`I love Christmas. It is magical. For one week of the year, the world becomes brighter, sparklier, shinier, louder. It is a chance to take a break from normal life, to get excited like a child, and be surrounded by love. But it is also exhausting! Thus, the way I celebrate has had to change dramatically since getting PH. Before I was ill, I used to be in the centre of that sparkly world. I was an animated reindeer toy: full of energy, singing and dancing all day. But now I’m a shiny bauble, sitting quietly on the tree, watching the excitement unfold! Two very different Christmases; but both wonderful and full of magic (and twinkly tinsel).
Before I got ill I would dance and sing through the holiday season. December was one long party. As a teacher, I was the instigator of the excitement, the oxygen fanning the festive flames. I mainly taught five year olds, who were the peak age to be enthralled by the magic. Together we got progressively more excited. Glitter in the carpets, crepe paper glued to the tables, cotton wool stuck to clothes. Choreographing shepherd dances, singing angel songs, mouthing forgotten words to Joseph. Eating orange crisps at class parties, encouraging nibbles of Brussels spouts at the school Christmas dinner, chocolate rewards. It was my favourite time of the year as a teacher.
Days of busyness were followed by nights of busyness. One evening to write the cards, one evening to decorate the home, one evening to wrap the presents. Late night shopping for gifts: wrapped up warm, pushing through the crowds, festive tunes, twinkling lights. The annual visit to town hall square to admire the moving illuminations and old nativity scene. Then there were the evenings of fun and socialising. Catch ups and meals and pub visits and parties. Drinks and food and drinks and food. We’d dance and talk and laugh and sing. All whilst wearing glittery clothes or glittery earrings or glitter garlands.
Most years I’d return to my Mum’s home for a week around the big day. I loved being surrounded by my noisy, excitable family. It was always loud and over the top. We’d be awoken on the 25th by Christmas songs on maximum volume, squeals of excitement from my siblings, and my Mum dancing around dressed up in her bouncing Christmas headbands. The enormous mountains of presents took hours to unwrap. I’d help cook plates of food whilst continually sipping wine.. so was wobbly by lunchtime. Then an afternoon and evening of progressively more riotous and drunken games, not forgetting the annual family argument at some point! Eventually going to bed in the early hours, before repeating it all on Boxing Day. Christmas before PH was fabulous. Exhausting but fun.
But now I have PH. And as much as I’d like to cast aside my illness, dance through December and join in with everything.. I can’t. Through trial and error, mistakes and lessons, I’ve learnt that trying to replicate the Christmases of my past makes me ill. If I arrive days before the 25th, fill my diary with events on the lead on, or attend a party on Christmas Eve.. then I’m exhausted by the big day. If I try to help with the cooking, open presents in one long session, or listen to ‘Fairy tale of New York’ on full blast.. then I’m flaking before the turkey arrives. If I forget to rest, chat for hours with the guests, or surround myself with squealing.. then I have to call it a day after the Queens speech. And`if I make myself ill on the 25th.. then I’ll need to spend Boxing Day in bed as well! So instead I’ve worked out strategies to let me celebrate the holiday season fully, but without illness.
December the first is still the start of the festive season for me. However my build up is now much calmer and more peaceful. As I have limited energy, I choose which festive tasks are most important to me, and prioritise doing them. There is no rush or busyness, so I can complete them over a number of days. Reminiscing over ornaments whilst decorating the tree, playing the annual ‘Who has moved or had a baby?’ game as I write the cards, creating ribbon bows to don the wrapped presents. Gifts and food are bought over the internet, and delivered to my door, thus avoiding the crowds and the cold. Local Christmas lights are seen from the comfort of the car, or on a quieter weekday evening. Unlike before, I now have time to create Christmas crafts; sewing red and green bunting, gluing decoupage cards, stitching felt tree decorations. I now have time to cook festive food: sausage rolls, parsnip soup, mince pies, Christmas cake. Every afternoon is accompanied by a cup of tea and a Christmas film, or an hour listening to festive hits watching the twinkling fairy lights. We’ve created new rituals: attempting the BBC quiz of the year, reading “A Christmas Carol”, decorating the cake together. Occasional meets ups, meals or carol concerts are spread throughout December. And the final week before is reserved only for relaxing and resting.
Having learnt the lessons of the past, this year was the best Christmas I have had since being ill. We opted to spend the big day with our best friends in our own home. So the weekend before was spent celebrating with my family back in my childhood house. Without the rushing and activity, without the over-the-top excitement and squealing, without the extra visitors.. it was the ideal Christmas for me. The whole weekend was geared towards hanging out, catching up, and just being in each others company. Chatting and eating and chatting and drinking tea. I spent more alone time with my lovely nephews than ever before. Finding ‘lost’ coins with Jacob and his new metal detector, chasing ghosts with Luca in his Scooby Doo house, creating Christmas table decorations with them both. And as they now have the attention span to watch films, we could snuggle on the sofa together to watch festive cartoons whilst eating sour sweets: spending time with my nephews without needing to spend any energy. After dark we ventured out to admire the decorations at the local garden centre, and to visit Santa and his illuminated reindeer. It was perfect for me.
We had a wonderful real Christmas. It was fantastic to spend the celebration with our besties, and lovely to be in the comfort of our own home. We adored being able to share in the magic of a youngster on Christmas Eve: hanging his stocking, leaving out two whiskies (Ally and Phil), talking about Santa. Afterwards it was a cosy evening of laughing and chatting, eating great helpings of salmon, and excitedly putting the presents under the tree. Christmas day was laid back and peaceful: perfect for me. We sat in bed in our pyjamas, watching Nate open his stocking presents, drinking pretend bucks fizz and wearing festive headgear. We feasted on pancakes and croissants, before slowly unwrapping some of our presents. As there was nowhere to go, or no one else to see, the whole day was relaxed and calm. The extravagant meal was a group effort, however I was dismissed from duties so could instead spend my energy on chatting and laughing and playing. Slow cooked beef, perfect fluffy roasties, red brussel sprouts and leeks from my vegetable patch, a very flammable Christmas pudding. Later there was more presents to be opened, games to be played, funny photos to be posed, mince pies to be devoured. Despite feeling strong, I ensured I rested a couple of times, so for the first time felt well for the whole of Christmas day, and went to bed late. And amazingly, I awoke feeling alright on Boxing Day, with enough energy to muster up Eggs Benedict for everyone! It was another wonderful day of games and cake and toys and cheese. Tent making, pirate popping, coaster bridge building, sprout roulette. It was my perfect Christmas.
My Christmas celebrations have had to change since I got ill. Before I was an animated reindeer.. active and bustling. Now I’m a bauble on the tree.. calm and peaceful. Two different Christmases, but both truly enjoyed. Yes there are definitely aspects of my old busy Christmases that I really miss: school life, parties, drunken family nights. But instead of dwelling and missing, I have always chosen to look forward, to “adjust the sails”. And by adapting Christmas to suit my new needs, I’ve discovered Christmas crafts, festive cooking and the joy of sitting in the dark watching the twinkly fairy light!
It’s only 50 weeks until we get to do it all again!