So I thought I was all down with Christmas, but in the last couple of days have realised that once again we are doing another “first time after” Christmas. Which is OK, it just means it’s time for a whole new Christmas ritual, and I haven’t quite figured out how that one will be yet.
See, in all the being down with Christmas we still don’t have a tree up, or any lights, and I was vaguely imagining on Christmas day I might not have any kids because they’d be with their Dad, so perhaps I could get away with no big deal Christmas. But today we went to my sister’s for our family Christmas with her family (we get in early because they usually go away for Christmas) and I do want a special Christmas for my girls, and the best bit is we get to create a new one. But a new one means all new, so tomorrow we are getting a new tree, and some new lights and starting the plan for the 2014 Family Christmas Bonanza (don’t freak out, they have pretty tame expectations, as do I!!!)
I think the thing that blows Christmas into to some massive spin for some people is the expectation. Whatever about. That it’s meant to be fun. That families all get along and love each-other. That kids appreciate the value of their gifts and that know Christmas is about love and not just presents. That you shouldn’t be alone. That eating and drinking too much should make you feel full and not bloated and hung-over. That eating ham for two week straight is a good idea. All that kind of unrealistic stuff.
Here’s a brief history of the different types of Christmases I’ve had so far. Given these, I reckon we can wing a new one. Girl-style.
1. Childhood Christmas
We didn’t have Christmas as kids because it is not part of the belief of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion. My Dad didn’t believe in the religion either but was stoked not to have to make a fuss about Christmas and hang out with his family any more (they all lived within 100 meters of him his whole life on the farm). Christmas was almost worse though than not Christmas. Mum would get upset when there were carols on TV, tinsel on the shops and (Jehovah) God forbid if Santa made an appearance. It was just best to stay home with to TV off for the whole of December and not go near my Nanna’s House (which as I mentioned before was 100 meters away) because she would ply us with Christmas Crackers, “fruit cake” in a Lions Christmas Cake tin, tinsel, gift and everything Christmassy. We were kids so we went to Nanna’s anyway, even though it make Mum sniff. All I recall about Christmas Day was that it had to be MORE ordinary than any other day of the year. Like NO HAM. Not even the regular sliced sandwich ham we had on other days. Only really plain meals and regular dessert and no fuss. Definitely no “fruit cake” or lollies or prawns. It was a relief when it was all over and we could start watching TV again.
2. Christmas with friends
My first Christmas was with one of my high-school friends and her family on a farm about an hour from our farm. We went out to the nightclub the night before (we must have been 18???) and we were driven home by her sober younger brother after midnight. I recall very little expect being THE MOST HUNGOVER I HAD EVER BEEN IN MY LIFE. Pretty sure we ate Lion Christmas cake but I was unable to enjoy a gentle Christmas wine. The second time I had Christmas with her and her family (a couple of years later because my oldest daughter was born) I got gastro on Christmas Eve (true story, not even alcohol related) and was so ill on Christmas Day I can also not recall all the amazing food or gifts. Driving home on Boxing Day my biggest girl (who was perhaps only 1 or 2) threw up in my lap in the car. I could not stop, but had to give her towel to sleep on and drove the rest of the way home crying. I must have been crying. I feel like crying thinking about it. That aside, their Christmas taught about the simple, family Christmas.
We also had Christmas up north once with another friend her family (my biggest girl’s first Christmas) and they had so much champagne and an open-house style Christmas party where all the people from the town dropped in during the day. They taught me about fun, generous Christmas spirit.
I did love experiencing Christmas with people who just accepted my big girl and me and we had lots of these, with lots of different people, and each time we learnt something new about how to celebrate.
3. Family with my in-laws
I had a few Christmases with my biggest girl’s family in Queensland, and they are my first memories of real “rituals” around Christmas. My Queensland mother in law had 4 sons, so to be able to make Christmas special for her first (and so far only) grand-daughter was a bit of a treat. That was the first time I had real Christmas pudding with brandy butter made by her neighbour to a traditional European recipe. It was the most amazing thing I had ever tasted. She was also the queen of special, magic gifts – things she collected and made and were precious. She really made me appreciate how much thought you can put into gift giving.
My husband’s family was a whole ‘nother thing. They are like CRAZY, MASSIVE, PRESENT FESTS! My biggest girl and I had seen nothing like it, but her little sister was born into the world of Christmas bonanza. I had never seen so many Christmas decorations and lights and trees and bowls of lollies and presents and paper and food and drink. It was so the opposite to what I had grown up with that it took me a year or two to not spin out. I’m pretty sure my first Christmas with them a big family secret came out, that my husband-to-be did not know (and I presumed he did and that they always talked about that stuff at Christmas), and so I was thoroughly baptised into the big family Christmas bonanza. Every year in November they make traditional Christmas puddings and hang them to cure until Christmas. The kids all help. Christmas with them was and is SO about the kids. They taught me to focus on the kids, to make it about them and the joy it brings them to celebrate with all the fruit!
4. The first Christmas after my marriage ended
My husband and I separated in a February, so it was a while before we had to deal with Christmas. Three weeks after we separated, I found out I was pregnant, and our youngest child was born in October of the same year. She was tiny at that Christmas. I did think we could still pull off a family Christmas with his family and him and us, but it ended really badly. If I’m honest, I think that unless you are both OK (and even if you think you are, OK-ness is different for everybody), it’s best not to set yourself up for post separation disasters. It really sucks. Especially for the kids. Christmas is an emotional time of year, and if you are ever going to miss the family you once had and the dream you once believed in, the first Christmas after nails you. If I could do it differently I would have had Christmas morning with my girls and then dropped them off to him and his family elsewhere, stayed a little while with the baby so they could see her, and then taken her and me home, and let us all nurse our hearts a little. This taught me to make sure you’ve had enough time and space to nurse your heart after then end of something big, and figure out what you need to happen to be OK.
5. Blended family Christmas
For three years after that we had the blended family Christmas of 7 daughters and negotiating days and drop-off with other parents’ and trying to make it work to bring them altogether at once for a full family celebration. Basically we either had the girls for Christmas Day or Boxing Day ALL DAY, so if it was Boxing Day they basically got 2 Christmases! We really got it sorted and I think perhaps I thought that that was our new family ritual that would be until they all grew up and moved out of home. We had stockings, and presents under the tree and a big breakfast and usually a big lunch and ALWAYS homemade ice-cream sundaes and night drives to see the Christmas lights, and swims in the pools and lazing in the aircon. I finally felt like I knew how to pull off a REAL Christmas (I’m guessing I thought my Christmas talent was a bit lacking by my upbringing), and I learnt how to craft Christmas to suit the set-up (and not get caught up on the actual date)
6. The last Christmas before this one
By last Christmas, things were already starting to get weird, which I guess is why this stuff has started to come up for me. It was the first time I realised he wasn’t into family like I was, and that it didn’t feel together. He gave me a National Geographic magazine as one of my presents and said it was “so I could realise there was more out there in the world than what was going on in my office”. I was pretty gutted. I guess because he was already moving onto Sweden, it seemed fair to point this out to me. I’m not entirely sure what I was meant to take from that, but something lurched in my chest when he said it, and I still recall it now, so I’m guessing it was fairly momentous. He had stopped seeing me already and I was so scared. It was all over by New Year’s Eve. I made sure when I packed their stuff that I sent the 3 girl’s Christmas stockings and all their carefully picked gifts I had found them. Precious things I chose, like all the gifts I chose, to give to people I loved because I loved them. Not to make them see something. Not to make them change. Just because I loved them. I miss those girls all the time. But I am glad there is a world out there bigger than my office and when I stopped putting him in front of it all that I got to see it. I learnt you can still be gracious even when something seems off. Because the kids need that, even just for that day.
7. The first Christmas after the last one – Girl-style
So I guess I’m feeling a bit shaky about this Christmas because it’s another first. It will be the FIRST one where it’s just us. Me and my four daughters. We also have the honour of having another Mum’s daughter from a far away land. We’ll probably have all day together. I’m thinking brunch is my favourite meal of all times and we’ll do brunch. The girls have been asking for bubble and squeak, which I can learn how to make, and I’m great at pancakes and eggs. We can swim in the pool and even go to the beach if the weather isn’t windy. I’m buying a new tree tomorrow and it will be up, and so will the stockings. Home-made ice cream sundaes has always been a hit, so we can keep that. Fish, we’re definitely having fish. And cocktails for big people. I’m wearing my new, ridiculous gold dress if it’s not too hot. And Santa earrings. I’ll let you know how it goes.
However it is, this Christmas, don’t expect it to be like the one before or the one before that. This crazy little Christmas collection is a testament to the fact that everything changes. In one year anything is possible, so embrace how it is with all that you have. Love your family. Find the ones who are far away and find a way to connect with them too. Let go of the things that don’t serve you. Change it up (or down) to suit. Have ham or don’t have ham. Give gifts that are precious (in thought, not price). And just let Christmas be. The whole she-bang.