Social connectedness comes into it’s own around Christmas time. It’s the time of year when everyone reaches out to family and friends, absent and present, and seeks to reconnect. If you’ve ever lived away from home at Christmas time, you’ll understand acutely that feeling of displacement, of isolation, of missing out, even though you are surrounded by people. You could be relaxing on a beautiful beach in Thailand, or partying like a rockstar in Sydney, but it’s not the same. You’re not around those people who have been the bedrock of your existence growing up, and because of that you feel acutely isolated and disconnected.
‘Christmas isn’t a season, it’s a feeling.’ Edna Ferber
Tradition places a huge part in our perception of Christmas of course. If you have grown up in a place where Christmas means cold weather, jumpers and boots, turkey and stuffing and over-boiled brussels sprouts, they it doesn’t matter how juicy the scrimps are on the barbie, or how hot the sun is on your bikini-ed body, it’s just not right. Oh what fickle creatures we are, just like goldilocks and her bowl of porridge.
Growing up as the youngest in a family of ten children, Christmas was pretty magical. I feel pretty blessed to have been the youngest, and I know if any of my siblings are reading they will say that I was spoilt rotten. Maybe I was, but what can I say, I’m supremely lovable! What being part of such a big family meant though, was that everyone who had fled the nest returned home for Christmas, and as the youngest, that was what made it the most magical time of the year to me. The house was full of noise and chatter. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t the Waltons by any stretch! There was as much shouting as there was laughter at times.
‘Christmas is the day that holds all time together.’ Alexander Smith
But the beautiful thing about being human is that when we look back, nostalgia puts on it’s rose tinted spectacles and it fuzzies the memories, so that for me, Christmas time in our busy house felt like a time of belonging, of being safe, and being connected. The older ones were even more tolerant of their annoying baby sister who never shut up and was to be found in the middle of everything. Being curious and having opinions I like to call it.
There was a lot of chat in my family, and most of it tended to happen in the kitchen. We would perch ourselves on benchtops for lack of chairs, and the kettle was always on. As you can imagine, offering to make tea in my family meant you would invariably have to boil the kettle twice to accommodate everyone, and make your own last. The saving grace was that none of us took sugar.
Mam approached Christmas dinner in the most practicable way that she knew how to with ten kids. She did two sittings in the kitchen, the first for the elder five and the second for us younger ones. Christmas dinner is possibly the only time I have felt hard done by as the youngest. We would sit in the sitting room, watching Christmas TV or playing the Atari, depending on the year, and wait for the bang on the wall that meant dinner time for us. At the time I was only thinking about myself and the injustice of having to wait so long; I mean the elder ones were hardly likely to rush their Christmas dinner.
It was the importance of sitting down and eating together that was important to mam, and that’s why Christmas is so special to so many. Even those who no longer have or make time to gather round in the evenings to eat and share the stories of their day, do so at Christmas, and this reconnection around the table is what makes it such a magical time. We crave social connection whether we know it or not, and the festive season is a time where most other things shut down, at least for a few days, and all we have to do is sit and chat and eat, and be merry and connected.
‘Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.’ Dr Seuss
Have a lovely Christmas. I hope the chat flows as freely as the mulled wine. (I was going to say tea here, being a Tea Lady and all, but hey, let’s be real, it’s Christmas time!)
I’ll finish on an Irish blessing for the festive season
‘May peace and plenty be the first to lift the latch on your door, And happiness be guided to your home by the candle of Christmas.’
Nollaig Shona Dhuit