With less than a week to go to Christmas, I am struggling to get into a festive mood. I am not normally a Scrooge-like character. Although I abhor the excessive commercialism of the festive season, I enjoy sharing food, stories and laughter with friends and loved ones; embrace the kindness of strangers that descends once they leave the frenzy of the high street; and look forward to Carol’s from Kings on Radio 4 and midnight mass. But at the moment, the seasonal merriness is a distant prospect.
A dose of gastric flu and an ear infection may account for my lacklustre mood but I suspect the emotional centrifugal forces that have been at play this year are more to blame. Although I have in the last 12 months dived into new adventures and learning; explored tantalising paths and opportunities; been blessed with great friendship and support; and found peace with a new direction in my life, there is no denying the sadness left by the untimely death of my father.
Although inconceivable in March and April, happiness and joy have returned to my life – and with amazing speed – but they whirl around in a continuous dance with grief and a profound sense of loss. Sometimes the exhilaration of the happy twirling and new moves win the day; sometimes the downward pull in the emotional rise and fall is crushingly strong. During the working week I often put a brave face on it but I have decided not to do so this Christmas time.
In the coming days, I shall be practising what I am learning from my tentative yoga meditation practice. I was always a reluctant meditator, preferring the yoga poses to the introspective aspects, but this year with the help of Marianne Elliott’s 30 Days of Yoga* I have started to developed a yoga habit that allows me to rest in motion, both physically and emotionally. So, rather than feigning merriment over Christmas, I shall allow myself to acknowledge both joy and sadness, let them be what they are – without judgement, indulgence or guilt – and then let them go for the moment.
With Mr M’s permission, support and encouragement I have also accepted that this Christmas will be what it will be. With this acceptance, the pressure to make it a “good one” has ebbed away enough to allow me to feel muted enjoyment whilst decorating the tree.
The feeling was not so much linked to its festive connotations but rather the memories that I unpacked with each decoration. The silver, white and glass baubles and trinkets mark the years since my move to England, both the happy and sad ones. The snow flakes are memories of my first yuletide in the UK; the indulgent fluffy shoes, the year after a painful break-up; the Victorian-style silver and glass baubles, Christmas in the first home I made with Mr M…
As I hung these decorations in the tree, it occurred to me that this year I feel greater connection with the festival’s pagan roots rather than its Christian origins. Whilst the feast of the nativity has been central to this season for as far back as I can remember, accepting the dark nights in the certainty that the sun will return feels more pertinent this Christmas. So in this spirit, rather than buying a couple more quaint baubles for our collection, I have invested in some new candles. Little white ones that bring more flickers of light into our home and are a nod to the comforting practice of lighting votive candles – a ritual of hope and thanks I embrace whatever the time of year.
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* If you are looking for a last-minute gift for a loved one, consider offering one of Marianne Elliott’s 30 Days of Yoga courses as a gift. Her e-courses are suitable for beginners and advance yoga practitioners as they can be used as a gentle introduction or an add-on to a more extensive practice. Marianne’s “guided” courses have turned my ad hoc yoga sessions into a sustainable practice. Moreover, she has helped me focus on, even enjoy, all the points that got lost in public classes like the power of breath and the benefits of Savasana (the resting at the end of a session that workaholics often skip) as well as view meditation as an obvious, integral and inevitable part of yoga (rather than the scary bit I ignored).