Lovely people, the regular readers among you may remember a similar post last from year. And that is because this is, indeed, last year’s post, for several reasons.
One, self-care is something I want to talk about every Christmas, because if you’re anything like me you forget about it every Christmas (well, and the rest of the year too, but especially at Christmas).
Two, I was going to repeat myself anyway if I wrote a new post.
And, three, part of my self-care this year is that while I’m away having December with my dad on his boat, I don’t want to be stressing about finding internet to get blog posts done. I mean, yes, I could have been really organised and written them all before I left, but come on. If you remember this post from last year you already know me well enough to realise how unlikely that level of organisation was…
Finally (because I did say several, which is four), I still believe firmly in everything in this post. Look after yourselves, lovely people. Make that your gift to yourself this festive season, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. And I send you all the dragonish strength in the world to help you do just that.
I quite like Christmas. I’ll confess it. It’s not the gifts so much, or the (dear god no) Christmas parties or (help me) huge family gatherings. It’s not even the food, or the generally accepted suitability of chocolate for breakfast and cake for lunch, although those sort of things will always endear a season to me. There are just certain aspects I really like about it. Christmas markets, all lit up in the early darkness and smelling of spiced wine and hot chocolate. Draping fairy lights across the walls and fighting with the cat to keep the Christmas tree upright. Reds and greens and cosy (sometimes even gaudy) colours overflowing through the house, and scented candles that turn the air itself into something special. Walking out under the cold, high sky and coming back in to warm light and music that yes, you’ve heard a hundred times before every single year, but which is still somehow comforting and wonderful. Mince pies and hard cheeses and wearing terrible jumpers. I don’t know. I just like it.
I didn’t grow up with winter Christmases. I didn’t have a wintery one until I was in my 20’s, in fact. But they make more sense to me than summer Christmases. Not that I have anything against the heat, but even to a child of the southern hemisphere, it didn’t entirely feel like Christmas. The beach was always beautiful, with the pohutukawas in bloom and the days long and golden. But it’s a different thing, a summer Christmas, less of an event, less something to look forward to. That time of year needs no brightening. I mean, you’re already on summer holidays. But winter Christmases – well, they hold back the dark, don’t they? In the middle of those long cold months, when the days are so often grey and wet and dull, you get to bring light and warmth into your home. That seems like a good thing to do.
And stuffing yourself with cake and cauliflower cheese and three different types of potatoes seems much more reasonable when it’s freezing out. Need the fuel, right?
But there’s also stuff I don’t like about Christmas. Like the shops. I try and do all my Christmas shopping online if I can, because from about mid (or early) November, everyone starts getting a little hysterical and the shops start pushing all these things you just must have at you, and you only went out to buy some new socks to replace the ones the cat threw up on, but suddenly you have a colander shaped like a poodle and a glow in the dark alien plant pot. And that’s all before we even hit December, when everyone wants to buy all the stuff, and you’re in constant danger of being run over by someone’s cracker-festooned trolley.
Then there’s the forced cheer thing. December is not an intrinsically more cheerful month than any other. Especially in this part of the world, it’s dark. It’s cold. My toes don’t thaw out from around September until at least April. Sure, the hot chocolate and pretty lights are nice, but the whole goodwill to all doesn’t actually automatically follow on from that. It’s hard to be cheerful when you’ve forgotten what the sun looks like and you have your third cold of the month and you’ve just discovered your shoe has a hole in it by stepping in a very chilly puddle of dubious origins.
And let’s not forget that Christmas is apparently the time of All The Social Things. Which, you know – the odd dinner with friends is fun, and I’ve even been known to throw (very small) Christmas parties myself. But it’s one thing spending time with friends and family you actually like and get on with. The prospect of having to exchange small talk over the sausage rolls with people you haven’t seen since the last Christmas party, on the other hand, isn’t exactly inspiring. Then there’s the family thing. For some reason, movies and Hallmark cards have convinced us that, no matter what our relationships for the rest of the year, all will be love and light at Christmas time, so we should gather together, eat too much, and throw some pretty generous servings of alcohol into the mix.
Yeah. I think a lot of us have seen how that turns out.
But the thing I like least about Christmas is how we suddenly throw away habits of self care. How it becomes more important to attend that party, or to stretch the budget to pay for that dinner, that gift, that meal, or to force ourselves to act like all Aunt Judy’s comments about our weight, career choices, dietary needs, and/or sexuality are just hil-arious than it is to look after ourselves. How the Christmas spirit and goodwill to all seems to apply to everyone else, often at our expense. How when the tinsel goes up, our protection goes down. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most stressful times of the year for so many of us.
Look, I still like Christmas. For all the trolley dashes and rampant consumerism, it’s nice. But only when it’s on your own terms. And while that’s not always entirely possible, there are things you can do to make it easier on yourself. The first being, give yourself permission to not be a happy Christmas person all the time. If you hate Christmas shopping, do it online. Avoid the stores. Or go, but have a proper rant about it afterward. That always works for me, and the cat’s quite used to listening.
If big Christmas parties fill you with horror, turn them down politely. You do not need an excuse. Just say no. Or if you feel too awkward not to go, decide beforehand how long you’ll stay, and leave when you want to leave. Filling someone else’s expectations is not a good enough reason to compromise your self-care, especially at a time of year when you may be carrying a lot of those expectations.
And have a think about those big family Christmases. Do you have to do them? Do you want to do them? Can you go away instead? Can you make sure it’s not held at your house, and just go for dinner, then come home and get in your PJs again? If it has to be at your house, make a plan to stake out time to take a bath, or read your book, or to do what you need to do to stay healthy. Look after yourself, however that looks.
Christmas can be hard, but it can also be wonderful. Give yourself the gift of self-care this year. Decide what that means to you, and go forth and be wonderful, lovely people. You are not selfish to look after your own needs. You are not a grinch if you don’t love parties. You are not wrong to not feel the same as everyone else about family gatherings. You are you, and that is all you need to be.
Let me know below what your plans for self-care are this year, lovely people!