“You can’t not have brandy butter with Christmas Pudding,” she exclaimed with a truly horrified tone! Sarcastically I suggested that “Well, we’ll just have turkey sandwiches instead for Christmas dinner”, which silenced her as she considered whether or not I was actually joking, I could see -“I mean really, she wouldn’t, would she?”- scrolling through her mind. Feeling under pressure with our mis-matched table and chairs, tiny kitchen and a hovering mother, Christmas was not feeling like the joyful day and dinner I was hoping for.
Why couldn’t we serve dinner our own way? Why couldn’t we just be on our own? Does anyone even like Christmas pudding or brussel sprouts? The burden of expectation and control, the stretch and release of parenting. The difference of values over food or meaning, tradition and holiday rest.
When I say I love Christmas, what I mean is, I love the run up to Christmas. The preparation for the joyful day. Choosing gifts for loved ones that will delight them, the carols in churches by candlelight, the music in the shops, the twinkle lights and frosty mornings. The nativity plays where we wait with baited breath to hear whether one of the kings will give the baby Jesus “frankenstein” again, the shepherd’s tea towel falling over their eyes and shy angels with tinsel halos. The wreath making, cookie baking and tree decorating. The Regent Street lights, the TV Adverts even the obscure perfume ones. The piles of Quality Street tins in the supermarkets, the scent of pine and mulled wine and cinnamon. The rich colours of red and green proving life is good and bountiful. This season is an aesthetic feast of beauty.
The joyful day though? Once the stockings have been throughly emptied and the kids have run off with their new game, toy or chocolate I sit with a cup of coffee before facing the rest of the day, and feel a little deflated and tired.
The Christmas day church service consists of kids sharing their favourite gifts where parents resist feeling shamed for their extravagence or poverty. All-age services with challenges or team games – every introvert’s nightmare. The home chefs distracted by whether they’d put the oven timer on or remembered the goose fat for the roast potatoes. You might get a free chocolate on the way out though.
Then we come to the dinner where something is always burnt or forgotten in the microwave, the kids don’t eat their sprouts or swear in front of the grandparents, the merry uncle who starts that conversation and the weary mum’s sarcastic comments let loose by the second glass of wine, and the oven door breaking!
Followed by the carnage of unrecyclable paper, ungrateful nephew and the in-law’s enthusiastic dog knocking over the tree. Half the family loving the Queen’s speech and her ‘good Christian example’ and the other half muttering about class systems, Harry and Meghan, homelessness and palaces.
The expectation of perfection can spoil the celebration when reality bumps into it. (I can neither confirm or deny whether each of these things have happened to me personally on the joyful day, names have been protected and all that.)
There’s a whole season that leads to just one day. One day that wasn’t meant to carry so much. Or does it echo the weight the first Christ’s day carried? Unmet family expectations, hospitality fails, extravagent and curious gifts, misbehaving patriarchs*, the glory and the straw all seem to feature in the first story too.
One day I’ll do it, do you want to come? I’m going to a cabin in the snow, somewhere like the rockies, I’m not cooking a turkey, we won’t eat a brussel sprout, I’ll bring the mince pies, (I won’t have made them but they’ll be from Marks and Spencer or Waitrose, I promise.) I’ll leave the Christmas pudding and the brandy butter. We’ll wear pyjamas and fluffy socks all day and won’t leave the couch. I’ll have a stack of books to share beside me, with a glass of mulled wine. We can eat cookies and popcorn and maybe a turkey, brie and cranberry sandwich from Pret or whatever Canada’s version of Pret is.
When it gets dark I’ll light candles and we can put everything down. We’ll think about a girl about fourteen years old, identifying with her pain and elation of childbirth. Remembering how sorrow and joy can both exist at the same time. I’ll whisper a thanks for her, the husband who didn’t divorce her and the baby who definitely didn’t eat turkey for dinner that day. I can almost smell that newborn baby scent. And if we listen closely we might hear the tinkle of chimes amongst the stars as the angels jostle for position to see and we’ll know once more that all is well.
*Ignore the probable actual timeline of King Herod’s infanticide decree.
Abi Louise helps writers in business make their important message beautiful and highly valued. She publishes iola bookazine and hunts for beauty between the beautiful Cotswolds and bookish city of Oxford where she lives with her three children. Find design for writers at abilouise.co
This article can be found in iola bookazine the Joy issue.
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