Christmas for many people is a time of coming together. Families travel sometimes over large distances to sit around a table, feast, exchange presents and generally celebrate.
These winter rituals are often founded on family traditions, and memories of happy Christmases stretching back into childhood.
But what if your Christmas is not like that? What if your memories of Christmas are unhappy ones? What if your Christmas means loneliness, unhappiness, arguments, and reinforcing memories of family divisions? What then?
Perhaps you want to consider having an alternative Christmas. Going back to our roots
Much of what we think of as being part and parcel of Christmas is actually based on pre-Christian pagan rituals.
Around Stonehenge archaeologists have uncovered several villages. By looking at the evidence left behind, a story emerges of people travelling from all over Britain, from as far away as Scotland, to gather together at particular times of the year. One of these special times was the Winter Solstice, and judging by the animal bones people left behind this festival contained a spectacular feast.
These people were animal herders and farmers. For them, the seasons and movement of the Sun was woven into everyday life. The Winter Solstice was important because it also marked the return of the Sun, and foretold the coming of Spring. It was in all likelihood not just a celebration; the ceremonies and rituals they performed were also meant to ensure the Sun's return.
You might like to recreate some of these elements in your own Winter Celebration,
~ Each person brings a dish to share in your 'winter feast'
~ Make decorations from greenery gathered from a walk in a local woods
~ Create your own festival of light, with candles, or our modern equivalent, LED fairy lights
~ Have a moment of stillness in honour of the solstice - this is the literal meaning of solstice, and is the moment when the Sun's movement across the sky appears to stop.
Christmas is for children, isn't it?
This is something which I have often heard ~ mostly from my Mother to be fair. However, what if you are one of the growing number of adults who is childless?
Currently in the UK, around 1 in 5 women aged 45 and over are childless, either through choice or because they are involuntarily childless.
In fact Christmas has only recently become a child-centric affair.
Medieval traditions for instance included feasting followed by a period of fasting; carol singing, although the style of these was unlike modern carols, and mummering, which was very much like the modern day 'trick or treat'. With the exception that plays were given instead of 'tricks'. All of these activities were carried out predominantly by adults.And while Christmas can be a time which can painfully remind you of being childless, you also have a lot of freedom which people who have children don't.
You might for instance think about:
~ An 'adult' Christmas
Lock the doors, draw the curtains, take the phone off the hook, and spend some adult time with your chosen person. This doesn't have to include dressing up or even sex. You may want to focus on the relational aspects of just being with another person, and spend Christmas simply sharing time, or perhaps engage in sensuous relationship enhancing activities such as pampering or massaging each other.
~ A 'what do you fancy' day
Many of us lead hectic pressured lives, so why not take a break from all that, and have a lounging around day instead? Who says that Christmas has to consist of eating and drinking too much followed by vegging out on the sofa feeling bloated and uncomfortable? Perhaps you are tired of the whole routine of cooking. So why not buy in party snacks and just casually graze instead. Maybe you have been eyeing up that TV box set. Well now's your opportunity to do some proper binge watching.
~ Getting away from it all
While this may be one for next year, why not take a holiday over Christmas, and let somebody else take the strain? You don't even have to book a holiday to get away from it all. What about a Christmas day road trip? Go somewhere you haven't been before. By lunchtime the roads will be virtually empty, and you can enjoy the kind of driving experience hawked by TV adverts. Just walking around your town centre when it will be virtually empty of people, is very different to when it's a thronging mass. Maybe you might even stop to say hello to the other passers by.
What if Christmas is a lonely time?
While you might think this is something which typically affects older people. Age UK estimate that around 450,000 people aged over 65 will be facing Christmas alone this year. It is something which can affect people of all ages, as a recent Young Minds article also highlights.
~ Reach out
The chances are you won't be the only person in your circle who has times when they feel lonely. Loneliness is a very common feeling. So how about taking a risk and reaching out to these same people? The hardest part of sharing how you feel is starting the conversation. The rest comes much more easily once you begin.
~ Volunteering is not just about giving, it is also about receiving
Contrary to the idea we live in a selfish society, human beings are primed to help others. Our own lives are enriched whenever we make even a small difference in the life of somebody else. And maybe you might also find that helping others is not just for Christmas.
Christmas is one of those times which is steeped not only with tradition, but also expectation. It's often a time when people do things because they feel they should.
A question I often ask is "Who says you should?"
Curiously it often turns out to be no-one. When my wife and I talk about what we are going to be doing for Christmas, the reaction usually is "Oh, I wish I could do that!"
Mark Redwood has an Honours Degree in Counselling, and is a Humanistic Counsellor running a busy
private practice in the Southampton area. Mark has worked in a Local Authority helping learning disabled and autistic adults, as a school counsellor, and is Chair of Client Services for a bereavement charity.
Mark believes we are all born with the potential for growth and a capacity to embrace change.
Original article published on markredwood.co.uk
The Atheists Guide to Christmas (2009), edited by Ariane Sherine