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The Christmas Comparison Trap

It’s the MOST wonderful time of the year…ding, dong, ding, dong – or is it?

This is a post I have been wanting to write for a while, and as I sit down to put words to paper it feels like I have so much to say but no idea how to say it.

This weekend I got my teenage daughter out of bed ‘early’ (read 11am) and decided we would do the annual de-clutter and clean of her room to allow space for the of tinsel, mini Christmas tree and hoped for new clothes on Christmas Day. As I was putting the clean bedding on, Christmas bedding no less, I muttered under my breath, ‘Christmas flipping bedding’ and then started laughing to myself. My daughter asked what I was laughing at and she quickly regretted the question as I proceeded to sit her down and explain that Christmas bedding, or in fact, putting decorations up in your bedroom, was not something that was ever a ‘thing’.

This got me thinking as to the growth of the Christmas season and I want to talk about it without being labelled a scrooge, (‘bah humbug’), which I am not! The thing is the pressure on Christmas has grown immensely. I don’t know if other people of 42 years of age used to get a new duvet set with Snowmen and Robins on and a ‘snow’ covered mini Christmas tree for their bedrooms over the festive period. I know I didn’t but I never knew what others got because Christmas was all about us.

It was what happened within the 4 walls of our house, with my family over a 12 day period; there was no comparing to other people’s Christmas because we didn’t see it. The closest we got was popping into a friend’s house or catching a glimpse of someone else’s Christmas tree through their windows. And, not to be rude but Christmas was about OUR family in OUR house.

I used to plead, to no avail, with my parents to put up the decorations as soon as that little picture (no chocolates!) Advent Calendar got opened. (As we got older mum used to put a tube of fruit pastels on the side for us to have at the same time which we were beyond excited about). So the answer on the decorations front was always the same – NO!

I remember watching the Smash Hits Poll Winners party and sneakily trying to add a shiny, plastic Star to the ceiling at the same time, “It’s too early, Jen!”, was the response I got. Now I’m not sure if tasteful decorations existed back then but if they did, I wasn’t aware of their existence. Looking back I can see why my parents would not have wanted all of the shiny Christmas tat for longer than was necessary, but when the time finally came to decorate we were given free reign, and I took full advantage. That was part of the joy.

Fast forward to 2020 and that Christmas tat has been replaced by tasteful ornaments and themed trees. I have one question - why? Is it because we just love it more or is it because over the last 10 years the stakes have been raised? Is it both? Now that I have also moved on to a more tasteful form of decoration I must admit, yes, I have also caved in to the Christmas bedding and the decorating of the youngest’s bedroom.

But my tree, our tree is sacred – it's like Christmas has been been sick all over it (by all means theme your tree, as long as it's for you and not for the 'gram').

I sat and pondered how these tasteful decorations make us want them around longer and I’m actually all for that and always have been. And to be honest, those of you who start to get the decorations down on Boxing Day - I don’t think we can be friends 😉.

I’ve rambled as always but the point I am getting to, that along with the more tasteful decorations comes the pressure that sharing what we’ve all done to our houses puts on us. You may well have read me going on about this previously, but the problem with Social Media is it highlights the differences between those that can and can’t afford to spend money. Almost everyone has access to some form of social media but for those sharing what their elf did last night every day, or waxing lyrical about their beautifully decorated fireplace (we had a florist do it don’t you know *cough YouTube cough*) or popping on that they’ve wrapped all of their presents by December the 1st, I have a question – why share it?

If you like it then do it for you and your family. If you want to spread Christmas cheer for all then I suggest going all out on Christmas lights outside so we can walk past and gain joy from it, and keep your unattainable for many, but truly beautiful all the same, pictures for your family and close friends. Be present. Enjoy it for you, you’ve earnt it, so you deserve to enjoy it. You don’t need validation from anyone else.

If this comes across as harsh, I’m sorry. It’s just that I know a lot of people who won’t be able to afford anything but the bare minimum, if that, for Christmas including food and presents. People on their own or without a home or job.

Although Christmas is ‘the most wonderful time of year’ for many people it is a time of extra stress and worry, and I feel we all have a responsibility to go some way to making a positive impact on those families. I’m not saying we shouldn’t spend what we have - that’s our choice to make - but we don’t need to plaster it all over the internet for all to see. You never know what is going on in someone’s life and the whole ‘they don’t have to look at it’ doesn’t cut it with me - we are drawn to look at things we might find upsetting, and Social Media is irresistible. It takes mental strength to turn away, something many of these families simply might not have.

As for ourselves, over the years we have struggled, though we’ve always managed to have a good Christmas. This year is different from other Christmases for us - we are in the fortunate position to have been able to start our much anticipated extension this year. We are doing as much of it as we can ourselves (cos, you know, funds and lockdown) but this means it takes longer and Christmas trees and decorations (and kitchens apparently) are, as a result, a long way off arriving in our home; although we have managed to put lights up on the window sill - it brightens up the house and distracts from the curtains that are kept up with drawing pins!

I’ve got a bit of Christmas tree envy right now. I’m happy for everyone who has one, and I can confirm that they all look delightful, but in that moment it’s also a reminder of what we haven’t got yet. But that’s our choice. We prioritised the extension over a lot of other things, including having enough room for our tree, but what it must be like for those without a choice I can only imagine.

So maybe we can all do our part and help to keep Christmas what it should be by stepping back from over-sharing at this time of year, at least when it comes to our fancy decorations.

The sad truth is there are many people stressed and depressed at the moment. Suicide rates always rise over this period and we can expect that to be even higher given the current restrictions, rise in loneliness and financial struggles. We can all play our part. It might not seem like it matters but it does, it might. I’m not saying don’t post anything, just be mindful of why you’re posting it and who is going to see it.

Lots of children and young people who we support feel a huge amount of pressure to be perfect, Christmas can be a good opportunity to model how fun happens when things are not perfect. Perfect can mean not letting your hair down and smudging your lipstick, it can mean not putting that homemade tree ornament on the front of the tree, it can mean focusing too much on the perfect table settings instead of standing and chatting with loved ones. I have an affection for the smudged up, non-perfect Christmas that looks like it would be good fun to be a part of.

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to be Scrooge! Still believe me……? But my point is not to make people feel guilty for having what they’ve got, but just to be mindful of all those who through no fault of their own, haven’t got what we would consider essential to have a special Christmas.

I hope you enjoy what you have this Christmas - you have worked hard, and you and your families deserve to have the best time possible this year.

But do it for you. Live in the moment. Be mindful. Sip your hot chocolate or your Christmas cocktail and look at the beautiful decorations you are surrounded with. Make memories, put your phone down (unless on video call to loved ones (well it is the year of the pandemic) and help your children to understand that our most precious moments and treasured memories come from being present and sharing the joy together, not from posting things online.


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