This is a guest post from Andrea Birk-Telford
It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
I watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas with my children the other day and it struck me how relevant this quote from a book written 60 years ago still is today; how much people forget what Christmas is about.
But then I asked myself, “what is the meaning of Christmas?”
From a religious point of view, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God. A baby born in incredibly poor circumstances who was to bring love and peace to this world.
Christmas is about love and peace, yet they are also the things that make it so incredibly busy and stressful. We put ourselves under enormous pressure to show the people in our lives how much we love them – and we show love by giving. Even if we don’t give mountains of presents, we give time: time spent with family and friends, time spent making Christmas special for our children.
And we crave peace. We long for the quiet peacefulness sung about in so many songs. I can only speak from my experience, but as a parent, especially as a single parent, this peacefulness is very elusive. So, amidst the business of getting ready for Christmas, we constantly chase slow which only adds to the pressure.
This year is my third Christmas as a single parent, but in many ways, it is the first proper ‘just me and the kids’ Christmas. And it is the first year where the whole of December has felt more disastrous than slow.
I’VE BEEN LIVING DISTRACTED ON PURPOSE
At the end of November, I started an ‘essential’ project that couldn’t possibly be put off and found myself caught in a downward spiral of self-perpetuating stress. My thoughts ensured that the stress levels kept rising that until I felt completely overwhelmed.
Maybe you can relate:
I will tidy the house when the project is finished…
I will put up the Christmas decorations when the project is finished and I have tidied the house…
I will spend more time with the children when the project is finished and I have tidied the house and put up the Christmas decorations…
I will slow down and relax when the project is finished and I have tidied the house and put up the Christmas decorations and spent more time with the children …
I felt like I was failing on all levels and that it was all too much as there’s just me – and the children, and a job, and a house to run; there is no A-Team or MacGyver to come in and save the day – or at least do the dishes while I put the kids to bed.
I finished work on the last day of term ill and utterly exhausted. I recognized that while the external pressures of being a single working parent were very real, the enormous strain I felt under came from inside myself.
It was me who had decided to start this project and yet it was also me who was in control of what got done and when. I realized I was keeping myself busy as a way of running away from something that I feared would overwhelm me if I stopped.
I stopped and faced up to the fact that I was afraid of the empty white space when my children are at my ex-partner’s house – they spend equal amounts of time at both our houses. I was keeping myself busy as not to feel the profound loss when they are not here. Moreover, I noticed that I was terrified of Christmas this year – of the three days after Christmas Day that I would be spending on my own in a house that is set up for a Christmas with children.
Sitting here now on December 21st with the Christmas decorations still in boxes, I know I have definitely been avoiding something.
WHAT CAN I GIVE MY CHILDREN FOR CHRISTMAS?
This made me think that Christmas in particular, and love in general, is not only about giving but also about letting go. You can only find peace if you let go.
In my case, I need to let my children go – at least temporarily. I need them to let go because I would never want to deprive them of growing up with both their parents. I need to let them go because I love them. And I need to let them go because my ex-partner loves them as much as I do.
What I can give them is to permit them to move freely towards and away from me without letting them know how much I want to hold on.
Watching The Grinch also helped me understand another aspect of the meaning of Christmas. The Grinch stole ‘the whole’ of Christmas, not just the presents. He stole the tree, the decorations, the lot. I always knew that presents didn’t make Christmas what it is, but I have only just understood that it is not necessarily the way your house looks either.
Over the last few days, I noticed that my children don’t care at all about the lack of decorations, about nothing being ‘ready’ for Christmas. They care that I am here and that I will play, and cuddle, and laugh.
So the other thing I can give my children is to be fully present when they are with me. Being here is enough.
Coming back to my question from the start, what is the meaning of Christmas? Christmas is about more than presents, trees, and feasts. It is not about what we do, but about the way we are. It is not about having things ready or perfect, but about being fully present.
It is about letting go of expectations of what Christmas should be like and embracing what is, including the busy and stressful times.
It seems I am going to enjoy a Merry Christmas after all.
Not too long ago, one of my readers reached out and asked if I could share stories from single parents doing the work to slow down and simplify their lives (thanks, Kate!). I am grateful to Andrea for sharing this story with us, even though it can be hard to share the messiness of our lives and journey with others. You can find Andrea on Facebook or send her an email.