Have an un-Happy Christmas

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Christmas at “home” 2007

This will be the first Christmas without my Mum. And our boys’ first without any grandparents. So you’ll forgive me for feeling a little sad and nostalgic.

There will be no Christmas visit home this year. The small village in Nottinghamshire where I grew up remains the archetypal “home” of my imagination, even though I’ve lived in at least 14 other flats or houses in the last 30 years. The other morning shadows on my yoga room floor transported me back there through time and space.

Patterns cast by the low winter sun took me instantly to wintery mornings in the living room at Meadow Cottage. And for the next few minutes I wandered through memories of its Christmas rooms: home-made decorations more tattered each year; a cold dining room poshed up with red crepe paper and crackers; my children in sleeping bags on the spare-room floor.

Instead of pushing my feelings of loss and regret away, I allowed myself a few minutes of bitter-sweet melancholy.

Not all looking back is to happy memories: this time last year we were to-ing and fro-ing from the hospital – and trying to work out where Mum should live for her last few months.

Twenty years ago, we were hoping to get Dad home for Christmas as he struggled through his last months of leukaemia. And there were Christmases before that, I’m not proud to say, I didn’t even want to go “home” – so difficult did I find my relationship with my parents at that time.

Perhaps like no other time of year, Christmas shows you starkly what’s not going so well in your life.

I don’t mean how many Christmas parties you’re invited to or whether you can fit into the little black dress. I don’t even mean money – although the £470 ruby-bejewelled cupcakes the Gogglebox families were agog at on the tely last week surely tell of a Britain now obscenely divided between the super-rich and the rest.

No, it’s not even all the adverts and the way we have allowed capitalism to warp our culture to one that prizes material stuff above all else – although that’s a happiness-corroding message to be subjected to year after year.

It’s the fundamentals of home, health and relationships I’m talking about.

Someone said family is like health – great when it’s good, but devastatingly difficult when it’s not. I would add that also like health, relationships are something we sometimes take for granted when they’re good – and that cause great suffering when they’re not.

So Christmas can be fine if you’ve got a “home” to go to, a “family” or friends to spend it with, and relationships are functioning reasonably well. If you’ve separated from your partner, are not living with your kids; if you’ve lost somone close, or had to move out of your home, the run-up to Christmas is actually a big dark reminder of all that you lack.

But as the excellent Giles Fraser explained on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day last week -this is the Christian season of Advent, not Christmas, and Advent is about waiting in darkness for the light to come.

It’s when we sit with our darkness instead of denying it or pushing it away, that we can see ourselves as we truly are right now; not what we wish we were or think we ought to be. How can we begin to make ourselves whole again, if we don’t even allow ourselves to see what it is that we really lack?

The Rev Dr Fraser said the light of Christmas – like stars – can be seen more brightly from darkness.

That’s what I was doing as I sat amongst the shadows on my yoga room floor: I was acknowledging and accepting that I’m sad. I miss my Mum and Dad; I’m sorry for the times I took for granted their love and steadiness. And in allowing myself to feel that, I could also feel even more appreciative of the people who are in my life right now.

Brassed off

That evening I snuggled up with my boys to watch a recording of one of my favourite films, Brassed Off. It’s about the brass band in a colliery village – much like the ones near where I grew up in Nottinghamshire.

In the film the pit is threatened with closure and the community is facing enormous loss. I’m not sure why I chose this film – perhaps because the closure of Britain’s last deep coalmine had been in the news this week; the 1984-5 Miners Strike and the pit closures that followed were a formative political time for me.

Anyway, I sat there in my Mum’s old armchair listening to the most beautiful brass band music, tears rolling down my face, cuddling my youngest, and I was immensely happy.

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