Written by Zane Curwen-Walker
The holidays approach and we are thrust in to the frenzy of the festive season. The nuts and bolts of personal life come in to focus as we transition from our every day routine, to a routine of kicking back and celebrating, every day.
Plans are made to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, and the perfect amount of food and gifts. Everyone and everything, from allergies to relationship status, must be considered and accounted for.
It is all happening.
These will be some of the most interesting times of our year, spent with the most interesting relations we have. They’ll also present us with the most interesting reflections of our own character.
It’s time for family, and naturally, we’re thinking of a survival strategy that will get us to the New Year in tact.
Look, I get it. I’ve had “unconventional” Christmas days, which have become strangely happy memories. The stress of gifts has often evaporated any trace of Christmas spirit. Years of untangling my place in the family tree means I have an album of photos as varied as Bowie’s wardrobe. We have all spent New Years Eve unimpressed, alone and completely uninspired.
It’s the holidays and anything can happen. Just not necessarily anything we had planned.
We’ll strengthen family bonds, damage intimate relationships and lose loved ones in the days and weeks around Christmas and The New Year. Ram Dass said “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family”. Well, here it is. This is THE week.
So how do we survive? Or rather, how do we stop surviving and start embracing the performance?
One – like any good production, it’s all about the characters.
Two – being a character in the production, whether it’s a comedy or tragedy, means that you belong to something bigger than yourself.
Embracing the silly season comes down to accepting the characters and finding meaning in the stories. Every member of your family, including you, plays an important character in this story. It is being written all the time. While you can’t choose the ending, it will one day be significant to you all.
The humble Christmas lunch exposes our personalities unlike any other social occasion. Admit your own character and own it. Know thyself, that’s easy, right? The tricky part is recognising and accepting the characters around you.
Can you be in the company of this mixed bag of family-favourites and appreciate their unique traits without becoming frustrated and overwhelmed?
There are those who delight us, and those who distress us. Like every good melodrama your story needs heroes and a villains. Your family gatherings are a dynamic that require a balancing flow of tension to ease. Not to mention a large assortment of perspectives.
The radical-young-idealist needs the racist-old-grouch to keep the story rolling. Take delight in the uncalculated twists and turns the script takes as inevitably unfolds before you.
It’s an occasion to both know and be known by your nearest and dearest. Being known, if nothing else means that you belong. The mayhem of the holidays makes it easy to forget, but if you belong you are extremely lucky.
At lunchtime on December 25th, many people will be faced with the painful truth that they don’t belong anywhere.
Counselling bookings will rise with the heat over summer. Those who have become estranged from their families and friends start to question why they feel awfully sad and alone. We are social creatures and a sense of belonging is crucial to our health and happiness. Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. Or we wish that the forest was a little better, you know, a little more “perfect-family-portrait”.
A tree without a forest will sooner fall down and if you want to feel like a solo tree, blowing in the wind, try spending Christmas Day or New Years Eve alone. Believe me, it’s a bummer.
Appreciating the role you play in a story bigger than yourself, regardless of how you feel about the narrative, is pivotal in cultivating cheer and gratitude. Enjoying the theatre of the occasion is just an added bonus.
Survival requires a threatening situation and a desire to make it out alive. If you’ve got family, you’ve got reason to feel more than just alive. There may be some sketchy food and poor alcohol choices, but let’s not confuse this with life and death.
Yes, we will be tested, and we will test the people around us. Ultimately we are participating in the ritual of the occasion. A ritual designed to nurture relationships.
One day you’ll leave this world (shock!). When you do, all you’ll have left is your memories and connections.
Family gatherings gift us opportunities to grow and bond. Don’t panic and try to make it out alive. Take this chance to value each of these close family ties. Get to know deeply all of their intricacies and flaws. Recognise how each moment adds a new page to this endless story.
It’s not about the perfect day or a post-card family picture. It’s not about the food, gifts or who hasn’t done any washing up… again.
Really, it’s all about the story and the characters. Remember those two things and you will find a sense of gratitude for where you are and what you have.
Let’s not pretend it’s easy, but also don’t forget that it’s meaningful. You can end up merely surviving the encounter, or you can embrace this time with open arms. It all comes down to how you choose to read the play.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I hope you enjoy the show!
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