I confess, I didn’t enjoy our last two Christmases.
In 2012 we were newly married and the euphoria of the wedding was just dying down. I’d put a lot of myself into the planning and execution of the day and I was exhausted. Being Big T’s wife felt right and natural, but we drove each other nuts that December. I wanted a break from thinking and organising, but I had to buy and wrap presents (fuck you, organza), arrange to visit family (they’re lovely and everything but we’d JUST seen them), decorate the tree (more sodding fairy lights), and feed us (food is always amazing, the cooking less so). I called it the ‘post-wedding slump’; I just couldn’t be bothered with any of it. In an act of rebellion we spent £150 on food from Waitrose and ate fillet steak with dauphinoise potatoes for Christmas dinner before drowning ourselves in red wine and Disaronno, and it would’ve been bloody spectacular if it hadn’t been so unfestive.
On Christmas Day last year I was 11 days past my due date, unable to walk from SPD or lie down thanks to severe acid reflux. My almost 9lb son was kicking all heck out of me and I was miserable. There was a small pile of gifts for him, including a newborn outfit with the optimistic ‘My First Christmas’ embroidered on the front, and I scowled at them like they were to blame for everything. We didn’t open any presents and I made dinner in the slow cooker so I’d barely have to move for most of the day. But I was scared as well, with the prospect of induction just two days away. I wanted above all not to be induced and it was all I could think about (and I was of course – Little T eventually arrived on the 29th).
This Christmas is different though. We’re a family of three humans, two cats, a giant African land snail, and an inexplicable number of kitchen ladybirds. We make up songs and wave at passing cars and don’t mind when we have pee on our clothes. We eat messily, kiss sloppily and sleep all together in a heap of snores and snuffles. We aren’t particularly sociable and we barely make ends meet, but we’re happy – because we’re together.
I’ve spent a long time searching for that content, wanting-for-nothing feeling, and now I have it and it’s more wonderful than I ever imagined. Christmas is a day for me to bask gloriously in where I’ve come from, what I almost lost, and what I have. Little T doesn’t understand what’s happening and in a way that’s an amazing thing because December 25th could be any day, he’s just glad to be alive and glad to have a world to explore, and it’s that part of him that makes him so much fun to be around.
I’ve always loved Christmas. The lights, the excitement, the giving and receiving, the food. I even love the dark days – there’s nothing cosier than being inside on a frosty morning or outside wrapped up in fluffy layers. I have a habit though of getting caught in the trappings of perfection and wearing myself out trying to make everything as splendid as possible for everyone but me. I burn out and end up sobbing after one glass of wine and a heated round of Top Trumps.
I’m determined this year to take the time to stop and really appreciate why I’m here and what I’m making the effort for. I want to watch my boys playing together, and I want to curl up with my son in front of The Snowman for as long as his attention span allows, and I want to sip a glass of wine without guilt, and smooch my husband as though I haven’t seen him in months (it sometimes feels like it!). Who cares if dinner isn’t ready when I planned or if the wrapping paper stays in a pile on the floor until the 26th; no one’s marking me down and deciding my worth as a wife and mother based on how crispy my potatoes are.
Perhaps one reason I’m worried about potential burnout is that I’ve been working towards this Christmas for the last six months. As I’ve said, money is tight. With only one of us working, a hefty mortgage and car to pay for as well as the usual household costs and other debts, we live month to month. No complaints from me – we’re happy – but it does make the prospect of gifts rather daunting. So I decided with all the well-meaning enthusiasm of someone who has no idea what they’re getting themselves into that I’d make most of the presents this year. With my own hands. While I had PND. And a baby.
And I’ve done it! But now all the adrenalin and motivation I’ve channelled into each little project (which I hope everyone will like – I don’t accept returns) has nowhere to go. I feel like a bubbling kettle, albeit one with a whole new set of creative skillz. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself come January. Maybe I’ll actually have time for myself. *faints*
We also managed to save on Little T’s presents by buying most of them second hand. Some people I’ve mentioned this to have thought it’s a great idea since he’s growing so quickly and frankly his favourite toys are usually found in a kitchen cupboard or my make up bag and not in the aisles of Toys’R’Us, but others are horrified at the notion that we’re happily giving used books and play things as gifts to our son, as though buying something from a charity shop is tantamount to telling him he isn’t worthy of things that only he and an underpaid factory worker have touched. Many of his clothes are also preloved and so far, weirdly, we haven’t been arrested for child neglect. I understand the gut reaction of the second-hand cynics, but please, before you say something critical, ask yourselves why you feel that way. And then, because you’ll have realised you’re totally wrong, come bargain shopping with me (you get extra points if you find a pair of jeans that fit Big T’s spaghetti legs).
I’ve always liked owning ‘used’ things. When I was a child I loved feeling that I was giving an unwanted toy a second chance at life, especially if it was broken. I collected broken things and I loved them, treasured them even, as though I was somehow making a difference. These days I like the money saving element of course, but also the knowledge that I’m not contributing to the churning culture that is killing our planet and making us all poor. Happy Christmas, world.
Our frugal Christmas, stressful though it’s been at times, has helped me focus on what’s truly important, and maybe that’s why I’m feeling so warm and fuzzy. It’s refreshing to step back from the consumption and the cost. It seems lighter and more festive. I wonder what traditions we’ll be starting tomorrow? I wonder what we’ll recreate from our own childhoods and what Little T will put his stamp on? I’m excited, I’m happy, and above all I’m grateful.
Merry Christmas dear readers. Hold everything you treasure a little bit tighter and remember it’s okay to stop, breathe and savour the moment.