Christmases to come
Christmas: When I was young I used to think Christmas was all about
spending time with your family. The people who brought you into this
world and those that have tried their best to raise you.
But you can't chose your parents, your grandparents, your children or
siblings - they're dealt to you like poker - you never know what hand
you're going to get.
Some are exceptionally lucky getting a suit which matches in a
straight flush, others getting a couple of low numbers and then some
aces - others just get the twos and threes of the pack. But unlike poker
you can't just fold or wait to be dealt a fresh hand in the hope that
you'll be blessed with a better hand second time round. Family life is
like a deal which lasts a lifetime, you can choose to either bluff your
way through it and make the best of a bad situation or you can simply
Having spent years bluffing - I've decided to fold, and for my sins
and against tradition it's been the best decision I ever made.
Instead of spending Christmas around the hearth pretending that I get
on with my blood parents and listening to the relentless arguments that
invariably emerge by about 6 pm, I've spent the past three Christmas'
doing things that make me and the people I spend Christmas with happy.
Selfish - you may think, but believe me it's given my parents a whole
new lease of life too (they're off travelling around Australia at the
moment). And this advise I would give to anyone who dreads Christmas,
and to all those people who head into work in the New Year grateful to
be back away from the relatives for at least another 364 days.
Families - how do you survive them? You can guarantee after every
Christmas or holiday break colleagues will come back into the office
complaining about raucous ungrateful kids who sulked all Christmas
because they didn't get the presents they wanted, stressed
girlfriends/boyfriends on the verge of a breakdown after being harassed
all Christmas by their mothers/fathers-in-law, and they'll always be the
office cynic who spent Christmas working because they saw through the
faĆade and commercialism of Christmas a longtime ago.
A couple of years ago I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day working
for a homeless charity in London, the charity 'Crisis' had
metamorphosised the Millennium Dome in London's dockland's into a
festive tent comprising hairdressers, clothing exchange, tea houses,
educational facilities and a huge dining area - all provided to help
London's homeless and poor have a good Christmas.
I spent the day washing hair, an experience that superficially sounds
extremely unpleasant - and if you had told me before I volunteered that
that was what I would end up doing on Christmas day I would have laughed
in your face.
After all who wants to wash hair that hasn't seen hot water let alone
a good shampoo in multiple months? (as a person who can't leave the
house without a daily hair washer I still find the thought distressing).
However saying that , volunteering at Christmas was what to me
Christmas should be about - maybe not every year but perhaps throughout
the year in different forms whether that's donating money or your time
to a good cause. After years of wishing Christmas would come and go as
quickly as possible, working for the charity that year reminded me what
Christmas should be all about.
I remember this one lady who was so painfully shy and cautious that
she could barely speak. She flinched when anyone went near her, so for
her to let me take her by the hand and sit her down was a huge feat. I
spent about half an hour with her and although she didn't respond to any
of my attempts at conversation, I still felt a kind of trusting calm
between us, after all there's nothing like being looked after or
pampered by someone else.
She couldn't face her own reflection in the mirror and looked down
throughout the whole process, so much so that I ended up cutting her
hair to a style that I thought would suit her. When I had finished - and
believe me I am not a hair stylist by any stretch of the imagination,
she was posed ready to scurry away from the swivel chair. But I asked
her to look in the mirror.
Just a little trim here and there had taken years off her and really
opened up an attractive face. She glanced up shyly and in that flicker
of recognition when she looked herself straight in the eye a little bit
of pride and self esteem came back. It lasted only a couple of seconds
but it really was priceless.
In that moment, I realised that it doesn't matter who you are, where
you're from or where you've been -a little bit of attention from another
human being can bring you so much happiness. This woman had obviously
been badly treated and was an exceptionally vulnerable-individual but if
you stripped away her homeless, nameless, non-belonging 'identity' she
was a woman like any other, due her fair share of affection and
But please after reading that shining example of how to spend
Christmas meaningfully, don't picture me as a saint -as this is by no
means true. For example I spent last Christmas with friends in Las
Vegas, drinking champagne, gambling, riding roller-coasters and living
the dream. I would like to say it was meaningful in a different way, but
to be honest it was all about letting your hair down and indulging to
At the time it felt great, I was with people who were all out for the
same thing - a goodtime. Please don't believe from this that I am
belittling the 'family unit'- my blood relatives are extremely important
to me, and should they ever need me of course I would drop anything and
everything to help them or be there for them, but at the same time I
refuse to bluff and pretend that I want to spend time with them when
we'd all rather be somewhere else. But looking back on my trip to Las
Vegas I feel guilty.
I forgot the meaning of Christmas. I may not be particularly
religious but it's still ingrained in my very being, whether it was all
those church services I was dragged to as a child or watching all those
Christmas films which re-iterate the festive message, I still feel that
I should be doing something to make other's happy even if that is just
biting my tongue and spending time with older relatives who inevitably
fall asleep by three in the afternoon during the Queen's speech after
having one too many sherry's.
For every family that comes together and sits around the hearth
eating turkey, getting tipsy and pulling crackers it's also extremely
important to remember those who don't have close families, who have lost
loved ones and who spend Christmas alone. For them the festive season
can be one of the most trying of times and I hope that in the years to
come I will be able to remember this and be supportive of those who need
a little extra care at Christmas.
This year - I neither spent in Vegas or in a homeless shelter, I
spent the festive break poised between people who I adore both related
and unrelated, who span the generations. I like to think each Christmas
a new door opens and new experiences present themselves, but the feeling
that encompasses and typifies this celebration is generosity both in a
religious and non-religious sense (I'm not just talking good or
Whether it's three kings travelling far and wide bearing gifts or
people opening their homes to near strangers and sharing their
celebrations -warmth, kindness and consideration are all that we need at
My one wish for the New Year and the future is that we all will
remember and endeavour to show the same love, humour and warmth to the
unknowns and strangers we have yet to meet who may stumble across our
snowy paths in the Christmases to come.