A Christmas prophecy
To have conversations that don’t automatically end after forty minutes because we haven’t bought the upgrade version, or only end after three awkward goodbyes as we fumble to find the red button.
Forget flying reindeer and industrious elves: getting together in person with my family is the Christmas magic I want to believe in. It has been another year of long, hard lockdown (here in Melbourne, at least). All year, I’ve just wanted to be in the same room as all of them, all at once.
Family Night, the casual dinner my parents would host every week, hasn’t happened much over the past two years. For a while, we tried weekly video meetings instead, but Zoom can be exhausting. We no longer seem to be in the minutia of each other’s lives. The annoying co-worker, the amusing housemate, the weird passenger on the train coming here; these remain a mystery now.
When you’re not catching up for casual conversation over tacos every week, the big life changes become starker and more dramatic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, all my siblings have gone through something major. My sister had a complete career change and my other sister got engaged and launched a new business. One of my brothers became a first-time father to twins, another moved interstate and a third eloped! As for me, I sold my novel. I go to great lengths to not be upstaged by my siblings.
Christmas is a time of great joy, but for many families, it can be a time of pain. Family celebrations are already hard when somebody you love has died, but in a year of tight restrictions around funerals and palliative care, the unresolved grief must be unbearable.
On a much smaller scale, the holiday season can be a time of great anxiety. When you are the one in charge of making family time magical, Christmas can feel like an exam. Did you remember all the presents? Are they age appropriate and equally loaded? Is the dish you are bringing to the big family soirée delicious, beautiful, nutritional and impressive? Can it be easily transported? There will be photos. Is everybody dressed nicely?
If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that nothing, not even a timeless tradition, is set in stone. This has caused me to look at Christmas a little differently. What traditions do we love and what is just needless pressure? What can we do differently? How can we honour each other’s talents without taking people for granted?
Part of the problem is me, I know. Instead of allowing Pinterest or Instagram dictate to me what new trend I need to adopt to make the perfect Christmas, perhaps I need to gather my family around the table and ask each of them one tradition they most value. And my standards don’t need to be so high. So what if I let the kids wear pyjamas all day? It’s pandemic chic!
I also need to loosen my grip on being in charge of everything. My teenage son loves to cook and actively seeks out difficult and challenging recipes. Why don’t I put him in charge of the food that we bring instead of insisting that I have total control? My teenage daughter is a master of logistics. Perhaps I could enlist her help in managing gift-buying?
Opening gifts around the tree with my parents and siblings is a special ritual in my family. I have always loved snuggling up on the good lounge chairs, passing presents, unwrapping, gasping and hugging. But spending countless hours in a tinsel-strewn stress barn hunting down the gifts is less than enjoyable.
A few years ago, we started a new tradition. Using a KK system, we would buy our allocated recipient something small, which had to be either handmade or second-hand. We still have the fun of opening presents, without the pressure of getting something perfect, expensive, and brand-new. This year, we’ve added an option of getting something that supports a struggling local business as well.
There are some wonderful traditions that take no effort or preparation. As we eat our meal, we can take turns going around the table and acknowledging one blessing of the year. We also love making Christmas toasts, congratulating each other and expressing gratitude as we clink our glasses together.
I know things won’t be perfect this year. Flights home to Australia over the Christmas period are eye-wateringly expensive, so we will have to wait a little longer to see my brother and his new American wife. And there’s not a Christmas that goes by when I don’t miss my vivacious, outspoken, irrepressible grandmother. It’s also true that there are no guarantees. Lockdown has taught me not to look forward to anything too fervently.
But what if the prophecy comes to pass? What if I can hug my mum and dad, hold my new niece and nephew, and chat for ages with my siblings about everything and nothing? Well now, that would be a Christmas miracle!