I suppose it’s a bit late now. I had intended to share a documentary of our Christmas day; how we rose, and celebrated and rested. But when I woke up that morning, I knew I didn’t want to pick up my camera, I didn’t want to record moments, I wanted to live only in them. So I logged off for the day, or a couple of days, or a week.
This Christmas has been a strange one for me- it’s come at the end of what has been a roller coaster year (the kind that does loop the loops, steep drops and hair raising twists) and a particularly difficult period of my life. I feel as though I’m at an awkward age where I’m a mess of emotion and confusion and I’ve found myself with quite too much responsibility when I haven’t quite yet come to terms with the fact I’m no longer a student. But this Christmas has taught me several things about myself that had always been at the back of my head and given me an idea of what this winter festival means to me.
It’s taught me that I dislike the notion of Christmas shopping. Not because I’m Ebenezer Scrooge, but because I’m fed up of witnessing people all around me stress about gift-buying and then compromising their personal financial security because social pressures say they must buy gifts. This year, I found myself among those people. I always want to make sure that I buy presents that people will appreciate, I spend a lot of time trying to consider each person on my gift list and what they may find useful or enjoyable so that I don’t give them something they’ll open and toss to one side into the ‘tat pile’. This year has been one huge financial drain which saw me empty my savings that I had put aside for our wedding hence our having to postpone it. By Christmas I certainly wasn’t in a good place to be buying lots of presents but I was gripped with this feeling of “Oh my goodness, I can’t not give people nothing! They’ll think I’m a scrooge, a skinflint and a miser,” And so I plunged far into my overdraft to see that the people I loved knew they were loved and hoped desperately that I hadn’t provided any ‘tat’ that would soon find its way to a charity shop.
Have you ever noticed that the moment Halloween has passed, the shops are stocked with Christmas gifts and reminders to make the most of shopping? Of course you have, it bums me out every single year. I worry that Christmas is beginning to lose it’s true message and instead has become drowned in an obsession with materialism and commodities, that the people who are doing the best out of Christmas are the big shops who are squeezing us for every penny. I’ve worked in shops and restaurants over Christmas before and I’ll never forget being told to press people to spend ‘the extra pennies’ and to up-sell and always focus on making sure people go away with more than they came in for. These tasks and requests from our higher-ups used to make me desperately unhappy because I don’t want to press people to spend, you just never know somebodies financial status.
So what does Christmas mean to me? A non-Christian? A twenty-five year old recent graduate floating in that netherworld between the working and middle class?
- Christmas is a lesson about goodwill and generosity: you don’t need to believe in Jesus to agree that the Christians have some excellent teachings. I’ve lived with a merry bunch throughout my time at university and they’ve taught me so much about hope, positivity, grace, forgiveness, unconditional love and let me tell you, those things are liberating. It’s tricky trying to navigate my own interpretations of faith and teachings but Christmas is a reminder that no matter who you are or where you come from, it’s a time to practice unconditional kindness and goodwill unto our fellows because we’re all in this messy puddle of life together and it’s just that bit nicer if we’re looking after each other, no strings attached. Good deeds speak more than great gifts, in fact, you could say that the greatest gift at Christmas is unconditional kindness.
- Let’s face it, the lights are really really pretty. If you’re a spacey little day-dreamer like myself, you probably spend a lot of time mesmerised by the twinkly strings of colourful bulbs. There’s something so lovely about decorating our homes and villages once a year to make them look that bit more magical. Christmas lights & wreath-clad-doors are one of my favourite highlights of Christmas, along with all the carols! Oh, and also… the Christmas sea serpent light at Mousehole deserves a special mention.
- The smell of Christmas trees…
- Delicious tasty drinks available – I’m very much into my food and beverages so I love it when I can sit by a fire at the pub with a mulled cider and a warm pie. I’d be lying if I said that Christmas wasn’t at least 30% about the tasty food for me.
- Community events – in Cornwall, we are very community operated. That means Christmas heralds a jam packed local events guide filled with village-pantomimes, festivals like Montol (Winter Solstice in Penzance) Stargazey Pie night in Mousehole and Christmas village fetes. We always love an excuse to get all of the villages together and catch up on the local goings-on, not to mention that comforting feeling or being a part of a huge family who are all super proud of their home.
- Midwinter – I guess this is actually the Solstice which is a few days before Christmas, but it means that the days are about to get longer again and that spring is (eventually) coming! I’m not a huge winter person but there is some sort of magic in midwinter that conjures up notions of skeletal trees against pale purple skies, evening stars and roaring log fires. The reality that it isn’t always a cosy, looking-trendy-in-knits affair and that quite often for us, winter is mild, grey, damp and mizzly but some days the moon is a glowing crescent against a pale sky and the owls are screeching nearby in the barn, the leaves are crunchy and frost-bitten and winter lives up to all of it’s dreamy expectations.
- Being thankful for the world I live in and the people that surround me. There’s no getting around it, Christmas is time for family and friends and being thankful for those pillars in our lives.
For me, Christmas isn’t a day, but a period that lasts throughout December. It’s a message and a season of joy and thoughts and goodness. Being somebody who tends to feel a little disorientated on dates like Christmas and my birthday (something to do with expectations) I’ve found myself really falling in love with Christmas eve these last few years.
This Christmas Eve, we met up with one of my best friends, Jess. She’s gone back to Bath to live so we don’t see each other much these days but we shared a truly special new years eve in Mousehole. We decided to open presents at one of our favourite West Cornwall Cafe’s “The Rockpool” which overlooks the eponymous tidal pool and mounts bay. It’s always so cosy and quirky as a space with a comfortable garden terrace that overlooks the bay and even in midwinter, the garden benches were still filled with snuggled up, scarf-clad people. We managed to snag the beach-hut which felt very festive inside; there were cosy cappuccinos, laughs and gifts to exchange and lives to catch up on. We even spotted a few Newlyn fishing boats coming in at the end of the day.
As the evening drew in, the sky impressed us with the most dreamy and whimsical of colours. It was like a watercolour painting, that sort of winter sky you dream about, the sort of winter sky that is painted in fairytale books that I read as a child. The village started to get extremely busy as it was Stargazey pie night; a yearly tradition in Mousehole. We decided to head home, although I’m intrigued and will definitely be back to experience this little Cornish West-Cornwall tradition. I’m also desperate to experience Montol festival next year which happens on the winter solstice but I have to confess, I failed at paying attention to the ‘What’s on guide’ this season and as a result, missed all of the cool things including the Falmouth Sea Shanty, Oyster Festival and Bolster Festival. I’m hoping that in 2017, I’ll take part in more of these because local Festival’s are one of my favourite things about living in Cornwall. The vibrant heritage and celebration of the passing seasons and myths attached to them.
2017 isn’t real; times and dates are man-made things put in place to organise our lives and society. The solstice, sunrises and sunsets, winter skies and traditions – those are very real things however. I try not to get too hung up on time but it captures me in it’s vice anyway. I do have goals and hopes for the new year, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to putting 2016 behind me. Maybe my resolution for the new year is actually to pay less attention to time and more on experiences and achievements as an ongoing narrative. Trying to pay less attention to ‘markers’ and focus on life as a journey with chapters. Time frustrates me and frightens me. I’m twenty five and that fact terrifies me. Five years till thirty. Then ten years till Fourty. It’s all going very fast indeed. Nope. The less I think about that the better.
Another Christmas has passed. Do I have any idea what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be celebrating in a years time? None whatsoever. Does that scare me? Maybe a little, maybe not. I’ve learned that expectations only ruin things. Surprises are my favourite.