That, I think, is the power of ceremony. It marries the mundane to the sacred. The water turns to wine; the coffee to a prayer.Robin Wall Kimmerer
Christmas in the time of a global pandemic means that many of us will be looking at a season which looks a lot different from that which we would traditionally enjoy. If you find that you’re facing the day alone, a long way from home, or perhaps with only one or two members of your household where normally your Christmas would be a huge affair of family and friends and feasts, I’d like to offer some words of comfort and advice.
Many years ago I found myself in a situation where I was away from my family and all alone at a time where everyone else had gone home to family. The house I shared with friends was empty but for me. I found myself emotionally desolate, lonely and feeling like a total loser that I had no-one to share a meal with. My isolation made me feel depressed and miserable, and I wondered how I would get through the few days on my own.
And then I remember the advice that my Great Aunt Gwen (Gwendolyn Nelson-Watson) gave me when I was still a young girl at high school.
Aunt Gwen told me about a period where she travelled overseas after the Great War. Her fiancé had been killed in the War and she had gone to visit some of the places where she knew he had been before he died. She took a small room in London, not knowing anyone, and had to spend Christmas on her own, far from home and alone. When she had begun to feel pity for herself, she decided that it was not fair to all the men and women who had died in the war and who would never know another Christmas. So Gwen made a pact with herself to make the day meaningful, and to let the fact that it was different to normal be in fact a special celebration – a ceremony to be with her feelings and one that she would remember long afterwards because of how different it would be.
Gwen planned her day. Church in the morning, and then a meal at home. After early morning Church she set the table, dressed as if she was going out to a party, and sat down to a meal she cooked for herself, three courses and some wine. Afterwards, there was time for journalling, reflection and reading. She prayed for her family, and the loved ones she had lost. She wrote letters. And late in the day she went for a walk, then came home to cocoa and a slice of a cake a sister had sent to her. Gwen told me that it was the first time she had been alone with herself and actually enjoyed it. She enjoyed it because she made the day meaningful, and it became a private and very personal ritual that allowed her to honour her feelings and desires.
When I remembered Gwen’s advice, I decided to do the same. Instead of staying home, feeling like a loser and eating breakfast cereal for dinner while feeling sorry for myself, I made sure I had a plan. A few days before Christmas I bought myself a book that I had been looking forward to reading, and a new journal to write in. I planned myself a breakfast of prawns on toast (my grandparents favourite!), a late lunch with soup and then a grilled chop with vegetables, and a dessert of pudding with ice-cream. I used the television guide that came with the weekend papers to choose a movie, and I promised myself naps and time for a cup of tea in the backyard with the birds.
When Christmas Day rolled round I enacted my plan. I still felt a little sad and awkward at first, but I honoured Gwen’s wisdom and applied it. I went for an early walk, and then came home to eat breakfast and unwrap the gift I had bought myself. I phoned family and friends, and drank good tea. Then I did my main meal prep, set the table with a candle and some flowers, and had a luxurious bath with rose-scented soap and my favourite music. Afterwards I dressed well, applied make-up and then cooked and ate my meal, with more music. I ate each bite mindfully. As if for the first time I noticed and appreciated every mouthful. It was okay that I was alone, and alone with my thoughts. Every detail of the strange day seared into my memory. Even now, thirty years later I can recall the kitchen, the china and silverware, the funny old house I was in, and the menu of that day. Later, I made pots of tea and wrote, and then lay on my bed and read my book and napped. I never got to the movie. It was a good day. Odd, and not at all like Christmas, but still deeply satisfying. I woke the next morning feeling content and proud of myself for having made it something positive, instead of something to be dreaded.
It may not feel like Christmas this year. It may not look how you had planned. You may not be where you wanted to be, or be with the people you love. But you can still choose to make it a mindful and significant day or group of days. You can be in touch with people, no matter where they live. You can clean the house and prepare an enjoyable meal of things you truly love to eat. You can buy yourself a gift. You can do some activities that are meaningful to you. You can rest, indulge yourself, and find ways to make the day a ritual of celebration in this extraordinary time.
It’s also fine to postpone Christmas, to mentally put it in a box to be enjoyed later, when circumstances are more aligned, and to let the day simply be a day of being kind to yourself – however that looks for you.
You’ll look back later, and remember this time in your life, and it will be okay. In fact, you may have created some wonderful memories and stories to share with family and friends about that strange Christmas of 2020, when you were alone and far from home.
I’m holding you in my thoughts and prayers, and sending so much love your way, Nicole xx