The pressure to buy, to define our friendships through presents, to define our security through over purchasing of food, to boost our happiness through overeating, to lose ourselves to alcohol, to have the perfect family Christmas is overwhelming. The pressure to be happy, to be with others, to be generous and thankful can be quite the opposite of what we feel and want and need.
Marketing of Christmas depends on us striving for an unachievable perfection of food and friendship, consumption and excess that ultimately leaves us empty and wanting, and not sure why. You’re up against billion-pound efforts to make you buy and use – urging us to define ourselves through things, and to engender the feeling that we are never quite good enough, our things are not new enough, the people around us are not enough, that we are entitled to more and more and more….
Looking after your wellbeing at Christmas means redefining this festival of excess into what is important for you. It may not even be Being Happy. For some, Christmas is associated with bereavement or unhappy childhood memories. As the darkest time of the year it is naturally a time to withdraw, take stock, and hibernate away. So Christmas Happy can also mean not being an outgoing party-animal, but defining contentment and the season itself in your own way.
It can mean moving from the material-driven to an experience-based festival of people and place. It doesn’t mean wearing a hair-shirt and eating gruel, but it does mean thinking about what makes you Christmas Happy.
Take a look back at your Christmases, when were you most content. And when did you end up doing things you didn’t want to do, or get things you didn’t want or need? Were you most happy getting stuff? Eating fit to burst? Hazed out on drink and fags? Maybe short-term, but hangovers aren’t just alcohol induced, we have consumption hangovers too, the feeling that we got what we thought we wanted but often within minutes left feeling empty, guilty at our consumption and wanting more.
This is consumerism, the constant need to get, use and dispose, never reaching that nirvana of fulfilment, the system relies on our essential unhappiness and discontent.
You can break this cycle by following your own path.
Eat local – if you eat meat, get local, organic and free-range meat. Better still, try a non-meat alternative. For me, Christmas is about the trimmings, not a smelly turkey that tastes of nothing. Try a tofu roast with all the veg and sauces.
Try reducing the alcohol – and use the money saved for an experience you’ll value more in your memory.
Replace sugar with natural alternatives like the best dates, fruit desserts.
Buy each person one gift and make it personal. Make your own gifts, anything from bath bombs to art. Buy from charity shops and vintage shops. Make it unique.
Wrap in reused paper, don’t cut down a tree for Christmas, don’t send a card but phone instead, take someone out onto a hill and plant a tree for them.
Better still, buy experiences not material presents. Play board games, build a snowman, throw leaves up in the air, make art.
Get offline, and ring those friends, go round and see them, make peace with someone you’ve fallen out with.
Visit someone older or younger than you in your family – one of the stresses of modern life is out loss of inter-generational living. We are preset to live with, and be supported by, older and younger members of our family, our village and our tribe, but most households in Glasgow are now single-occupier.
If family Christmases made you happy but are now lost, then try recreating them through friends, taking a trip with them, focusing on a place or activity that joins you to others.
Relax guilt-free. Pull shut the curtains, grab the duvet, lounge on that sofa and watch an old film on the telly.
Get out into nature. Beyond the Christian tradition lies a pagan reconnection to the Earth – it’s healthy and connecting to get into the forests, hills and lochs of Scotland.
Go for walks. Take a train trip out to Loch Lomond, or a (flat and off-road!) cycle ride along the canal to Falkirk and the Kelpies and Falkirk Wheel – and get the train back.
Seek out those less fortunate and help out. Anything from donating to a Christmas shelter or foodbank, to chatting to a homeless person on the street, giving a small gift, making Christmas normal for others who struggle.
Some years when family or friends haven’t been an option I’ve gone on a vegan yoga retreat, and once got on a train and toured Europe trawling art galleries. Educate yourself or give yourself a new experience.
Whatever you end up doing, practice self-care, blessing and best wishes as we move from one year to the next.
Picture credit: Detail from Wendy Andrew: Loving the Yule Dawn