The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Grief of Christmas Present

Christmas can be a painful time for many of us, made more difficult by the expectation that everyone should be having a wonderful time.

My Christmases used to be filled with nothing but joy. As a child they were all about awe, wonder new toys and chocolate. Then, as I grew up, enjoyment of Christmas centred on food, drink and good company. Until my own children came along – and then awe and wonder returned from a different, and even more magical perspective. I was fortunate, I was blessed, and all my Christmases were good.

Photo by Toni Cuenca on

Once that changes, once a ‘Bad Thing’ happens at this time of year – it stays with you. And, as misery loves company, the bad thing may be joined by other bad things.

My first bad Christmas was in 1999, when the millennium celebrations were in full swing. My Dad was very poorly, and died in the January. I went through the motions of celebrating Christmas that year (and many since) for the sake of my children.

Christmas is many things, but it is not subtle. To quote from Love Actually, Christmas is all around. It’s all around us from about September onward. We hear it, see it, smell it and taste it. Social media is flooded with pictures of Christmas trees and naughty elves. We participate in planning, shopping, cooking, card writing, present wrapping and attending seemingly compulsory works meals or parties. Each of these activities bring Christmas past flooding back, both good and bad. The joy and the sorrow, the grief and the laughter.

A friend once commented that whenever I post on Facebook I look like I’m having a ball, all the time. I was astonished. I had been going through a tough time. I was absolutely not having a ball. Then I reflected. I do only post the good things on Facebook. Snapshots of moments with my family. Race photos. Outings. Holidays. Trips to the theatre or cinema. The difficult times are personal and private, and I keep them off social media.

The past couple of months have been particularly difficult for my family. At the end of November we said goodbye to two family members in a desperately sad double funeral. But my social media presence shows me running, doing lovely Christmassy things – and sometimes being a bit political (we have just had a general election after all).

There’s a photo of my family that occasionally pops up on Facebook as a memory. It’s a photo of my children on Christmas Eve, standing by a Christmas tree in a town centre. It’s a sparkly photo. Everyone looks happy. At the moment that the photo was taken, our house was being broken into, and our dog was being attacked. We spent Christmas day at the vets, repairing the damage to our house, and crying. The dog did recover, in case you were wondering.

Every photo you see on social media is just a snapshot from a life filled with light and dark, joy and sorrow.

If Christmas is difficult for you, you are not alone. And you don’t have to enjoy Christmas. It really is okay to not be okay, especially at this time of year.

Christmas may be all around you, but so is love.

If you need help this Christmas:

Contact Mind –

Contact Samaritans – or call 116 123

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