In this guest post from Lu Hersey, she explains how not every Christmas is entirely merry and bright, but how, as a writer, you can harness that.
I’m writing this in the week leading up Christmas, and it seems like the whole world has gone Christmas crazy. We’re all meant to be taking part in some wonderful world of carol singing and tinsel, cute kids, awful jumpers, puppies and kittens – and the promise that everyone’s dreams will come true.
Truth is, it’s not always like that, is it? Frankly, more often than not, I’ve ended up feeling more like the turkey. Slaughtered and totally stuffed.
I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago about the worst Christmas I’d ever had – but actually so many were really terrible, I should probably write about my top ten worst Christmases. Because Christmas can be AWFUL!
Early memories of Christmas Day are mainly of elderly relatives (there were no other children my age in the family) who smelt of wintergreen, Fox’s Glacier Mints and perhaps a hint of boiled cabbage. They generally drank too much sherry, got a bit over-huggy, and occasionally died (that was a particularly bad year). The upside was that they were generally kind, even if they couldn’t remember your name. And sometimes you got a Christmas present you really wanted – if not, the anticipation that you might was almost as good.
The slump started when I was 17, and my parents found my boyfriend’s stash of weed in my coat pocket on Christmas Day. My memory of that day (which may not be entirely accurate) is of my parents playing funeral music, weeping and saying ‘where did we go wrong?’ Of course they were worried, but seriously – talk about over reaction. I mean, it wasn’t even mine! But sadly the divide between us deepened to an abyss, and Christmas was more or less a downhill slide from there on.
The run of awkward, awful Christmases came to a head just after my eldest daughter was born. My plan had been to heal all family rifts with the wonder of a new baby. It was ridiculously over-optimistic, but that’s childbirth for you.
My ex mother in law was staying and she got sick. She said I’d poisoned her with the brie the night before (seriously, if I had, I’d have done a better job). Anyway, she refused to leave the room, expecting the rest of us to eat our Christmas dinner as she vommed in a bucket in the corner, groaning ‘don’t mind me, you go ahead and enjoy yourselves!’ Nice.
Needless to say, we didn’t enjoy Christmas dinner. I burnt the turkey. And the Christmas pudding. The baby wailed. A lot. My parents glowered. And I couldn’t get the blimming woman out of the house for another six weeks…though she did get out of the front room. Eventually.
So I had to accept the truth about Christmas. It’s a time of cold and dark and abundant viruses – and way too much expectation. Just because it’s Christmas, it doesn’t stop people getting sick, or dying – or simply feeling isolated and miserable because they imagine everyone else is having a better time than they are.
But fortunately for me, I’m a writer. Any kind of disaster (well, apart from death, especially mine) provides material for future use. Throughout all the many awful Christmases earlier in my life, part of me was thinking how I’d write them into something one day – and maybe get some kind of belated fictional revenge on everyone. For writers, even negatives can work out to be positives eventually.
Also, I learnt something. Since that prize-winningly awful Christmas, things started to get better. By the time me and my children were more or less ostracised from the rest of the family and had Christmas by ourselves or with our friends, we started to really have fun. These days we can eat what we like, play stupid games, watch stupid TV and laugh a lot. Which is lovely. It doesn’t make for quite such interesting reading – but I can probably now include a happy (if slightly dysfunctional) Christmas in a book sometime.
On which note, I wish you all a lovely Christmas. If it doesn’t work out too well, become a writer. That way, you’ll find every Christmas has real potential. J