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Piercing the Fantasy of the Christmas Family

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

"Paradoxically, love flows more freely when the pressure for things to look, feel and be a certain way is lifted, and when connection and closeness are allowed to emerge organically, as opposed to being forced, manufactured or performed".

I am always struck by the paradox of Christmas. Christmas is universally understood to be a celebration of love, joy and peace, and a time to enjoy family, community and dear friends. And yet what many of us actually do at Christmas is not congruent with these ideas at all. We buy more than we can afford, commit to more than we have energy for, move more frenetically than our nervous systems can handle, eat and drink to excess, and care for ourselves less than what we ideally need. We allow ourselves to be sold, pressured and cajoled into particular versions of Christmas that are not truely satisfying or nourishing. We wind up anything but loving, peaceful and full of renewed energy for life.

Contrary to how we like to see Christmas, in reality it is a time where anxieties, pressures and expectations can intensify markedly and we can become particularly vulnerable to abandoning our own needs in order to please others or to manage how overwhelmed we feel with quick fixes and instant feel goods.

Many of us will inflict a subtle kind of violence against our selves this Christmas, and will be supported by family and society to do so, simply by making a bunch of small choices where we push past our own limits and ignore our own needs. This is a big part of how we unground ourselves, because when it comes to Christmas, the small choices are the big ones.

The small choices determine whether we end up spinning away mindlessly with the collective anxiety of Christmas, or whether we stay more solid and settled in spite of it. I have been curious for a long time about the collective anxiety and panic that we get caught in at this time of year and what I observe is that Christmas comes with such a strong push for togetherness, especially family togetherness, which can provoke deep anxieties in people. The reality of family that we give more permission for throughout the rest of the year, is very much pushed aside at Christmas in favour of a kind of a beautiful fantasy that places a lot of pressure on people to be joyful, peaceful, and in close, harmonious relationship with their loved ones.

Absences, losses, differences, disconnections and a plethora of relationship tensions are hushed down or outright denied at Christmas, and as a consequence, and in painful and sometimes devastating counterpoint to this, are so often inadvertently and profoundly amplified. The emotional intensity of Christmas and the pressure for togetherness and subscription to the beautiful fantasy triggers reactive emotional distancing in the form of arguments, substance abuse, perfectionism, over-eating and a myriad of other emotionally distancing and self-insulating behaviours. Thomas Moore (Care of the Soul) describes family as ‘a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating house of love and pain’, and in my experience this is true of families every day of the year, including, and sometimes especially, on Christmas Day.

Most of us will be members of families this Christmas whose imperfect reality departs significantly from the beautiful fantasy. Just reminding ourselves about what families are really like at Christmas, can be grounding and settling, and begins to pierce the fantasy of the Christmas family. When we can surrender the fantasy and lean into reality, we can have more realistic expectations, rather than bending ourselves into all sorts of unnatural shapes or asking others to do so. Paradoxically, love flows more freely when the pressure for things to look, feel and be a certain way is lifted, and when connection and closeness are allowed to emerge organically, as opposed to being forced, manufactured or performed. Love, peace and joy emerge when we can let go of our preconceived ideas about how things ‘should’ be, and just be with how things are.

And on Christmas love,…If we have no love for ourselves at Christmas time, we will surely have none for anyone else either. Loving others begins with loving self…. slowing down, breathing deeply, spending mindfully, eating well, sleeping deeply, getting some rest and relaxation, having some fun. We don’t cease to be human because it’s Christmas. We continue to have basic needs and limits, and when we respect them, we are free to enjoy all the goodness of Christmas. Christmas can become a celebration of, and a bowing down to our humanness, rather than an intensely-driven effort towards being super-human. This Christmas, may I love myself first and be willing to meet myself and my family where we are actually at, out beyond the beautiful fantasy.

Blessings to all this holiday season x.

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