Christmas Day is forever full of surprises.
When you’re little, it’s the right kind of surprises – “What has Santa brought?” “What presents will I get from family?” “How much fun are we going to have today?” or “How much junk food will I get away with eating?”
When you’re a bit older, it’s more the – “How many times is my uncle going to try to embarrass me?” kind of surprises, “How many sips of mum’s champagne will she let me have even though I’m 16?” or the “How many awkward interactions will I have with family I only see once a year?” Or worse, the surprise when you get a gift you hate, but you know the expectation is that you be grateful, say thank you and “wipe that look off your face, quick-smart”.
When you’re an adult, the surprises continue. Only they are far more of the “what on earth!!” variety. Or the “I can’t believe he just said that!” kind. It can also be full of family fighting – bickering, alcohol-fuelled banter which soon turns into full-blown arguments. It CAN be a total train-wreck from start to finish.
But it can also turn out to be surprisingly nice.
I know some Christmases in the past few years have been surprisingly pleasant. Calm, civil, even pleasurable. I find now that we have little people involved in Christmas again in our family, it’s returned to what it should be – it’s about joy.
I watched back a video that I took from last Christmas of my then almost 2-year-old niece getting an Elsa tutu-dress from her other aunty. The sheer joy, excitement and thrill as put that dress on, promptly asked for “moosic” and then proceeded to dance her way around the living room like a fully fledged royal princess, came flooding back to me. That moment made Christmas what it is – a moment full of delight & wonder. She was having SO much fun; there was so much joy exuding from that little 2-year-old body, and it really was contagious. There was laughter to the point of tears, for many of us “grown-ups”.
That is what Christmas is about for me. Family. Sitting together, sharing the joy of gift giving (and receiving) and being in the moment. Everyone in that room that day was truly present in a mindfulness sense. We were all focussed on this little joyful person, experiencing the excitement of Christmas and new toys. It was positively beautiful.
It wasn’t about my hypermobility.
It wasn’t about my mental health.
It wasn’t about doctors appointments.
It wasn’t about anything medical at all.
Sure, I carry with me my hypermobility, my mental health, and my other physical ailments – but they were not the focus of my attention, in fact, I wasn’t thinking about them at all. And yes, they impacted the way I physically interacted with my nieces, but I still had a role to play as the photographer & videographer, capturing that precious memory. I wasn’t thinking about me. I was in the moment. I was being present. I was in the here & now. I was being mindful.
And that’s my goal for Christmas Day 2017; to be mindful.
Life is made up of millions of individual moments. So much of life is “going through the motions”, but a day like Christmas Day encourages us to stop and take those moments in, to be there, present, experiencing and feeling the emotions of what is happening in and around us.
Because to be honest, I’m not a huge ‘Christmas-lover’. I used to be. But a lot of things changed for me between 2006-2009, including the passing of my grandma with whom some of my greatest Christmas memories lay, and whom I most greatly associated Christmas Days. I also spent 5 months living in a small village in Tanzania Africa, where I spent Christmas 2008.
That forever changed the meaning of, and my perspective on, Christmas.
There is no way you can spend Christmas Day with 100 African orphans, see their joy and their excitement at receiving notebooks and lead pencils ready for the next year of school, and feel the same way about Christmas in a developed country. There is no way you can watch them get SO excited over ONE piece of candy, and ONE bottle of soda (soft drink, pop) and not think twice about what you buy as gifts back home.
Because my sister and I have both lived in Africa, as a family, we have massively scaled back Christmas. We aren’t “anti-consumerism” or “anti-Christmas”, but we most definitely do not go overboard with gifts – for children or adults. Having seen a child play happily for hours with a soda bottle top, or kids playing “knuckles” with pebbles, or balls them have made themselves out of leaves and scraps of material… it makes it hard to see a child receive a bazillion presents, most of which will get played with for a few weeks and then broken or forgotten.
The biggest Christmas surprise I got in 2008 was the lessons I learned, and the way my whole understanding of the world and humanity changed by spending Christmas with some of the poorest children & people in the world. I came home from Tanzania a different person, as did my sister. And we know now that the next generation in our family will have a different view of the world because of it.
You can’t erase those memories. That Christmas in Tanzania, playing in the dust and dirt, eating rice and beans, and drinking warm soda, with what seemed to be the most grateful and joy-filled children in the entire world… You just can’t forget it.
That’s our family because that’s our experience. We have a fairly unique perspective on the world and on the commercialisation of Christmas. We would never deprive the children in our little village – our family, of the joy of receiving and giving gifts, but it’s done in moderation and with consideration.
We don’t expect that others do things the same way we do. We each get to live our own lives, and these are choices we get to make along the way.
But it brings me back to my point – mindfulness. Whether you’re a bazillion gift kind of family or a more moderate gift-giving family; whether you’re spending Christmas with your partner, or with your whole family, or even alone. We can all practice mindfulness on Christmas Day.
Whether it’s being truly present in a conversation – not thinking about what you want to say in reply, but truly listening. Or trying not to get distracted by the food that is passing you by on a platter.
Whether it’s enjoying a hug, a kiss, or a cuddle with a little person you love (or a pet). Or watching closely as someone opens a gift you have given them, not worrying about their “reaction” but watching their approach and their response.
It could be mindfully eating some roast turkey, Christmas pudding, or enjoying a sip of a rare alcoholic beverage.
Whatever it is… just remember this Christmas Day, that life is about collecting moments, not things.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, (or a belated Happy Hanukka) – no matter how you’re spending the day, I hope you can mindfully enjoy it.