Christmas is a time of year that conjures up numerous images and emotions. The festive season bombards all of our senses, be it glorious decorations, scrumptious food or the fun of wrapping up gifts.
However, the most poignant aspect of Christmas are the relationships that are at the very heart of it. Our emotions are heightened because of the expectation and the nostalgia associated with Christmas. It is often the emotional moments that stay with us, no matter how insignificant they might appear to others.
As a first time mother, Ann Dignan, 38, from Hertfordshire, was excited and overwhelmed at sharing her first Christmas with her partner and three month old daughter Lily. She brought huge joy to the couple, especially as Ann had been told she was sub fertile several years earlier. ‘When I discovered I was expecting a baby I was truly happy, if a little shocked. There was a part of me that had accepted I would never be a mother. A feeling that made me feel not only incredibly sad but somehow empty, hollow. The discovery of my pregnancy felt literally miraculous. I was a little frightened, hoping everything would go well and desperate that nothing would happen to my unborn baby’. For Ann, the safe arrival of her daughter was incredible and a huge relief. Being a September baby meant that Christmas was not too far away, adding to the wonder of the season. ‘Although my daughter was only three months, she was absolutely integral to everything that Christmas. All the silliness and fun that can easily be forgotten as adults, rushed back and I felt like a little girl again. We bought her a special Christmas dress and a sparkly clip for her hair – of which she had lots! No doubt she didn’t notice any of it but let’s be honest – it’s more for the parents benefit and seeing their child look gorgeous!’ The first Christmas was magical for Ann, as it is for all first time mums and dads. The usual routines and rituals are honoured but having a baby to share this special season adds some fairy dust onto all of the proceedings. As adults we are lucky enough to enjoy Christmas through the eyes of a child. ‘With Lily, I felt a sense of completion. Christmas was a whole experience again, having a gurgling, inquisitive baby amongst us gave us so much joy and definitely provided an extra loving bond between us. I can’t wait until Lily is old enough to help decorate the tree!’
When we think of Christmas, we often – if not always – picture a family scene with family members of all ages gathered together. However, for some individuals, their Christmas looks significantly different. For them, Christmas is just as enjoyable and equalling fulfilling but in a way that works for them.
Tony James, 54, from Brighton, grew up in a tight knit family with parents, a brother and sister. His brother and sister eventually left the family home when they met their partners but Tony, remained in the family home. In time, his role as son was replaced as one of their carer. ‘I adored my parents’, says Tony, ‘my personal situation was different to my siblings and to be honest I was content to stay with my parents. They were happy to give me the privacy and space to live with them whilst living my own life. When their health started to decline, I didn’t feel obliged to stay and care for them, I wanted to be there. It was challenging at times, no question. Mum became ill first but dad followed quite soon after. With mum her illness was impacted by dementia so this was another difficult aspect to her health and my caring for her’. Sadly, Tony had lost both of his parents by 2017. The first Christmas without them created a lot of mixed feelings for him. Tony felt lost, rudderless and to some extent, emotionally redundant. He had dedicated so much of his emotional and physical time and energy to them, he felt on shaky ground. ‘Christmas is a hugely emotional time and this was the first one I had experienced without mum and dad. I developed this odd sense of guilt that I did not have to cook or buy gifts on their behalf. To be honest, I was unsure how I should approach the festive season’. Tony’s siblings invited him to join their families and although warmly appreciated, Tony felt it would be cathartic to spend Christmas by himself. ‘In one way, I wanted to prove I could do it. The thought of being on my own during such an important time of the year felt strange but like a challenge in some ways.
I made arrangements to see friends during the run up to Christmas. It was important to fuel myself with good cheer and a sense of support. By Christmas Eve I had bought and distributed presents already so I had the luxury of a leisurely visit to a favourite local cafe followed by a walk through nearby woods. Usually, I would be conscious to return home if I had already been out for several hours’. Although this felt like a very different kind of Christmas for Tony, he realised he rather enjoyed not only the freedom but his own company. ‘It is interesting that previously, my idea of a miserable Christmas would be to spend the day alone, watching television and bolting down Christmas dinner on a tray. Now, as that person, I can see there are real positives to spending the day exactly how you want to. Having spent some wonderful festive seasons with my parents and family, I can equally appreciate there is another version of Christmas that is very different but feels just as precious’.