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Christmas: Calm or Crisis?

December 11, 2018

I used to be a massive Christmas Grinch.

Christmas made me feel like I was being forced into participating in something I didn’t believe in. I thought it was hypocritical, hyper commercialised and had no real purpose other than to pressure people into wasting money on meaningless gifts and creating exhausting family tension over ‘who is hosting lunch this year’. My family’s ploy for a long time was to get in the car, drive somewhere remote and come back in January when the coast was clear.

While I still hold on to some of these beliefs, I’ve softened over the years thanks to the influence of all the different folks I have had the pleasure of spending this ‘loaded’ time of the year with. What I have observed is that Christmas brings up different things for different people, and that it tends to be a real test of our intention and ability to practise self-care and conscious living.

In our efforts to be seven places all at once while trying to carve out a bit of rest for ourselves, we often end up feeling overwhelmed, guilty, disappointed and exhausted. Instead of being a time of nourishment and joy, Christmas is spoken of as something we need to survive, as if it were a category 5 cyclone. I think we need a bit of a Christmas reality check, both to reset our expectations, but also to challenge some assumptions around this particular time of year.

Here are 5 things I would love people to consider more often:

 

1. Not everyone celebrates Christmas

It’s easy to forget, when we are bashed over the head with Christmas paraphernalia from October onwards each year, that not everyone actually celebrates or takes part in Christmas. This might be because of their culture, religion or just a simple personal preference. Why is this something to be aware of? Well, because if you’re organising your Christmas party, or taking part in the office Secret Santa, it’s important to consider those people who might not feel as pumped up as you are to spend $10 on an obligatory gift, or bear witness to a corporate sanctioned binge drinking fest. Don’t stress, individuals who don’t celebrate Christmas can decide for themselves what they are comfortable with taking part in so there is no need for you to make decisions on anyone’s behalf. It’s really just about being mindful and inclusive, and showing respect and understanding if people want to spend this time of year in their own way.

Christmas is very family focussed, with advertisements and social norms strongly reinforcing this is the time to come together as a family and enjoy each other’s company. In an ideal world, this is a wonderful idea worth promoting, but for many people, Christmas can be a sad or isolating time. Perhaps this is the first Christmas they will spend without a loved one who has passed away during the year. Maybe they don’t live near any family, or can’t afford to put on a big lunch or take time off work.

For people who have complicated relationships with their family, or who actually find more comfort, love and acceptance amongst their friends, this time of year might be upsetting, as the world around them reinforces a message that family is everything.

Again, it’s not on you to fix the world for people who find Christmas time hard, it’s just about being conscious of others’ experiences and realities, and maybe pro-actively checking in on those in your life who might need some extra love.

2. Your wellbeing and joy is super important

In 2016, Relationships Australia conducted survey-based research to understand the impact that the holiday season has on families and relationships. Around one third of those surveyed indicated that Christmas impacted family relationships in a ‘highly negative’ way due to work-life balance factors. The research also showed that financial issues created stress on relationships during this period. Sounds like a great holiday…

Seriously though, what the hell? Why are people suffering during what should be (and is sold to us as) a time of rest, relaxation and connection with our loved ones?

Let’s get some stuff clear here. You are allowed to relax at Christmas time if that is what you want to do. You are allowed to allocate time for yourself, where you do things that make you feel good, no matter what anyone else thinks. If you need a year off from doing the ‘big family Christmas’, head for the hills! If you don’t want to drive 75 kilometres after lunch to make it to the other in-laws house in time for dinner, you are allowed to decline the invitation (in advance of course, don’t be a dick and just not show up on the day). Too often during this time we let words like ‘should’, ‘need to’ and ‘can’t not’ rule how we spend our money, time and emotions – and to what end? What are we getting out of it?
If we’re going into this period driven by obligation and stress, what does that mean for our own mental and physical well-being, and the energy we will leave with others?

3. Not everyone gets a holiday

This is the first Christmas since 2012 that I am working in a job that doesn’t have a mandatory shut down period from Christmas through to the New Year. Part of me slightly resents being forced to use my annual leave, but the other part is soooo happy to not have to work through this period! Weeeee!! Having worked through my fair share of silly seasons, I have developed an appreciation that time off work is not the reality for many people, particularly those who are in casual, contract or part time roles, those who work in services and industries which actually experience their busiest time (for better or worse) during Christmas, or those who simply can’t afford it. Our emergency services in particular are often overwhelmed during the holiday season, with stress and increased alcohol consumption seeing rises in hospitalisations and increases in reports of domestic and family violence.

If you have paid leave supporting you taking some time off this Christmas, that is so freaking wonderful and I hope you can use it to recharge and nourish yourself, but please also spare a thought for those in our community who have to keep soldiering on. Think about how you could show empathy and support for those who wish they could be with their loved ones but who are instead stuck behind the register, smashing out emails or responding to emergencies. A big smile and some kind words to the shop attendant, or dropping some coffee in to your mate who is stuck in the office are just a few simple ideas that could really make the difference in someone’s day.

 

4. The Silly Season Can Be Sustainable Too

Making environmentally sustainable and socially conscious choices is so important at this time of the year. It doesn’t take a genius to know that our consumption of products and foods goes up significantly at Christmas, which means our production of waste goes up as well. I would also hazard a guess that because we all seem to be trying to achieve everything on our to-do list at breakneck speed, our level of mindfulness about what we are buying is significantly reduced.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – how you spend your money matters. Your money decides what types of businesses thrive and what types of manufacturing, labour and packaging practices are endorsed as ‘good enough’.
Making conscious decisions about the types of gifts we buy or make, and the food and drink we consume will have a direct impact on the amount of waste that is produced this Christmas. If you need some help with ideas for a more conscious Christmas, keep an eye out for Kirsty’s amazing pun-filled ‘Sustainable Saturday’ posts on our Instagram page @conscious.living.project or jump on Pinterest for endless creativity!

5. It really is the thought that counts

“Gift” –  a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present.

Yeah…except at Christmas time when “willingly” is swapped for “with obligation”. Instead of heading to Myer on the last late night shopping day before Christmas, here are some other, potentially more meaningful gifts you might like to give this Christmas:

  • Your time. You have the ability to brighten someone’s day. Is there someone in your life you haven’t reached out to in a while? Pick up the phone, get in the car, go and say hello.
  • Your energy. Does the planning and cooking for Christmas tend to always fall to the same people year in and year out? If so, offer sincerely to take over this year, and give them the chance to be as delighted and excited by your culinary skills as you are of theirs.
  • Your love. Corny I know, but Christmas is a beautiful opportunity to tell someone you love them, accept them, forgive them, cherish them, believe in them, trust them or support them. What a beautiful gift to give someone as they head into a new year. Who knows the profound impact you might have?

 

Do it your way

Wowza. It turns out I had quite a lot to say on the topic of Christmas! I’m not quite finished yet either *cracks knuckles, makes pot of tea*. The point of this blog was not to make you feel guilty while enjoying your prawns because someone else is working a 14 hour shift down at the police station. The point of this blog is to look at this time of year from a new perspective,  and to highlight that there are many ways that we as individuals can approach Christmas more thoughtfully, enabling more people in our community to have a positive experience (or simply not such a negative one) of the ‘silly season’.

So what are my suggestions for a Christmas that makes you feel good, and consciously considers the experience of others?
Focus on what actually brings you joy. For me, that’s decorating gingerbread cookies, cheesy Christmas songs on repeat, being around people who make me laugh and eating leftovers for dayyyyyz (#zerofoodwaste, right?).

Spare a thought for others. Be conscious of the experiences of people who don’t celebrate Christmas, or for whom this can be a triggering or isolating time of year.

Schedule in self-care. This is so flipping important, especially if you haven’t had a proper rest in a while. You deserve it. If you need some help with some self-care ideas, we will be sharing some mini activities over the Christmas period to help people connect to themselves and the world around them. Stay tuned to our Instagram account @conscious.living.project over the next few weeks.

Whether you’re working, worshipping, walking in the countryside or wishing it was over already – we’re here for you, and wish you a peaceful and nourishing end to 2018.

Love and cookies,
Nikki