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Not the joyful day I was hoping for – Abi Louise

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. 

Joyful day Christmas joy decorations around fireplace

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. 

Joyful preparation

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. 

Joyful reality

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.)

One day

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.

joyful day sorrow and joy of childbirth

*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

iola bookazine the joy issue surrounded by greenery, red ribbon and Christmas decoration, twinkly lights and a card of blessing on top

This article can be found in iola bookazine the Joy issue.
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iola bookazine the joy issue articles

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The circular shape of Joy – Abi Louise

If I ask you to name a joyful shape, what’s the first one that comes to mind? For many people I’ve asked over the years the answer is a circle.” So writes Ingrid Fetell Lee in her book ‘Joyful’. This comes as no surprise when I think of all the shapes of joyful things, balloons, confetti, a cup of coffee, plates of delicious food, bubbles catching the light and gently floating up like a dream, the spinning of a pastel striped hula hoop, the soft curl on a newborn’s head. A spinning top, a penny flipped to spin on it’s edge, the spin of a waltzer at the fairground. The symmetry of a circle is so complete, satisfying somehow in it’s completeness. Is it this completeness that resembles joy to us?

the circular shape of joy

Joy, complete & childlike

Or is a circle the shape of joy because it is the shape of home; our planet, a pregnant tummy, a face, a hug? Can we combine the two? Completeness is a feeling of being home?

A circle is a curved shape, in design curves are associated with femininity and softness. Joy represented in shapes could be described as childish, youthful, elegant, feminine and complete. 

“The circle’s unbroken perimeter and even rate of curvature make it the most stable, complete and inclusive shape. A love of symmetry is one of the best studied human aesthetic preferences. One reason we love symmetry may be that it is an outward symbol of inner harmony”.Joyful – Ingrid Fetell Lee

Joy beyond the physical

What about musical notes, curved balls of sound hung on telephone wires of five and the wide open mouths of a choir, these physical circles of joy create feelings of joy: “Sing in a group and you experience a rush of hormones associated with mood elevation and reducing symptoms of depression including endorphins and dopamine.”James Sills. Those round notes of melody in turn inspire dance; the movement of joy. Dancing also releases endorphins and helps you to connect with your inner child and express yourself. Dancing comes in forms of spins and twirls, circular steps and sets. Is the activity of singing and dancing why we associate circles with joy?

the circular shape of joy

How about those metaphorical circles, a friendship circle, the idea of what goes around comes around, the moral arc of justice, renewal, recycling, restoration, – how do these circles play into our idea of joy? A circle is inclusive, it faces all, includes all, it has no sharp edges to cause pain or entrapment. Is joy found in justice, inclusion and comfort?

From this consideration of the shape of the circle; the shape of joy, can we then infer that joy is youthful, complete, feminine, musical, movement, justice, and inclusive?

Is it not too much to consider The Creator infused the shape of a circle with joy? That he meant it that way, that circles are meant to show us that joy is found in these things and finding these things actually brings joy? I like to think he did.

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*Joyful Ingrid Fetells Lee

*Do Sing: Reclaim your Voice. Find your singing tribeJames Sills

Abi Louise

Abi Louise helps those in the writing business make their important message beautiful and highly valued. She lives on the edge of the bookish city of Oxford, UK and the beautiful countryside of the Cotswolds with her three children.