As the weather turns colder and the evenings draw in, the decoration on every high street and department store is inevitably replaced with the glittery, bauble-festooned swags which herald the whirlwind season of Christmas, the most magical and the most stressful time of year. Social Media is buzzing with responses, positive and negative, to the Christmas advert from John Lewis & Partners. As Forbes contributor and CEO of Ideasicle.com, Will Burns, says, it “...re-frames how a customer might look at gifts...” What if we re-framed how we look at Christmas?
The Christmas Performance
Over the last few years, I have realised how overwhelming the need to perform over the Christmas season is, so this year I am determined to ‘re-frame Christmas’. When I was a child, I loved the Christmas season; the warm glow which swirled around our house, my mum’s festive cooking and homemade mince pies; carols and choir music and our tree full of homemade ornaments. As an adult, I couldn’t wait to begin creating traditions of my own, but this year I am looking more closely than ever at the value and purpose of my traditions. How can I keep the right focus through the lens of my life?
To do or not to do?
Firstly, I need to tackle the large list of stressful, rushed and jam-packed “have-to’s.” The children won’t remember exactly how many mince pies I cooked, how many different vegetables were served for Christmas lunch; they will remember the time we spent together and the love we shared. So, together as a family, we are making a list of things we truly enjoy doing around the holidays. Hot Chocolate with a candy cane, walking around the neighborhood to look at lights, gingerbread cookies; such little joys, but things that matter most to the children. These are the things I will make my number one priority – the moments we will treasure for a lifetime. I will ask myself: Are we having fun? Is this meaningful? Is this working for us?
Secondly, I will not throw a big Christmas party at my house for all my friends and neighbours, but instead give them a call, visit or have them stop by individually for some cookies and coffee and conversation sometime during the month. Quality time where they will know how much I value their friendship and love – not a gift which, as George Monbiot so powerfully writes, will “seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill.” I will show them my love through my time and genuine pleasure in their company.
Why I can’t be Elton’s mum
Thirdly, I absolutely adore this advert. It's one of my favourite songs and it really touches my heart. However, this year, I must resist the all too persuasive tone of adverts such as the John Lewis one – are we really convinced that "Some gifts are more than just a gift...?” Maybe I should be, but the gifts I need aren’t for sale in any department store. What is so powerful about the John Lewis advert is that, like Elton's piano, it suggests that a gift has the potential to take on a thoughtful and transformative mission in someone else's life. Shouldn’t I aspire to give gifts like that? Don’t my children deserve their own ‘piano’ which will hold the key to their future success? For Elton, the gift of a piano was, we now know, a gift of gold records, of fame, of knighthood and so much more. But at the moment the gift was given, it was just a mum wanting to make her child happy at Christmas. I am that mum too; I want to see their happy faces alight with joy as they unwrap their gifts, but they won’t want a stressed-out mum, burdened with debt and swimming in non-recyclable plastic toys.
So this Christmas, I will give time, love and memories. There will be presents under the tree, but they will be purposeful, useful and respectful of the planet. There will be a lovely Christmas meal – but not at the expense of being present with the children. I will take the time to breathe in and out and be thankful for all the wonderful memories and lessons I have learnt this year. So as the Christmas songs begin to play on the radio, the ornaments call from your storage containers in the loft and that demanding to-do list starts forming in your head, remember to take a deep breath and go easy on yourself. Decide what 'have –to’s' really have to be done. Let the rest go and enjoy this time with your family.