Christmas Presence

Being present is something that I struggle with. Very rarely am I right there in the moment that is happening right at that exact second. To some extent I’ve always been that way, my mind taking off on flights of fancy, on the back of daydreams, when I should have been listening to my maths teacher talk about…hmmmm? Ooh, rainbow snowflakes!

That flighty mind of mine is pretty amazing when I can sit anywhere in the world and drift away on lovely thoughts of lovely things. But, in line with the sentence that every therapist I have ever seen likes to throw in my face like a snowball of icy lies and stereotypes “Ooh, you’re creative. It’s always the creative ones. I bet you’ve got a great imagination…”

As much as I hate to fit so neatly into a box, I have. I can watch people from my bedroom window, wandering up and down the street, and imagine whole lives and families and hopes and fears for them. I can imagine skipping through sunlit meadows with kittens mewing at my heels. I can imagine being slowly, deliciously fucked by someone I really fancy. I can imagine living in my dream house down to the tiniest detail (vintage switch plates and coving laced with the odd spiders web please). I can imagine it all so well I can taste it and smell it and feel it.

Thing is…I can also quite vividly imagine twenty car pile ups involving everyone I’ve ever loved and massive natural disasters and leaping from a high window and sailing through the air before hitting the ground with a thud. I can imagine being alone and helpless and I can imagine letting people down and fucking people up and all of the terrible things that could ever happen, both in and outside of the realms of reality.

Swings and roundabouts innit.

Anyway, being present is pretty important sometimes. As a blanket rule, it’s better to never, ever drift off with the bad things. Even down the frozen food aisle in Tesco at 11am.

I’m not good at stopping my bad thoughts from running away with themselves, from creeping in through even the tiniest mental cranny and enveloping my brain with sticky darkness. They like to make me catastrophise and to worry until I’m nothing but a puddle of fear in the corner of the room.

And this is why Christmas is a total son of a bitch. ‘It’s just a day’ can fuck right off because no, no it isn’t. It’s a day that is shoved down our throats as soon as the clock chimes in November. It’s a day that requires at least seven years of solid planning to achieve anything close to fairy lit perfection.

It’s a day where, more than ever, I need to be present.

And that in itself is one huge boulder of pressure to carry on my brittle little shoulders.

The presents are done. They were done ages ago. They’re mostly wrapped. Father Christmas will leave them piled invitingly under the tree, they will be turned into mountains of wrapping paper and exclamations of “how does this work?” “Can I eat this now?” “Put the batteries in Mummy”. So that’s all fine. We’re good. Presents are done. Food will be done because it sort of always is. We’ve got to eat, one of life’s basics really innit.

All of that is admittedly stressful but it’s practical and I can make lists and cross items off lists and know exactly where I am with everything. Sorted.

But the thing that I should find the easiest of all; getting out of bed and being dragged downstairs to be bombarded with excitement and packaging shrapnel and squeals of delight…all of that. That’s what’s hard.

Firstly, there’s the all consuming, soul crushing guilt. Because it should be easy. I should be relaxed and happy and excited and full of festive whatever. And then there’s the fear that I won’t be and the sadness at that. The worrying about exactly how I will feel when I open my eyes, up or down or somewhere in the no mans land of The Middle

If I’m a bit hypo, and believe me, I’m doing all I can to send myself that way (which is desperately unhealthy so don’t try it at home, kids) then I’ll be fine because when I’m like that everything is FINE FINE FINE YAY!

If I’m not then…well, then it’s going to be shit. It is. I’m not projecting or being melancholy or dooming myself to the worst day of my existence, I’m just being realistic. Existing as an empty husk of a human, a barely flickering grey silhouette of despair really, really fucking sucks when you can see everyone around you living in this dazzling technicolor word of feelings and happiness and joy.

That’s what’s horrible. The knowledge that it genuinely could be like that for me. That from the second I’m awake on Christmas morning, if I feel shit, I will have to put on my It’s All Okay face and fake my way through the day, feeling dead and guilty and sad and knowing that, come tomorrow, I won’t remember a single second.

So yeah, the presents don’t really matter and the food and the endless money and organisation that needs pouring into Just One Day.

It’s all about the presence (badum tish).

Elf On The…No

It would probably help if you take a second to close your eyes and imagine me curled on the sofa wrapped in a blanket, hair piled on top of my head, rose tinted glasses of times of yore resting on my nose…

Got it? Okay…

I’ve got a few vivid memories of Christmas circa 1980something. Smiling gap toothed smiles for photographs, arm around my brother. My pink dressing gown buttoned to the neck and my new Sindy doll with her bouffant hair and blue satin pyjamas held proudly aloft, stood in front of the tree bedecked in rainbow coloured fairy lights from Woolworths.

I can’t remember when the tree used to go up but I remember that it was real, the smell, the spiders that would crawl from the branches and over baubles, the needles that dropped waiting to stab into the soft pink flesh of tiny feet. I remember the Bakelite three armed ceiling light being draped with holly and ivy by Mum stretching from the top of the creaking ladder. The sprigs of holly that would appear on the mantlepiece and around picture frames, strings of Christmas cards hung in every room, the seemingly permanent smell of tangerines heavy in the air.

There was the time that I stood on a chair in the kitchen to stir the Christmas cake mix while I made a wish. Me padding quietly around to Mums side of the bed at 1am to urgently whisper “has he been?”. All of us congregating outside the closed lounge door, excitement and anticipation palpable as we waited for the moment we were allowed to throw it open.

The presents were never wrapped and always in two separate piles and one year I got a Minnie Mouse nightie that I still remember today because it was awesome.

We’d eat our way through selection boxes of chocolate for breakfast and delve to the bottom of Dads old football socks that were our stockings; there was always a tangerine and a pound coin in the toe.

The tooth fairy used to flutter in and out through my bedroom window, exchanging my milk teeth for shiny coins and whisking them off to make her surreal tooth castle or whatever she needed them for. I lived in my own little world of whimsical imagination; reading books and writing stories, drawing pictures and making up games. Role play and make believe and daydreams. But Christmas always held the most magic. The lights and the music and the low hum of excitement that seemed to be a part of everything.

Father Christmas was the epitome of magic, a lie I’m happy to tell my own kid because c’mon, it’s not really a lie is it? It’s a story and when you see Santa through the shining eyes of a dazzled three year old you realise, even as an old, hardened husk of a human, that he really is fucking real. (A real lie is promising her that people don’t ever turn into skeletons because skeletons scare her and she runs away from them and it was midnight FFS. Sorry kiddo).

I encourage imagination and one of my favourite ways to while away time is to listen to the kooky rambles that fall out of my daughters mouth because it’s all so deliciously fantastical. Believe in that magic kid because, through you, it becomes real.

The thing is, and I’m removing those glasses and pulling on a hard hat now because…

That bloody evil little elf. The little red dude with the eyes that hungrily drink your soul and the weird limbs and the hefty price tag. Just…no.

I don’t like him and I don’t like what he stands for. I don’t like his little fairy door that he comes through (the scale there is WELL off by the way) and I don’t like his hat and I don’t want him on my shelf or anywhere else.

I don’t like his elfish hijinks that
1) I’d have to remember to facilitate every night before I can burrow under my duvet and
2) all the shit he would get up to is likely the exact kind of shit a three year old would get in trouble for. So how am I justified in telling her he’s there to make sure she’s a good girl but he’s going to be a right little twat about it?

I’m the cynical “blah blah commercialism blah blah Christmas starts in October” poster girl. I used to love Christmas but now…yeah, that’s another post.

Christmas is a day. One day. And that makes it more special because it’s a finite length of hours filled with food and films and board games and more food and family and terrible cracker jokes. By stretching that magic out with the arrival of an elf at the beginning of December doesn’t it maybe…dilute it a bit?

The £30 spent on the deviant little bugger would buy a present for under the tree, all the hours spent on masterminding his escapades could instead be spent…well, not.

I appreciate I am not the most rational of people but I’m sure that those who can claim a full rational count don’t scroll through reams of elf Pinterest boards and feel a bit shit about themselves for at least ten seconds.

It smacks a bit of snide parenting competition, less lets pool our ideas and make the kids giggle, more my elf is doing cooler shit than your elf TRY HARDER TERRIBLE PARENT.

Maybe I’m miserly because I know I couldn’t sustain it. An elf is just for Christmas but the fucker is for every christmas for years. That’s hundreds of mischievous ideas to stage. FOR YEARS. Some days I struggle to get out of bed in the mornings, I know I don’t need the pressure of posing a bendable figure before I shuffle off there every night.

Christmas Day is enough. It’s magical and wonderful and exciting and enough. And I’m saying that as someone who loves magical, wonderful excitement. Will all the kids currently being watched over by elves on shelves remember him with fondness in twenty years time or will they remember being the banker so they could cheat at Christmas Day Monopoly, making a pile of torn wrapping paper bigger than they are and the shittonne of presents?

Isn’t it handing them already fully conceived imagination on a plate? And I don’t mean that in a good way. Part of the magic of, erm, magic is that it’s shrouded in mystery because it’s unseen and special. That’s what imagination is after all, varied and personal, secret and surreal…and probably not an elf on a shelf or hanging from the ceiling or hiding in the sock drawer or…