When he realises that the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come have done their work all in one night, and not over the course of three consecutive days, as originally promised, Ebenezer Scrooge is both surprised and delighted. I love this story, but I always thought that, despite his conversion, at this point Scrooge still has a lot to learn about Christmas.
To me it was always clear that at Christmas, more than any other time of year, the past and present existed together, in equal measure, prevailing in the same moment, informing every second and colouring every memory. As I watched Oldest Son, Youngest Son and Youngest Daughter laughing as they decorated the tree together in a rare moment of co-operation this year, it was impossible not to remember the year, long before Youngest Son was born when, aged one and two, Youngest Son and Oldest Daughter would undecorate the tree every single time they were left along in the living room – with Oldest Son removing each and every bauble whilst Youngest Daughter solemnly, and silently (she didn’t really speak much until she was three) held the container that he was putting the baubles into. As the kids dutifully donned this year’s Christmas jumpers, they were accompanied by the ghosts of Oldest Son, aged three, dressed in a Santa suit to deliver Christmas cards with E, and Youngest Daughter dressed a Christmas tree bauble for her first ever school ‘nativity’ (to twist a line from Love Actually – in this play there was more than one bauble present at the birth of Jesus). Wherever I am when I hear Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love, I will always also be holding a five-week-old Oldest Daughter on Christmas Eve and singing it to her, forever feeling that overwhelming burst of love I felt for my baby and the warm weight of her as she falls asleep on my shoulder.
At Christmas, for me, the past is always present. Its usually a comfort – a reassuring presence, a reason for the traditions that we establish as a family, something that ensures my children will probably celebrate Christmas with their future families in a similar way to the way we celebrate now. Even the Christmas I struggled through after I found out about E’s affairs was helped and soothed by following the traditions we had established. Despite the fact that I was hurting and worried sick about what was coming, there was still comfort to be found in following the rituals of the past and retreating into memories of happier times.
Of course, things did shift imperceptibly that year. Before, New Years Eve was normally the first time I gave any serious thought to the future, and that was usually in a positive, ‘I wonder what this year will bring’, sense. Christmas 2016, though, was very different as, for the first time, I was haunted by the Spirit of Christmas Yet To Come, and for the first time, the future didn’t seem tantalising and mysterious, it seemed dark and frightening and was a door I didn’t want to open. Since E left, I’ve been aware of the simultaneous presence of Past, Present and Future in everything, but particularly at Christmas.
E’s decision to not pay any money in November and December (and, quite possibly, never again until I do what he wants and sell the house), has felt particularly cruel in light of the fact that it’s Christmas. It has plunged me into considerable debt (doubling the amount I already owed) and threatened my ability to put food on the table for the kids and me. It’s been a dark shadow that’s hung over every moment in the run up to Christmas, shading the things that we normally love, like buying and decorating a tree, buying and wrapping presents and even watching the usual round Christmas films. In lots of ways it’s felt like living in a nightmare. I’ve carried on usual – headed to work, tried to find more work, cooked meals, cleaned the house, shouted at the kids to tidy their rooms – but the whole time, my brain has been working overtime, trying to work out what I can do to keep us afloat, trying to work out what I ever did to deserve this, trying to reconcile the hurt I’m still feeling about the affairs and the betrayal with the pain caused by knowing someone can do something so utterly callous and nasty to my children and I. It’s meant that a terrible fear for the immediate future has invaded my Christmas and overwhelmed the usually comforting mix of past and present that makes Christmas so special.
However, if E’s actions have threatened to make this Christmas the most difficult I’ve ever faced, despite that, its actually become one of the most wonderful I’ve ever experienced – thanks to the kindness and generosity of my amazing friends and family.
Over the last year or so I’ve been overwhelmed by how incredible the people who surround me are. I’ve received so many gifts and gestures of friendship and support, from little things like fluffy socks, to the donation of a car (yes, an actual car!) from friends who were relocating from the UK to Germany. I’ve been given a bike and treated to a spa evening, a cinema trip and theatre tickets, all by friends who have seen me struggling and have wanted to help. I am incredibly lucky, and that’s kept me going through the darker times that this year has thrown at me. This Christmas, this generosity has continued, and, since E stopped paying the money, food parcels and supermarket shops paid for by friends, have literally kept food on the table and, thanks to several anonymous financial gifts, have also kept the wolf that is my bank, from the door.
I cannot adequately express how grateful I am to all the people, some of whom I’ve been able to thank face to face, others – those who have been anonymous – who I’ve been unable to thank properly, who have helped this Christmas. It’s been overwhelming and humbling. I’m not sure I’m deserving of such kindness, but I’m so very thankful for it. It’s taught me how wonderful people can be, and it’s made what might have been a very hard Christmas, a very special one indeed. It’s shown me what Christmas Spirit really is.
Merry Christmas Everyone.