Both of our childhood experiences of Christmas were highlights of the year with gifts and tasty food galore served in the warm embrace of family gatherings. Then as we grew up a little and left home, like many young adults, we still found ourselves returning to our childhood home each Christmas time to be with family once more. At first we would spend Christmas's apart while we visited our respective family's, after all we could be together the rest of the year, then as time wore on we would spend Christmas together but travel rapidly around the UK or even taking flights trying to visit each family in turn. Yet still the one who was 'away from home' on Christmas Day itself would feel a little homesick. In fact, prior to starting our motorhome adventure we spent just a single Christmas on our own, in Spain as it happened, taking a last minute flight to Malaga and a warm apartment and even then, despite the sun and sea we still recall that nagging homesickness on the day itself.
Yet this year as Christmas has approached and we've found ourselves stationed on a fairly remote, beach parking by the Mediterranean sea we've become very aware of that same keen sense of homesickness even though we both saw our family's just a few weeks ago during a trip home and not just a fleeting visit either. We'd spent a month with family and even celebrated St Nicolaas in Holland with Esther's relatives. Also, in addition to the homesickness we've felt increasingly restless, like we were searching for something that we couldn't quite put our finger on. We kept finding ourselves discussing where we might go, what we should do, what we might eat, should we give each other gifts (it might seem unromantic but for many years we didn't do so).....basically brainstorming ideas to mark Christmas Day in some way that was different to our normal routine.
As we strolled along the beach today it suddenly struck us that in addition to being a wonderful family time of year, full of love and laughter, Christmas in our old lives had also always been about doing everything to extremes. There was always extra food, extra TV, extra things, extra time together. It didn't really matter what we were having extra of, the point was that there was more of it than normal. I suppose it is exactly this idea that has always been the essence of marketing around any special occasion; the message that more is better and the man-made illusion of scarcity ("but you can only buy mince pies at Christmas....") that leads to overconsumption even though Christmas in the UK seems to start in October and the food is basically the same stuff in different shapes and packaging. Could it be, we thought, that even now when we have so many of the things in our life that we adore, that we still want them to be 'extra' for just one day. In some ways, this outlook one that we have held for so long, is a actually little selfish. After all what we had essentially been asking was how can we make the day more special for ourselves this year.
And so, as the sun sets on Christmas Eve and we start to make our usual dinner, the same one we love and enjoy most days and will probably have a variation of tomorrow as well we feel much more calm and at peace. We will still be lighting our few Christmas candles and preparing to open our handful of gifts collected during our recent family visit tomorrow as usual. But mostly we want to focus this year not on what we are doing for ourselves but instead make the resolution to see what we can do for others, not just at Christmas, but in the year to come as well.