The Spirit Of Christmas For Non-Believers

Quite a few years back when my eldest daughter was around 8 or 9 years old, she came home from school upset and cross because her teacher had told her that people who don’t believe in God or Jesus should not celebrate Christmas. I was pretty pissed at the time, not least because it’s a rather cruel thing to tell a young child, who had no say at that age over her families choice of religion or lack of.

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I’ve never been religious. I was not raised with a religion, and neither was my mother or her mother before her. Like everyone else, I learned about the different religions at school and I understood that the predominant religion in England was Christianity. This meant that we had to sing hymns in school assemblies and say prayers.

I often wondered if God was real at that age, and I used to say the odd awkwardly hopeful prayer when I wanted something, but that was about it. Of course, as I grew older I thought about religion in more depth and like the rest of the family, I concluded happily that there probably was not a God. I won’t go into the ins and outs of this thought process, as this isn’t a post about atheism or religion. I’m perfectly happy with the idea of no God or Heaven, and though I am also prepared to keep an open mind about anything and everything, I can’t say any religion or indeed any religious person has ever been able to convince me otherwise.

This is a post about Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, as we see played out in every school nativity across the country at this time of year. (Even though I don’t buy the story, I do get tearful every time I watch small children in a nativity!) But if you’re not Christian, or indeed religious at all, then why celebrate Christmas? What’s the point? What’s it all about?

My husband finds it hard to justify. He also grew up in a non-religious household and he finds it hard to understand the yearly fuss and stress that comes with Christmas. He sees it as consumerism and materialism gone mad, and he’s probably right. Our poor planet could do without the extra plastic and packaging that goes on at this time of year. So, if we want to reject all that, and we’re not religious either, then why celebrate Christmas?

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Well, my reasons are personal and I’m going to list them below. Not because I feel I have to justify anything to anyone, but because I think it’s an interesting subject and because it’s what sprang to mind when I thought about writing a Christmas related blog post!

  1. All my favourite parts of Christmas stem from the Winter Solstice …  The way various cultures have celebrated the Winter Solstice led to so many of our Christmas traditions. Pagans, for example, would mark the shortest day of the year by slaughtering cattle so that they would not not have to feed them over the hard winter months, and at this time the wine and beer were fully fermented, hence the traditional feasting we know so well. The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian tradition from Scandinavia, and is where we get the word yule from. Fires were lit and a log was dropped into the hearth as a tribute to the Norse God Thor. Saturnalia was the ancient Romans way of celebrating the Winter solstice, and involved banquets, gift-giving and a party atmosphere. So many of the traditions we associate with Christmas are pagan in origin or have evolved from ancient cultures marking the shortest day. The Christmas Tree, wreath, holly and ivy, fires, candles, feasting, and giving to charity to name but a few. I wish I’d known this when I was younger, but I was able to explain this to my daughter when she was upset. I suppose technically if you’re going to celebrate the Winter Solstice in this way then you ought to do the whole thing on the shortest day of the year and not on the 25th. My son wanted to do this last year, but instead, we decided to mark the shortest day with pagan inspired ideas and save our gift-giving for the 25th. So this Winter Solstice we will be making bird feeders and hanging out for the birds, bringing in holly, ivy and fir cones to decorate the house, making a chocolate yule log, lighting a fire and putting together our Winter Solstice altar.
  2. Christmas is a time for nostaligia and I love a bit of that… It’s the end of the year. We all slow down a bit. The kids are off school, there are days off work, and more time than usual to sit and reflect. There is something so nostalgic about this time of year and I think it affects us all. We can’t help but look back on Christmases of the past, the good and the bad. I always think back to my childhood Christmases, and of course, over the years I have copied some of the family traditions we had then with my own kids. I talk to my kids about Christmases that stick in my mind and I smile sadly and think about the food we ate back then, the relatives no longer with us, the things we watched on Tv. It;’s no wonder I get a bit emotional this time of year!
  3. Christmas is a time for giving… My eldest daughter has just turned 16 and for the first time this year she went out shopping without us and bought us all a present using her own money. we have no idea what she got us, and I and my husband were so surprised an touched by her thoughtfulness. This is the first time one of the kids has used their own money to buy something for the family and I think it’s lovely. What’s even more lovely is how excited she was about it! I think she’s now at the age where she realises that choosing thoughtful gifts for your loved ones is actually way more exciting than receiving them. This is something that comes with age and maturity. When you’re a little kid you just want the presents! As you get older, you begin to find true joy in choosing gifts for the people you love, things that will mean something to them and let them know how you feel about them.
  4. Christmas is a time for hope… It is an optimistic time of year. People tend to be more forgiving, thoughtful and reflective. As the year draws to an end, we look forward to the next one and think about how we want it to be. Perhaps we want to make changes, try new things, make amends, and even do our bit to make the world a better place.
  5. Christmas is a crazy, often tacky, quite bizarre, exciting, nostalgic, reflective chaos and if you’ve got kids it’s even more so… Christmas changes. It doesn’t stay the same. When you’re a little kid it’s all excitement and jumping up and down and hanging out your stocking and writing to Father Christmas…Then when you grow up a bit and enter your teens and early adulthood it becomes less about family and more about friends. I remember some great Christmases around that age, hitting the pubs and clubs, all dressed up and sparkly, and swapping silly joke presents with my friends! It becomes about drinking and hangovers. Then you have kids of your own and it changes again. You bring back traditions you loved as a kid, and you create your own. You spend all year picking up things you know they will love. You thrive on their excitement as the big day gets closer. You happily feed the frenzy of Santa’s sleigh bells and reindeer and leaving out milk and cookies, and watching Elf and Home Alone. You get to do it all again! And then I imagine, as they get older and grow up and leave home, it changes again. I quite look forward that sometimes, as much as I adore the current crazy we have at this time of year. I sometimes imagine me and my husband as old people, slowing down, enjoying time together, drinking some home-made cider and wine and falling asleep in front of the TV.

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So, there we have it. Reasons I love Christmas and have always loved it despite not being remotely religious. I think this is a special, sparkly time of the year for anyone who enjoys it. I think the trick is to think about what it means to you and go with that. It can be a weird and stressful time of year, but it really doesn’t need to be. At the end of the day, all you really need are your friends, family, some good food and a drink or two! I absolutely love this time of year, although I’ve had my fair share of horrible Christmases and many moments of wondering what the point is. I don’t stress about it at all now. I do it exactly the way I want to do it and love every moment. Merry Christmas folks!! Have a good one!!

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10 Ways I Eliminated Stress From Christmas

It sometimes feels to me like two types of people exist in the run-up to Christmas. There are the ones who love Christmas, who embrace each and every part of it, who put their tree and decorations up in November (I don’t get that!) and who adore every single tediously over-played Christmas song. They love Christmas shopping because they love shops! Because they love people! They are full of the joys and the jollities and don’t understand why others are so bah-humbug about it. Which brings me to the miseries. Snapping and snarling at anyone who mentions Christmas too soon. Rolling their eyes if Tesco has mince pies for sale in September. Then they’re running about scowling and muttering, barging others out of the way as they try to get their Christmas shopping done last minute. They don’t enjoy Christmas. They find it stressful! And it can be stressful, let’s face it. I’ve had my share of stressful Christmases. Ones I wanted to be over before they had even begun. I’ve had tears and tantrums and regrets, and plenty of muttering under my breath; I’m doing it differently next year! We’re all searching for the perfect Christmas as portrayed in the ads and the movies, yet we all know it doesn’t exist! So why do we try?

I have chipped away at Christmas induced stress over the years and every year it gets better and less stressful. Why? Well, let me tell you what I did!

  1. I Stopped Cooking A Turkey – I’d spent too many years watching that damn bird cook in the oven, taking up all the space, causing all the stress about whether it’s cooked properly or not, or is going to be ready on time. Then one year my husband said, why do we even buy one? We don’t even like it. And he was right. We don’t eat turkey any other time of the year. Given a choice, when I was a meat-eater, I would have preferred chicken every time. Why did we feel we had to be slaves to a tradition? So we stopped and replaced it with meat we did like, such as chicken and lamb. My eldest and I are vegetarian so we make veggie pies. It’s been about eight years since I last tried to cook a stupid massive, dry, boring turkey. Less stress! turkey-1917130_640.jpg
  2. I Got Strict With Relatives – when I was a kid I loved a big family Christmas. Nan and Grandad and Uncle Colin, Mum and Dad, us four kids and big sister’s boyfriend all around the table together. Such fun! But it wasn’t bloody fun for my poor mother, was it? I soon learned this the hard way. Over the years we’ve had various relatives around at Christmas, and we’ve slowly become braver at establishing ground rules. Such as, you won’t still be here eating and drinking and keeping the baby awake at 11pm. We used to feel guilty, but we don’t anymore. This is our family and our time and we’re quite happy to have people over and feed them, but it has to be within a set time. Come at this time, go at this time. We need our time to slop about in pjs and watch films together, just us. It was horrible when we first had to mention it, but now it’s fine and we never get anyone outstaying their welcome
  3. I Have A Christmas Notebook – I’ve done this for years and it saves me so much stress and time! Quite simply, it’s a notebook which rolls through a fair few years and when it’s full I start a new one. I write the year on a page, and on the following pages, I write who I’m buying for and what I will buy them. There is a stocking list page for the kids and a Christmas Eve box page, a main present page, a page for my husband, a page for my mum, other relatives and so on. When I buy something I tick it off the list, even if it’s something really tiny for a stocking. I know I’ve done it then and I stay on track. I started doing this about ten years ago, I think. I used to just buy presents, chuck them in the cupboard and then have to get them out to count them every now and then, or to check what I had bought. Now, it’s all in the notebook! Easy!
  4. I start buying in January – I don’t go mad, but if I see something cheap or reduced, or something that won’t go out of date like pens, or socks, for example, I’ll grab it and stick it in the cupboard. I then start seriously in June and ramp it up another notch in September. Each year I’ve finished earlier than the year before. I hate shopping, so I like to get it done as soon as possible.
  5. I buy most of it online – Pretty much all of it actually. I hate shops and people and crowds at this time of year so I avoid them entirely and do it all online. Sitting at my desk in the warmth and comfort of my own home, with a cup of tea on the go, I can browse the net and get the best deals and research what to get people and get through it all pretty easily. Thank goodness for the internet. I can still recall the nightmarish Christmas shopping trips before online shopping. Ugh.
  6. I wrap up as I go along – Okay, actually it was one of my daughters who started this. She gets so excited about Christmas she likes to start wrapping in October so I let her! She doesn’t wrap her own obviously but most days she wraps up a few things for me, which means there is hardly anything to do come Christmas Eve. I spent far too many Christmas Eve’s sat on the floor with cellotape stuck between my teeth, running out of wrapping paper and losing the scissors! Now that never happens because it is all done.
  7. I’ve cut down what I buy and simplified it – My kids are good and they don’t ask for much anyway. But other years have seen me stressing out about what to buy other people, you know, the ones who always say ‘oh nothing’ when you ask them. Or the ones who already have everything they need. I used to worry about what to buy them but I don’t now. If I can’t think of anything cool and they haven’t asked for something specific then they get a voucher. Sorted. I’d rather spend the brain time thinking about what to get my kids.
  8. We started our own traditions – Christmas is such a time of traditions, and I do like this aspect of it. But the trick is to shake off the ones that annoy or stress you and invent your own! A few years back I saw a thing on Facebook about Christmas Eve boxes. I always gave the kids pjs on Xmas eve anyway,  and I really liked the idea of packing up a book and some hot chocolate or something too so I started it. We’ve been doing it for about five or six years now I think and the kids love it! This was never a thing when I was a kid but hey, traditions can change! Last year we started a new one. Secret Santa. We put our names in a hat and everyone picked out a person to buy a present for secretly. We all got £5 and the only rule is it had to be something that person would appreciate. This was so much fun and we made sure to leave the Secret Santa presents to the end of the day when everything else was over. We’ve done it again this year and I think we always will. My 10-year-old son asked me if we could also celebrate Yule and the winter solstice this year so we are. We researched ways to do this and have made a list of ways we can celebrate this time of year, such as bringing logs and greenery into the home, doing some baking and arts and crafts and giving back to nature by decorating a tree with bird food. We can’t wait!ivy-456550_640.jpg
  9. I don’t do Christmas cards – I stopped giving people Xmas cards about 6 or 7 years ago. It just seemed so silly! If I see you a lot, I can say HappyChristmass. If I see you on the day, why do I need to give you a card as well? And if I hardly see you at all, isn’t there a reason for that? I don’t want trees to be cut down for this wasteful silliness! I can see why it would have been nice when the Victorians invented it. They didn’t have phones, emails or social media. There are so many ways to wish people happy Christmas these days, why do we feel the need to slave over a giant pack of cards, dutifully crossing people off a long list? Cut out the stress and stop doing cards. No one cares if you do, I promise.
  10. I don’t buy much food – I used to write extensive lists of things I thought we had to have. The world would end if we didn’t have these things! A tin of Quality Street, a box of Roses, a family box of biscuits and so on. Why??? I’ve cut it right down. I don’t want all that crap in the house. Yes, we will have some candy canes and chocolate decorations on the tree and yes the kids get a tube of sweets and chocolate coins in their stockings. I’ll buy the meat and vegetables for the roast dinner and the crackers and cheese etc for the evening meal. I’ll make sure there is hot chocolate and squirty cream and there will be something a bit nicer for breakfast too, like brioche or croissants. The kids get bought chocolate by other people, so I really don’t need more in the house. I’ve had years where the unhealthy food dragged on for weeks after the day, making us all feel yukky. Not anymore. We don’t need to have a house crammed full of food just because it’s Xmas! I do make my own Xmas cake and mince pies and we also make our own gingerbread creation. That is more than enough!gingerbread-house-2538660_640.jpg

So, there we have it. One happy, peaceful, silly, family Christmas. It took me years to achieve this but now it feels like the norm. I told my daughter that I was blogging about stress at Christmas, and she replied with ‘but we don’t have any stress at Christmas.’ Yay!

Over to you guys. What stresses you out about Christmas? Have you changed things over the years to ease the pressure, and if so what? Please feel free to comment and share!

Character Interview- Tsingsei Gold

Morning folks! With Christmas just around the corner, many of you lovely bookish types might be thinking about buying books for your loved ones. With this in mind, myself and my friend indie author Kate Rigby are holding a little Christmasssy event today over on Facebook. The Christmas Pop-Up Book Shop will be full of links to paperbacks by fantastic authors. Authors, feel free to add your links throughout the day, and readers, please come in and browse the shelves. We will be leaving the event up for a few days so that you can pop in and out and not have to worry about missing anything. We will also be posting some other things of interest, such as giveaways, competitions, and character interviews. Here is one such thing. Indie author Shalaena Medford is the author of the thrilling fantasy novel The Worst Dyrkon  and the adventure-packed steampunk series Those Who Wander

Character Interview – Song (Tsingsei Gould)

1. Do you have any negative character traits and if so, what would you say they are?

Well, that’s hardly a proper thing to ask, now isn’t it? Though, Leslie says I’m prideful. Oh, and Altain said I eat like a derby horse, is that a bad thing? Dash is getting tired of the ‘rude behavior’ Toothy has taught me, but I don’t see the problem with it. Oh, that’s right, I can be very impatient. But I mean, besides those teensy things I don’t think that—oh, and I can be a little reckless, can’t I?—but I really don’t have negative character traits.

2. What are your most positive personality traits?

I’m very loyal, I’d say. Determined. A fast learner. I’m good at making friends—though I’m better at making enemies.

3. Tell us what your current most pressing ambition or dream is?

I’ve got to find Captain Darian. When I do, I’m going to kill him. If Altain is dead, I’ll torture Darian first. If he’s alive…well I might torture him anyway just for what he’s done. But I might give him a piece of cake as thanks for getting me into this life and forcing me to be adopted into this family. But of course, then I’d just go back to the torture. And then I’ll kill him. Either way he’s a dead man.

4. What are you most afraid of?

I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to be Tsingsei anymore. I don’t want to be a Gould. I’m a pirate, not an aristocrat. It’s who I am.

5. Do you have a best friend? If so, why this person?

I don’t really think I do. Altain is gone, and before we could really get close. Leslie is my partner and teacher, so I don’t think he counts. Dashaelan is the father I never had. Thumbs, well, he only likes me because I’ll eat anything he puts in front of me (but that’s just because it’s always delicious). Hmm. I think I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

6. Have you ever been in love?

Never. Maybe one day, I don’t know. Right person, I suppose? All that rubbish. But it’s not going to happen on a pirate ship, now, is it?

7. Have you ever committed a crime?

Which one haven’t I committed at this point? Let’s see, piracy, theft, torture, murder, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, destruction of property, treason, grand theft zeppelin. I’m sure there are others, but you’d have to ask a constable.

8. Do you have any secrets?

Everyone’s got secrets. Out in the world my secret is my true identity, but back home my secret was my love of women. But I don’t keep much from my crew, they’re my true family.

9. Do you have any regrets?

I wish I’d been stronger…

10. How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as… Not as Tsingsei Gould. When I go down, I’ll be going out in glorious combat—or hanged, if I’m being realistic. Either way, I don’t want to be written in the history books as just some senator’s daughter. I want to be remembered as a great pirate—with a high bounty, of course.

Thanks so much to Shalaena (and Song!) for this fantastic interview! If you want to find out more about Shalaena’s books, her Amazon link is below;

Shalaena’s Books