In turbulent times there is something reassuring as Christmas comes round once again. It is a time to reflect, to sit, to talk, to laugh, to think and, at the centre of it all, it is of course a time to feast and to gather together. It can, however, also be a time of mixed blessings: a time which reminds you of those you miss and of those you have lost, the empty places, the voices no longer heard and the missing smiles.
Our father died too young and I, my sisters and our mother tumbled towards our first Christmas in grief and loss, trying to put one foot in front of the other. Our mother died not long afterwards and so there was another Christmas where there was a huge gap.
We are no different from many other families and we have just held an event here to support the Murray Parish Trust which was set up by Jim and Sarah in memory of their young daughter Ella-Jayne. Grief is not a competition; it is here and with us every day even if it can’t be seen. It is different for all of us, there is no timetable or resolution and yet conversely, despite the mixed blessings, Christmas is important simply because it is an annual marker and is about supporting and understanding. It is okay to be sad or to need help whether from loss or divorce or all the challenges that life throws at us.
Today, we celebrate what is essentially a “Victorian” Christmas, engendered and inspired by the spirit of Charles Dickens’ book “A Christmas Carol”, which transformed society’s view of Christmas. Dickens had known poverty and hunger as a boy and the characters in his books that share and enjoy lavish feasts are good people. One of the most memorable scenes in the book is that of the Cratchit family contentedly gathered round the fire with their roasted goose, apples and oranges, chestnuts and “speckled cannon ball” pudding.
In the past, in order to pave the way for a feast there was often a traditional period of fasting beforehand, in this case, Advent. With the arrival of supermarkets and 24 hour shopping the gathering and storing of food has become somewhat easier and the theory of holding back before the Christmas feast has, to a large extent, disappeared.
This year I am looking forward to Christmas, with eagerness and delight both for all its significance, as well as its sense of comforting reassurance. I and my sisters never forget but do accept that this is our life today. Now it is about remembering – of how my father put the turkey in the oven the night before to cook slowly (having sealed it first for 20 minutes), of how he loved to fry left over Christmas pudding in brown sugar and butter for pudding at subsequent lunches (highly recommended) and of my mother writing plays for my sisters to act out. They were normally about back to front words or stories and our mother laughed so much as she wrote which then turned into great entertainment (in that they were not very good) as my sisters acted them out. I tended to narrate.
This year it is my husband’s first Christmas after his mother’s death and his turn, once more, to experience the empty place at the table. Writing about this time of year has, I think, helped give me quietude. Christmas is coming, with a sense of anticipation and a reminder that it is a time for the smallest of children to be at the centre of lives and for the rest of us to remember what it is to be a child at heart – to continue to splash through muddy puddles and over indulge in too many sweets.