It’s that wonderful time of year again!
Bring on the soft-focus adverts, the wide-eyed children, the candle-lit carol services. ‘Tis the season to be jolly and all that jazz. Or is it? In our experience, it’s often the season of being jolly tired and tetchy with those closest to you.
To be clear, though, we do love Christmas. What’s not to love about a holiday where you get to lounge about watching TV whilst eating too much cake without any guilt? In contrast, our summer holidays are often tinged with feelings that we ought to be outside digging something or visiting somewhere. Frankly, at Christmas, the sum total of our daily activity might be visiting the fridge.
But many couples find Christmas a particularly challenging time of year. Perhaps the sugary ads make us feel inadequate or even more imperfect than normal. Or maybe deeper tensions surface as the season unfolds. Certainly the financial and practical pressures from family and each other can add more and more strain. Before our children came along, our entire Christmas was often spent zooming around the country visiting relatives and resulting in very little peace and a distinct lack of goodwill by the end of it all.
We really wish that we had thought earlier in our relationship about what Christmas would mean to us as a couple, what our priorities and traditions would be, and how we wanted to celebrate this special and spiritually significant time of year. Over the years our circumstances changed, but we still struggled through a pile of each others’ assumptions and family members’ expectations trying to work out what was right for us in our marriage.
We clearly remember those early discussions. There was the battle of the Christmas tree, for example. When would we put the Christmas tree up? At the beginning of December in order to maximise the effort or near Christmas Eve to maximise the excitement? And should it be a real tree or not? Yikes!
And then there was the Christmas Day conundrum. One of us had always opened presents in the morning, one of us after lunch. And it turned out these traditions were pretty important to us! Added to that, one of us is more ‘Santa’ with a list of gifts and cards to buy for almost everybody they have ever known, and the other is more ‘Scrooge’ with a spreadsheet and a hunch that much of Christmas is rather a waste of resources. Is one right and the other wrong? It would also be fair to say that we have never achieved an equal division of labour leading up to Christmas. It is like a giant organisational and budgeting project which has to be squeezed around our already far too busy lives. Friction and frustration have often accompanied the tinsel and the turkey in our house.
But it is as we honestly face, discuss and challenge some of those issues together (and learn to compromise!) that we can create a truly special time of year with our own traditions and our own priorities. Of course, our plans might adapt as our family changes, house moves happen and perhaps children come, go or have children of their own, but establishing family rituals like carol singing, opening stockings on the bed, or going for a bracing Boxing Day walk are one of life’s joys.
Christmas is a special time of faith, hope and love – as well as mince pies, films and hunting for batteries – and if we can work out together what matters to us, be thankful for what we do have and let go of what we don’t, then despite the inevitable festive frustrations, we can enjoy creating together some wonderful moments in our marriage which we will remember for a lifetime.