Monday, 13 December 2010

The visit

I have just returned from a trip to the Hall at Abbey-Cwm-Hir, a restored Victorian Gothic Revival house.

I'm not sure why I agreed to go as visiting country houses really isn't my thing at all, but I guess I couldn't come up with a reason why not quickly enough. And it was a trip out with friends, which is generally a Good Thing. At this time of year, the tour centres on the fact that the house has 52 rooms, and each one is decorated for Christmas.

Well, I had probably had my fill of tweely-bedecked Christmas trees by about the 11th room, and we hadn't even left the first floor. The place was on the unacceptable side of lukewarm in most of the rooms as we padded around in our stockinged feet (shoes had to be left at the door because of the carpets), and the lady of the house flitted around behind the scenes in her bright red dress, never introducing herself to us, but constantly "there", glimpsed briefly and elusively going into another room at the end of a corridor or the top of a staircase. All very Daphne Du Maurier.

By the time we reached the frigid 'servants' quarters' at the top of the house, each room still decorated in its own Christmassy theme, it was all becoming very surreal.
I had hoped that the trip might help to bring on a little festive spirit, but it was rather counterproductive. When we left I swore that I didn't want to see another Christmas tree for as long as I lived!

This will be my third Christmas on my own.

The first one I planned simply to survive. In the end I found it very comforting to go through the ingrained rituals with my family around me. For R and I, it was never one of the 'big' things in our year. Mostly it involved frenetically driving all over the country visiting relatives, so we rarely spent it just the two of us. Of course his absence was huge that first Christmas, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and nowhere near as awful as most of the other 'firsts'.

Last year I actually enjoyed the holidays. The preparations were a great distraction. I had lists and timetables, and spent a week or so making beds, cleaning, baking and generally turning the house into a home for the season. My family were all on good form, and it was wonderful having us all together, eating, talking and playing silly games with the kids. The period afterwards was difficult for me when the snow came back and I was all alone for several days, but Christmas itself was an unexpected pleasure.

This year I seem to be struggling much more with it.
My family are coming here again, which is just how I want it, but I don't seem to be able to gear myself up to getting ready.
I can cope with the feasting part - I love that and always will. But thinking about and shopping for gifts feels like swimming through treacle. It doesn't help that I regard the whole gift-giving part of Christmas as a totally meaningless exercise for anyone over the age of about 18. Don't get me wrong - I love to give people gifts when I happen upon something that I know they will like, but desperately rushing around trying to find a present for someone who doesn't really want or need anything from me, and all for an artificial deadline, just sends my head into a spin.

It used to be so easy - I would hand the whole thing over to R, who loved shopping and could happily wander around for hours, if not days, looking for gifts. In contrast, I find it totally stressful, and really wish people would grow up and decide not to bother after all. Right now it is sucking out all the pleasure that I should be feeling at looking forward to the feasting and companionship which, for me as a non-religious person, are what Christmas is all about.
Oh well, it will all be over soon.


  1. I don't get the gift thing either and haven't even started. D was better at it ... he also liked to shop and seemed able to find just the appropriate gift. Sigh. I haven't decorated and probably won't ... though I'll have to dig out Mingus' stocking and fill it up for him. HIs little beady eyes got quite big when D handed it to him last year.

  2. J I'm totally scroogish this Christmas so we can have a little whinge together. I do like to send cards and have a nice meal but I wish it could stop at that. I am so over the gatherings, the false cheer and the presents. What I'd really like is a lie down and a cup of tea!

  3. I hate the enforced gift giving as well. matt was not into it either, so we had both of us in that no-gifts-thank-you realm. Such a completely arbitrary season of craziness and then some guilt for not participating. Eh. I so much miss the way we did these things together.

  4. Don and I had not really done anything special for christmas since my dad died in 1999. My mom and brother feel the same way, so it was easy to create a new tradition of taking off to go hiking or snowshoeing on christmas day and then drop by my mom's for some dinner before returning home. The holidays were a time to retreat to our farm and sometimes shut the gate at the lane and let ourselves be snowed in for a few days. Now that I'm alone and spending winters in a town far from home, I don't have to deal with much christmas stuff - for which I am very thankful. I don't think there is any way that I could muster the energy or interest to drag myself through 52 rooms of christmas decorations!

  5. J, I know what you mean about the presents. I try to make it fun by making as many things myself as I can but it has been quite a trial this year as things have exploded at work and I have much less time than I expected. I am trying to prepare for Christmas with my family without all the dashing around but it is hard. I might suggest we do secret santa next year - that could work better. After all none of us really need any more stuff! Anyway, I hope you are able to find some pleasure in the season even with all the gift palaver

  6. Ha! Good to know I am not alone in feeling this way - it is more a complete lack of understanding why people choose to put themselves through it than being particularly Scroogish (I think ... I hope).
    Anyway, the weather seems to have kick-started my mood - I shall just be grateful if my family can actually make it here for Christmas!