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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A Writer’s Confession To Her Family…

Dear Family,

There’s not a day goes by that I don’t feel the guilt for one reason or another. I love what I do and I will never stop doing it, but it does make me feel bad at times, to the extent I feel I need to apologise to you all. I also feel the need to make several confessions, so here goes…

 

  • A lot of the time, I’d rather be writing… I’m so sorry, this makes me sound like a monster and maybe I am one! This doesn’t mean I don’t love and treasure our moments together. Whether it’s mucking about down at the river, cuddling up for storytime, watching a DVD together or simply laughing. I do treasure those times, and I do savour and soak up every single precious moment whenever I can…But some of the other stuff? You know, helping with homework, doing the washing, making the dinner, playing certain tedious games, answering endless questions, going to the park…well, some of the time, but not all of the time, you understand, I sort of wish I was writing. I can’t really help it, so please don’t misunderstand. It’s not that I don’t love you all and adore being with you, it’s just that the writing has somewhat possessed me and taken over my mind.
  • A lot of the time, I can’t concentrate on this family stuff…Ugh, it’s true, and today was a fine example, forgetting my son’s sports day entirely until it was too late! But I did sit through two hours of clapping at Achievement evening for one of you last night and that will occur again for another next week…But I admit it is true, my head is not always where it should be. I know you all get fed up of me drifting off, not listening to you, forgetting things, being a bit dreamy and out of it. Truth, is I’ve always been that way! Now I’ve got to muddle along with the whole parenting thing as well, and sometimes it gets messy! I try my best. I’ve got my to-do lists and my calendar and my little notes scrawled on paper and stuck to the wall! I try and stay on top of things and most of the time I do pretty well! It’s not easy though. These stories and characters are living in my brain, demanding of me and I suppose it’s a bit like they hold me hostage, sometimes?drink-coffee-meme

 

  • Sometimes when you’re talking to me, I’m not really listening… Shameful to admit, but true! I think you guys are good at recognising the signs by now. My eyes glaze over. I get a dreamy look on my face. Sometimes you get cross and accuse me of not listening. Sometimes you make the most of it and get your revenge by administering your evil jump scares. I’m so easy to scare and scream like a baby which you all find hilarious, but the reason I’m so easy to startle is how far away I have drifted…It’s not deliberate, please believe me. It’s just some part of a plot or a character’s personality has clicked into place at the very moment I should be paying attention to you! I’m sorry!
  • Sometimes I use you in my writing and my books… Eek, sorry. Again,  not deliberate! A lot of the time it’s accidental and subconscious! I don’t always notice it until later. But I feel I can get away with this somewhat, as hardly any of you read my books!
  • You inspire me in ways you will never know… True. Two of you have inspired a new novel idea I really didn’t want! Thanks for that. But you will never know. Some of you have been weaved into my characters personalities, some of the things you’ve done or said over the years, some of the complex relationships and insecurities have helped shape characters. Sometimes one of you will tell me something or sing a song, or play some music, and bam. I’ve got an idea.
  • I wish I could talk to you more about my writing… Some of you are quite good at listening. Some of you even ask! Some of you try really hard not to sigh or roll your eyes when I’m repeating something about a storyline or a rewrite that I’ve probably bored you with a million times…Some of you never ask about any of it…Some of you hear way more than your fair share, but the thing is, I love talking about writing, which is one of the reasons I set up my writing group. I can at least offload on them and vice versa! Writers may be quiet folk but they love talking about writing!
  • Sometimes I count the minutes down to bedtime… Not every day, mind you! Just some of them! Confession, sometimes I start looking forward to bedtime in the morning! Usually, when there is a lot going on, I’ve started a shiny new project, or I’m dashing towards the finish line of novel writing, or I’m launching a book and it’s occupying my every thought…
  • Sometimes I wish you would leave me alone when I’m trying to write… Ugh, one time I even stuck a sign on the door; do not disturb! But none of you seem to get it. Writing time is precious to me and hard-won. Often it’s just the evenings, me trying to squeeze as many words in as I can before exhaustion wins. And then the tapping at the door starts. You traipse in and out constantly with various demands. Other relatives are just as bad at other times. I have one precious day a week when I can write almost all day, and I really, really don’t like to be disturbed!
  • I couldn’t do it without you… It’s true. I love you all really. Wouldn’t be without you in a million years. And with you all growing and changing so fast, becoming so grown up and independent, I’m reminded daily how ridiculously fast this life goes by. So I’ll hang onto you as hard and as long as I can…Just hope you can forgive me when my mind wanders away from you, or when the characters drown you out, or when the urge to write is like an itch I just need to scratch. I hide in my room and I tap away at the keyboard, feeding my addiction. I just hope I make it up to you the rest of the times!

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Character Interview; Flora from ‘Letters To Eloise’

Welcome to another character interview! Today I’m chatting to the lovely Flora, from Letter To Eloise by Emily Williams.

Enjoy!

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

I have many! I’m an over-thinker and this makes me a daydreamer and over emotional. You’ll read this in Letters to Eloise and understand! I get irritable and short-tempered when I know I’m in the wrong and I struggle to find the words sometimes to apologise. I turn to food (not a bad thing!) when I need comfort, especially biscuits and cheeses!

2) What are your most positive traits?

Hopefully, others will think that I’m a kind and loyal friend. I am fun loving and up for trying most things, which is a useful trait when starting university as there is many social activities and events to participate in. I am hardworking and dedicated to my studies and always down the library, but for those who have read Letters to Eloise, you’ll know that sometimes studying wasn’t on the agenda when I was there! Tut tut!

3) What are your current ambitions or dreams?

I’m hoping to finish university and take up a teaching place after my maternity leave. My ambitions have been slightly put on hold, but fear not, I will get back there and complete my childhood ambition of teaching children. I do dream that one day I’ll make amends with River, but we’ll see…

4) What are you scared of?

Absolutely everything, but mainly of missing opportunities. You’ll see in Letters to Eloise why I was scared of the future and being pregnant and alone at University. I wasn’t afraid of the pregnancy and of little Eloise, the rest of the future terrified me!

5) Who is your best friend and why?

I’d have to say Brooke (otherwise she’d kill me!) but it’s a close toss up between Brian and Brooke. Brooke is loyal and there for me one hundred percent but her ways of going about things sometimes leave me stifled. Brian struggles with communicating his feelings, except in a jokey way, but he is a true friend and is always there for me.

6) What do you think true love feels like?

Like jumping between big puffy clouds. Light and effortless.

7) Do you have any secrets?

That would be telling! I’m not good at keeping secrets unless they are really important to me.

8) Do you have any regrets?

I regret the way things have been left between myself and River. I wish more than anything I’d worked harder to make it work. I’m not sure, even if I had of, whether it would have made much of a difference but I regret not trying.

9) Where would you like to be 5 years from now?

Settled, happy and with a healthy and beautiful daughter. Anything else fades into insignificance.

10) How would you like to be remembered?

For my strength and for never giving in

 

10 Ways Writing A Book Is Like Raising A Child

 

This blog post is brought to you from the mind of a writer who has a three-year-old son who won’t go to sleep by himself. As frustrating as it is, his delightful refusal to fall asleep on his own, is entirely my fault. As my fourth and last baby, I have held onto him even tighter. This time, I ignored the advice I had struggled with in the past, I shunned the social norms and expectations and embraced what felt natural. So, he was breastfed to sleep until he was two and three months, and since then, I have cuddled up in bed with him and held him until he falls asleep. So of course, he has absolutely no clue how to drop off on his own. We tried working on it last week and it was horrible. There was crying and shouting and stomping about and general confusion for both of us. Inevitably, I gave in to him and to my heart and got back into bed with him. As I lay there, holding his half snoring, half sobbing body tightly to mine, I suddenly realised that a year from now he will be about to start school. I held him even tighter and as I gazed into his face I could have wept with the useless, torment of knowing this will all one day be over. And then I started thinking about writing books, preparing them and letting them go. I released my latest book The Tree Of Rebelson the 11th August after two years of work. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that writing books and raising kids have quite a few things in common…

  1. They occupy your mind constantly and completely. I sometimes say my mind is like a sieve these days. Utter mush. But in truth, it is just full of children and writing and there is not a lot of room for much else. If I am not thinking of,  worrying about or planning things for my children, then I am consumed with thoughts and fears and ideas of the fictional kind.
  2. You don’t want to let them go. Well, sometimes you do. When they drive you mad, when you’re at a complete loss as to what they need or want. When you’re tired, close to exhaustion, just want to escape, or have completely forgotten why you started this in the first place! But most of the time, letting go is hard. Almost impossible. I just spent two years making sure one book was good enough to meet the world. And as for the kids, I’m never going to be ready for that.
  3. You are always preparing to let go. Though you don’t want to, you know you have to. As a parent, bringing up your child to be a decent human being, is preparation for letting them go. From the moment you first hold them in your arms, you are making decisions that will affect how they turn out. You encourage them to walk and talk and run and climb. You send them to pre-school and teach them how to hold a knife and fork. You do all of these things because you know that one day they will be standing on their own two feet. It’s the same with writing a book. When you first start it feels impossible that it will ever be developed enough to share with anyone. It’s a mountain to climb. Followed by another one. But every draft, every edit, every rewrite, every proofread are all part of letting it go bit by bit.
  4. You know you must work hard for the end result to have a positive impact on the world. You don’t want to raise an arsehole. You don’t want to inflict a spoiled brat on the world. You don’t want to create a selfish, mean or ignorant human. There are already enough of those! Raising decent kids is a lot of hard work. You have to say no a lot, and you have to explain why you are saying no. You have to distract them from the thing you are saying no about. You have to be inventive, creative, spontaneous, organised and heroic. Writing a book is similar. You might not aim to change the world, but surely you don’t want to make the world a worse place?
  5. Inspiration works both ways. My children and our lives together inspire my writing. I write for them and because of them. Our journey takes me outside of myself and later allows me to fully wallow inside of myself. They have made me a better person and I want to be that better person for them. Being a writer also inspires me as a parent and a human. Because I love writing, I am interested in humanity and in the stories that make up a society. I hope this makes me more empathetic as a person, as I try, time after time, to get into the heads of other people.
  6. The work is never really over. You get to the top of the mountain, only to discover another one! The work is never over if you are a writer. There will always be another idea, another plot, another story to be told. The same applies to parenthood. They might fly the nest one day, but you are never going to stop worrying about them.
  7. But once it’s mostly done, you will have more time for the next project. When I go cold at the thought of my littlest one starting school, I remind myself how much more time I will have for other things, once he does. I can remember when my third child started school, I spent months dreading it and welling up at even the thought of it, and then, that summer, I started writing again. I had not written in years. But suddenly it was back and I needed it more than ever. I was suddenly excited. I had something just for me. I had a part of me back again! And the same thing applies to writing a book. You feel so many mixed emotions when you finally publish it, but what allows you to let go is the call of the next project, the next characters and so on. It keeps you excited.
  8. They will always be your baby. Kids grow up fast. They often move away from you before you are ready. Pulling their hand out of yours when they spot their friends. Saying they are too old for bedtime stories. It happens bit by bit. You watch them grow. You prepare to say goodbye. But even when they eventually leave home, just like the books you wrote, they will still be your babies. Forever. Nothing can change that.
  9. They came from inside of you. And I don’t just mean physically, although this is obviously true of both your children and your writing! I mean they were created and developed and matured with your thoughts, feelings, emotions and imagination. What is inside of you as a human, what makes you you, has had an influence on these offspring of yours.
  10. Creating them means you will live forever. Well, sort of. I like to think of it like this anyway. Passing your genes onto your children, as well as some of your experiences, stories, opinions, beliefs, means parts of you live on after you have died. The same could be said of writing books. Your words and therefore, parts of you and who you were, will continue to exist long after you do.

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