Christmas should be a time of fun yeah? A time to spend with family and to reflect on the year we’ve had. A time to eat lots of yummy food and drinks then sit on the couch playing board games cause you can’t move or play backyard cricket with the cousins you haven’t seen all year. A time of wonder and amazement and of course presents. A time of Santa, a time of magic for kids.
It’s also a time of seemingly never ending deadlines, trying to madly clean the house or stuff everything in a cupboard before your Christmas drinks with the neighbours you’ve meant to visit during the year but haven’t had time.
It can be such a happy time and I am a born again Christmas lover – which I’ll get to soon – but I haven’t always loved Christmas.
Christmas for some people can be one of the most stressful times of the year – and that can affect your health hugely. There are people out there who have just lost a loved one, or lost a loved one around Christmas time, or who can’t bear to celebrate without their loved one. Others are hungry, there are no ‘extras’ at Christmas at all, it comes as a stark reminder of what you don’t have that everyone else seemingly does have.
There are people out there who are very lonely, or battling mental illness, and the thought of turning up to an extended family Christmas lunch is too much to bare. Or possibly it takes all their emotional energy to put on a smily face, or just to turn up to a family event. The presence of alcohol can make this a bit easier, for others it is harder, or dreaded ………or not.
What I’m trying to get at is that we just don’t know what others we see in the street, or on the tram or bus, are going through. So next time you’re on the train, or buying a present at a Department store, or ordering a Christmas Turkey remember that a simple smile, politeness and a heartfelt ‘Merry Christmas’ can make a huge difference to people’s days. I once read an article on suicide and it said that there were many suicide survivors who changed their minds when a stranger smiled at them or did an act of unconditional kindness. It gave me goosebumps. A smile, politeness and a simple act of kindness can have such an effect.
When I was a student in America at the age of 20 years old I was lucky enough to visit Graceland in Memphis. I remember it as a beautiful place but something that was etched in my memory that day was a quote that Elvis Presley’s dad said to him. It was written up on the wall. The quote was:
‘Don’t criticize what you don’t understand son, you ain’t never walked in that man’s shoes.’ Aaron Presley
That quote had a huge effect on me. It made me stop and think what is behind people’s lives. We just don’t know what people have gone through. You might consider a man you see at work or in the street as ‘no fun and terribly unfit’, though he might have lost his wife to cancer two years ago, have a seven year old daughter who is struggling with school and friendships, and he is on cortisone and struggling with a brain tumour himself, let alone money issues.
The woman who brushed in front of you in the queue at the bank could be ‘just rude’, though could also have kidney and bladder issues that mean she just can’t wait in line for that long. The man who is sitting next to you on the train and your first reaction is ‘Gee you need a wash’ could have just been made retrenched, or lost his dog or only friend. We just don’t know.
Do you get the picture? I’m sharing this not to put any sort of dampener on Christmas – it is a glorious time – but to help us spare a thought for others and simply smile and be kind.
So – let me tell you my own story. I grew up in Greece till the age of three and was ultra close to my grandmother – then suddenly I was on the other side of the world. Christmas as I know it now wasn’t so big for us growing up. My parents didn’t grow up with Santa Claus, he was called ‘Agios Vasilis’ and sometimes came on New Year’s Eve, if at all. Once in Australia we would always have a lovely Christmas lunch with my cousins the Uzunovski clan which I did love as they had such yummy food and would buy me a great present. One year they bought me Monopoly. That was a winner!
Then when I was in my 20s I started to question they whole commercialism and throw away society we have become which gets exponentially worse around Christmas. I tried to shy away from it and act ‘too cool for Christmas’. I lived in Japan in 1992 and had a wonderful Christmas there which was a bit of a turning point. Of course Japan is the 2nd worse throw away society I’ve visited (after America) but the fact that Christmas was a recent thing that has come into their culture, they really made sure they acknowledged workers, neighbours and friends with time for a cup of tea, a sweet and of course a present and it was just really fun.
Then I met Kylie……. My first wife – who despite being a vegan and a social activist also loved Christmas – I was a bit of a killjoy to begin with, as I couldn’t understand her love for something that I thought of as a hypocritical, a commercial excuse for consumerism. Though it rubbed off on me. Yes, she did buy gifts, though she would spend lots of time choosing the perfect gift, she would have (irritating at first) Christmas carols on all the time, she would hand write heartfelt Xmas cards to everyone special in her life, and not only cards like ‘Merry Xmas and happy new year – love from the Simpsons’ she’d actually write long cards. She would want to drink some bubbly with dinner simply because ‘It’s Christmas time’.
I’ll never forget the first time I went to her parents – Jim and Margaret for Xmas day – (actually she wouldn’t even write Xmas – cause it was the wrong spelling – had to be Christmas) – Kylie was given sixteen, yes I said sixteen presents – I was a bit astonished and her mum’s response was – “Until she was 16 she only got two presents a year – one at Christmas and one at her birthday – after that I thought her personality was set so I started to buy more…….” I thought that was just gold!
Anyway – needless to say, since Kylie died 15 years ago, her love of Christmas has rubbed off on me – I seemed to embrace it with gusto, and passion. On December 1, I always get the tree decorated and try to hand write homemade cards and spend time with lots of groups of friends having a ‘Jolly good time’, carols play in the house (I think Sandy must breathe a sigh of relief on the 26th of December when they finish playing – but she even sometimes reminds me that I haven’t played carols for a day or so), and enjoying it with kids is priceless.
Sandy and I have struggled with the whole Santa issue, though it’s such a difficult one to avoid in our society. Pre-kids it is easier to embrace the magic of connection at Christmas time whilst avoiding the consumerism to a degree – though this message gets a whole lot harder to manage with children. It takes a lot of effort. At home instead of buying endless amounts of presents we started making our own lemon cordial to bottle with a beautiful Christmas labels that the kids make. Other ideas are garlic and chilli olive oil in a lovely bottle – or biscuits, chocolates etc. All these activities get the kids involved, make lots of mess, and are so much fun with the Christmas lights on and carols in the background. Mostly I think making our own gifts (to give to teachers, neighbours, friends) teaches children that Christmas isn’t all buy, buy, buy, but about making an effort to saying ‘Thank you, I really appreciate you’.
So generally as a family we’ve really embraced Christmas – the children love spending Christmas with their cousins and relatives. They are so excited about seeing their Aunty Jenny, Uncle George and Aunty Sally, and lovely friend Millie for our ‘Spanish’ Christmas this year. Singing Christmas carols while drawing yet another Christmas picture for the wall is the norm.
However, the first Christmas after Kylie died was terribly hard – I knew I couldn’t stay in Australia so I came to visit my grandparents in Greece. It was hard but the change of scenery was what I needed at the time. Christmas is a time when most people try to spend time with family, but not everyone……… Seeing families together when you are alone can be heart wrenching and terribly lonely.
So, this Christmas spare a thought for others, try to envisage what walking in their shoes would be like and don’t assume they are happy, or not grieving or have any spare money, or invited to a family lunch, or have any family at all. Practice random acts of kindness, volunteer in a soup kitchen, buy lunch for a homeless person. Remember that kind words are just so warming and even a simple smile can make a huge difference to someone’s day.
Have a jolly good Christmas. Spread some love.
Love from Christos