husband and her new inlaws, as of course is right, she’s in a new stage. But I’m feeling really blue – it will be the first time in her life she hasn’t been with us.” Of course, change is evidence of life. The only thing we can really rely on. But that doesn’t make it easy or less painful to adjust!
Or maybe – like mine – your parents separated when you were small so Christmas always felt like a constant game of pass the parcel, with you as the parcel, bouncing from one house to another. Never feeling like everyone you loved was in the same place; conscious that some major piece was always absent. I suffered from what I came to call ‘Christmas-itis’ for years. It was the saddest time, when everything felt its most broken and wretched. I wrote about it once, anonymously, the headline was ‘Christmas on the A44’; somehow knowing everyone else was having a fab time just made my sad feelings worse. So if you find Christmas difficult, don’t feel you are the only one.
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But before I get all Bah Humbug on you, my reason for writing this is because this year I’m feeling uncharacteristically cheery about the whole fandango which is definitely proof that change is possible in midlife. Perhaps that is to do with moving up a generation, being able to call the when/where/how shots ourselves as our parents move out of the hosting role. But for me the bigger shift is in stopping trying to achieve the impossible. Which means not trying to think that I can ever fix or put back together what was broken when I was a kid. But instead to focus on what I can enjoy and feel whole about – which is being super delighted about having both of my girls back under our roof for the holidays. I am so looking forward to real Christmas downtime involving lots of cosying up on the sofa, reading, telly, eating delicious food (of our choosing, my family are all vegetarians and hate Christmas cake and Christmas pudding so we have chocolate log and turbot and trifle instead). Just focussing on having a lovely time with my own crew.
It sounds so simple put like that. It makes me cross with myself that it has taken so long to see that everything I need is already here. That it is in fact not broken but perfect now that I have finally sloughed off fixing the unfixable, banished the ghosts of Christmas past, and am just concentrating on my own piece of the pie. That’s not to say I won’t hang out with wider family – I will. But we won’t be shuttling madly around the country trying to see them all just in those few days. Instead we’re going to be digging in to doing what we like to do instead (theatre, swimming in the cold pond, staying in London, seeing loads of friends for kitchen discos). And in the true spirit of Christmas we’ve also got some waifs and strays – with no family of their own – coming for the key days themselves.
The point of sharing this is because I know from Noon Circles past how hard many of you lovely Queenagers find Christmas. How exhausted you all get trying to buy the presents and cook all the food. The pressure of dishing up the perfect bird, the perfect presents…. (just don’t bother it’s all nonsense dreamed up by supermarkets to sell more stuff which we’ve all got too much of anyway)… I also know how many of you are slogging off to in-laws who are a bit of a nightmare, or find yourself trapped in other people’s ideas of how Christmas should be spent and where and what it should be about. Well I say: enough. I reckon by the time we get to midlife we should get to choose to do Christmas our way; well for some of it anyway. Last year one of our lovely Noon ladies shared with us at the Circle how she spent Christmas frantically catering for three different kinds of veggie/vegan/meat-eaters/gluten intolerant family members, felt she was in a constant warzone of looking after everyone else and hadn’t enjoyed a second to herself. We asked what she actually liked doing and she said: having a glass of wine in front of the Christmas tree and listening to the Carols from Kings. But said she never usually got to do that because she was too busy. We made her promise that that year she would – and she did and sent us the picture to prove it.
So as the Christmas season gets into full swing, with office parties and family obligations and shopping and all the epic admin which too often falls on our shoulders – just remember that we have a right to enjoy it too. And plan in, from the get-go, the things YOU like, the traditions, YOU want to sustain or create, the rituals that mean something to you. Also remember you can say NO. Or just let the others get on with it while you sit by the fire and read a book.
As a generation of women, we were bred to please others, put ourselves at the bottom of the list and not think about what we want or what would make us happy. But that is not a recipe for joy, fun or any kind of festivity for us or those around us. Just as on a plane we are exhorted to take down our own oxygen mask before helping others, so with Christmas we will be nicer guests, partners, mothers, sisters, aunties, hosts etc if we build in a bit of what WE fancy, what we love, what brings us joy. So this is my Queenager message to you; what are you looking forward to this Christmas? Take the time to make it happen! You deserve to have a nice time too.
After all, if we are going to be the love and spread the love then we need to feel joyful ourselves. So what does that mean for you? What does it look like? Please promise yourself you will make it happen….
Ps I know that as the war begins again in Israel and Gaza and so many people are suffering it is hard to see where celebrating Christmas, season of peace and goodwill fits into that – but I found myself weeping in the car as I drove back from Oxford while listening to this interview with the mother of a son who was killed in this war. What was remarkable about her – and perhaps most truly in the spirit of Christmas – was her lack of bitterness, her implacable resolution that love is what matters, her resistance to hatred, her absolute lack of a desire for vengeance. Her belief that only by coming together in what unites us – in what is being seen as the age of reunion, of coming together, of realising that none of us are separate, that everything we do has ramifications and consequences, can we ever move beyond conflict and create a better world. There is so much bitterness and hatred in this conflict. This woman’s words about her son were so moving and true and passionate. They came from such a place of love and wisdom. If you have a spare half an hour, do have a listen.
Pps – Lovely paid subscribers, looking forward to seeing you for the Noon Circle Christmas Drinks on December 18th in Soho (more details to follow)
PPPs – Don’t forget that the amazing Trinny is joining us for December Noon Book Club on December 11th – book your slot here!
Pppps – we’ve got two places left on the Noon ski trip in February if you fancy it
By Eleanor Mills