Monday, 11 December 2017

Even Christmas, by Deborah Jenkins

The annual clamber into Christmas has begun. Last night, Santa came collecting for the Rotary, there's snow up north and today I saw an elf in Aldi. Strangely, despite being quite behind with cards and shopping and having a houseful on Christmas Day, I am remarkably unruffled by it all this year. I suppose it's because after Christmas, we're moving, which seems so massive in itself that everything else pales by comparison. Even Christmas.

I have always loved this time of year, always enjoyed simple things to make a winter's day seem brighter - a bowl of holly, some tangerines, a pyramid of candles.

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year..." Charles Dickens

I don't aim for the perfect house or the faultless meal. But I do love an excuse to create a welcoming atmosphere, get together with family and friends, and give each other that elusive and much underrated gift - time. But, much to my annoyance, I still get drawn into all the fuss and hassle. I find myself standing in shops, frozen with indecision - chestnut stuffing or cranberry? Ready rolled icing or not? Crackers? I find myself theologically opposed to crackers - all that waste and really, no one ever keeps the tat inside, whatever I pay for them, so is there any point? It's basically money for paper hats. But I can already hear the roars of disapproval - What, Mum? No crackers?!? What were you thinking?? Of course I could try and make them again, but the results were so appalling - disintegrating toilet rolls and for some reason nobody wanting to shout BANG!  - that I can't face that either. So, feeling sadly Scrooge-like, I slide one of Sainsbury's middle-of-the-range-reduced packs of six into my trolley. Typically,we have 7 on Christmas Day but I can do without.

I decided a while ago to give up spiritual guilt at Christmas. By that I mean, I stopped making over-idealistic plans to rise at dawn and read an advent meditation before drifting around all day at home and work pondering the meaning of the incarnation with a beatific smile on my face and a prayer on my lips. Over the years, as a primary teacher, clergy wife and mum, I realised it just wasn't going to happen so I might as well give up trying. I see God in Christmas in other ways, in family and memory and tradition - the stuff of years. I find him in music and candlelight and battered Christmas stockings that I still lay out on the hearth, though we don't fill them any more. He's with me in the eyes of children as they sing carols or tell me excited stories of longed for gifts. I sense him in the shaking hand of that old lady in the supermarket as she carefully counts out coins to pay for a poinsettia. If I dwell on the meaning of His Coming, I tend to do it later, in that dear dead time between Christmas and New Year, when there are walks and reading and space for reflection.
Christmas is such an emotional time, filled with echoes, whether you want to hear them or not. This poem, written by my old friend and former youth leader, Paul Harris, summed it up well for me: -

Two adults and a dog put up Christmas Decorations
A step ladder dominates the room, legs splayed like a dancer,
a Singing Elf scares the dog
who growls at a hideous robin glued to a glittery log.
Chris is driving home for Christmas, Bing is dreaming, Aled flying.
Everything is here, treasure trove, rescued from the loft,
stowed, while it snowed in March and sweltered through June,
parental mementoes, artefacts, ghosts of Christmas past.
Il Divo harmonize, Old Blue Eyes croons.
Childish gifts from sons and their kids a generation later;
garish cards, misshapen reindeer covered in crepe paper,
cotton wool on Santa’s face, all in their allotted place.
So this is Christmas, peace on earth, joy and mirth.
Everything is here, echoes of children flown the nest.
The dog watches quizzically as they hold each other tight,
tears flow, the annual bitter-sweet advent ritual,
It’ll be lonely this Christmas without you to hold.
They laugh at themselves, wipe their eyes, don silly hats,
cue stoic laughter and fun,
and rueful acceptance they are getting old.
PCH Bournemouth December 2016 (used with permission)

That's exactly it: bitter-sweet. The bitterness of loss, the sweetness of memory, the sadness of flown children, the joy of their return, the pain of separation and the curious unsettling peace sometimes met in its embrace.
Feeling bold, I put another box of crackers in the trolley. Then I take them both out and replace them with a more expensive kind. And, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse God, who comes to us in a thousand ways today and every day, as she glances over her shoulder at me. And smiles...

Extravagant love makes the bitterness sweeter. Nothing should separate me from receiving and reflecting that love. Even Christmas. 

Click on the link to see the novella on amazon

Deborah Jenkins is a primary school teacher and freelance writer who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She also writes regularly for the TES. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on a full length novel. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in south-west London with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver. 


  1. A beautiful description of not just the bitter-sweetness of Christmas, but its confusion. The old and new, the lost and found, the absent and present. All make it far from simple, but your words, as ever, have cut to the heart of what's important. Thank you, Deborah x

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds the raw emotion of Christmas confusing at times. Thank you Jane x

  2. You describe this so well. I find Christmas an almost unbearable mixture of feelings and emotions, many of which I don't want to look at! Sometimes the only answer is another mince pie, except that it's really no answer at all. I will try to look towards God more often than towards pastry ;)

    1. Good plan. But don't feel guilty if you don't always manage it. There ll be times when He'll say Hello when you last expect it

  3. Honestly, Deborah, anyone would think you were a writer! Beautifully put, wise kindly thoughts, as always.

  4. The comments above say it all. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing.

    1. Thanks so much Veronica. I really appreciate you reading and commenting.