Christmas is a ‘complicated’ time for many. I had this conversation every year with trainee and new teachers, but as I’m not teaching this year, I’ll share my thoughts here!
Lots of vulnerable people hate christmas. The level of disclosures (when children report child protection issues, such as abuse) increases a lot in December. Children can become really unsettled and their behaviour changes. Some have christmas as a specific trigger for a memory, for others it’s because they can’t face 2 weeks at home out of school. The difference between Christmas holidays and other holidays is that it’s cold and dark, so going out safely becomes problematic, shops and community centres close so there aren’t safe places to go and people focus on their own families and needs at this time of year meaning some support networks vanish over the festive period.
It’s not just children though. The elderly also face similar problems because their services might be reduced. People who don’t have families and live alone find that their social contact might change. Or someone might have a family but relationships might be strained so there might be anxiety about meeting up over the holidays.
It can also be tricky for people who have lost relatives or friends in the year- their deaths seem more acute in a time where the emphasis is on family. New Year is all about resolutions and future plans and prospects but some people can’t think that far ahead because their futures depend on something else. But the season expects you to put your best happy expression on and act like everything’s ok.
It doesn’t help that social media commands us to put up photos and statuses about the amazing times we’re having, how much we love our family and the wonderful presents we get. The more glittery proclamations of us going out and ‘getting in the festive mood’ is supposedly a reflection on how successful we are at encompassing the meaning of Christmas.
But lots of people miss the point. Christmas is a time of reflection, not a time to prove to people that you’re an amazing family member because you’ve managed to see all 20 uncles and aunts and taken selfies with them and the presents you bought them. There shouldn’t be a couple of weeks of the year where you do ‘nice’ things for people, you should do it all year round and reflect about it more at Christmas. It’s not about parties and getting drunk. It’s a chance to take stock and be grateful for what we have and support our family and friends. If you don’t believe in the religious aspect of it, it makes it even more trivial- it really is ‘just another day’.
Having felt terrible for a few Christmases now and on other ‘important’ days like our wedding, it kind of hits home that it is ‘just a day’. In fact, one Christmas Day I spent at my grandad’s bedside in intensive care talking about his impending death (he died 27th Dec). We had Christmas dinner but our thoughts quite clearly weren’t on the copious amounts of food we had. It was a rubbish Christmas Day by almost everyone’s standards but I wouldn’t change the time I had with him. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hype and festivities that come with Christmas, but the thing I look forward to more is thinking about why we have christmas and the religious story behind it, spending time with people who I care about and who care about me, and thinking about how I can maybe make other people smile.
Lots of people say they think about others at this time of year but the reality is most people think about people who are less fortunate in the context of ‘at least I’m not like them’. I can’t help the pupils I used to teach now, but I am still trying to think about what other people might be experiencing and what I can do to help.