I am a Christmas person. Every year, I watch with delight as the first signs of festivity creep onto the high street – as shop windows transform into snowy displays and twinkling lights begin to appear on every lamppost. December is one of my favourite months of the year: I value the lead-up to Christmas almost as much as I do the day itself. In short, it is the holiday in which I feel most at home.
But this year, things are different. The lights are up, the adverts are on TV and the advent calendars are well on their way to completion, but no matter how hard I try to engage with it all, I can’t muster the child-like excitement I usually feel at this time of year. For the first time in my life, I’m struggling to feel festive.
As someone who prides themself on their ability to see the bright side of things, it feels uncomfortable to admit. I hate to be the person putting a dampener on things, but I also know I’m not the only person feeling this way.
2020 has been a year of inconceivable loss. I’m not just talking about the thousands of people who have lost their lives, although that loss feels particularly raw at a time traditionally reserved for family.
In varying degrees, every single one of us has lost something this year – whether that be jobs, relationships, businesses, routines, plans, money or time. No matter how much we want to feel festive at Christmas, the grieving process associated with those losses continues to dominate our everyday.
There’s also the fact that the backdrop against which Christmas falls this year is anything but cheery. With coronavirus cases rising in most areas of the country and the vaccine rollout only just beginning to get underway, we’re having to come to terms with the fact that things will get worse before they get better and adjust our Christmas plans to keep our loved ones safe. With this in mind, it’s understandable that the feeling of safety and comfort that many of us associate with Christmas feels tainted this year.
Although I’ve struggled with the fact that the festive joy I’m used to feeling at this time of year may not materialise as I expect it to, I’m trying my hardest to remind myself that no matter what my emotions decide to do before the 25 December, those feelings are valid.
It’s all too easy to forget just how much strain our minds and bodies have been placed under this year – but doing so is crucial if we want to look after our mental health this festive season.
Setting boundaries is always valuable, but giving ourselves permission to change traditions, shift plans and do what makes us feel good has never been so important after 2020.
As author and mental health advocate Matt Haig rightly pointed out in a recent tweet, “compulsory fun isn’t always fun” – doing what you need to do to unwind after a stressful year is a valid way to spend your time.
So if you’re struggling to feel festive this Christmas, try not to beat yourself up about it. Not feeling merry, positive and upbeat isn’t some kind of failure – it’s a completely normal response to the circumstances we’ve faced over the last nine months.
As the year comes to an end, we have an opportunity to spend some time doing what we need to recharge – and now more than ever, that’s exactly what we all deserve.