Nostalgia at Christmas and Learning from the Children….

Do you find it hard to let go of Christmas?

It’s that time again when we have the slight lull that follows the festivities of Christmas Day with all the celebrating, eating and family time, before gearing ourselves up for the onslaught of the New Year. It is one of the precious few times of the year when we have several days off in a row (at least in our house), forget which day it is, and where we have time for lay-ins and cooked breakfasts before a leisurely walk or perhaps a trawl through the sales.

I always struggle with this time of year; I don’t like giving up on Christmas. I cling on to the twinkling lights and the decorations for as long as possible. I inwardly cringe when I hear people saying they can’t wait to ‘get back to normal’, or that they have already taken their decorations down the day after Boxing Day. I don’t get it. It’s dark. WE need lights. WE need to keep the fun going as long as possible and enjoy the time of year that allows us to slow down.

Whilst saying all this, I appreciate Christmas isn’t an easy time for some. For those struggling with illness, financial problems, or loss, it can be hard to face all the Christmas festivities. There is something so poignant about this time of year; it’s as if the world around us has altered in readiness for the revered time, and in the midst of the hectic build up there is a certain heightening of emotion which can be hard to cope with at times. For me, this was my first Christmas without my beloved dad; we missed him hugely, and I’m sure we weren’t the only family struggling not to look at an empty chair at this time.

I consider myself to be fairly senior now and I look back down the years with more than a little nostalgia, especially at this time of year. Memories flood back from Christmas’s past and I am plunged into certain wistfulness. The seasons seem to be getting shorter and shorter with the space between them constantly shifting and moving on before we have had chance to enjoy the present. At our local garden centre, Santa had moved in in October and was back in the North Pole before we knew it. (Although the grotto was amazing). All that remains in the Christmas store now are a few sad and bedraggled decorations selling at knock down prices, whilst the summer barbecue equipment is coming back in through the door, along with the garden furniture and the patio heaters. I have never been able to work out who would buy these things in the still dark days of winter, but obviously some people do. Don’t get me wrong, I know we can’t cling on to Christmas for too long, but surely we can wait a few more weeks before calling time on everything festive.

I am sure now I will never be the Queen of England. I would put money on it. I’m not even remotely in line to the throne, although I must say, I can do quite a good royal wave, but if I WERE ever to be Queen, or Prime Minister (now there’s a thought) the first thing I would do would be to create a public holiday at the end of January. I have always thought that would be a very good idea. It wouldn’t be nearly so bad clearing up after Christmas if we knew there was another holiday on the horizon. Like a ‘Goodbye to Winter, Spring is on the horizon’ sort of holiday.

I don’t want to see chocolate creme eggs in the shops during the first weeks of January, and although I am a romantic, I’m not yet ready to see Valentine’s cards either.

You have probably deduced that I don’t bother with starting a new diet or a new project on January 1st. I will just try and stick to the healthy diet I have always tried to follow, not always successfully, but then we all fail from time to time. I will try and keep up my daily walks and do the odd bit of meditation, but I won’t be setting any rules that will be broken a few weeks down the line. Yet I think I need to view things a little differently. One thing I have noticed this season whilst watching and listening to my grandchildren is this: children love Christmas and everything about it. They are able to plunge in to all the happy things about this time with more or less total abandon. They are (usually) happy to wear a tea towel on their heads and pose as a shepherd, or as an assistant alien as in our grandson’s case, and wave happily to an adoring audience. They think it is quite normal to listen out for distant bells and gaze expectantly at the sky on Christmas Eve. They are more than happy to get up in the early hours of Christmas Day and jump up and down with excitement. But as Christmas draws to a close they move on to new days and new experiences, running headlong into the New Year and all the new experiences it will bring.

That seems to me to be the best way to go about things.

So as this year draws to a close I wish you all good things – a chance to walk in frosty lanes when all the world is quiet, stillness when you need it, and joy and laughter too. The love of family and the familiarity and warmth that lasting friendships bring. And for all of us, I wish us the gift of peace.

Ps. Perhaps keep the fairy lights going for another week…….

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Why We Should All Walk the Brightest Path…

We should all be able to feel safe this Christmas, in all four corners of the world..

This morning we took an early morning walk. The sun had just come up but there was a chill in the air making us hope we have a cold, crisp Christmas .

As we wound our way round the village and walked back up the hill toward the woods behind Dove Lane, the path beneath our feet sparkled in the winter sun. Looking more closely, I could see there were hundreds of glass chips embedded in the tarmac. I had never noticed this before; maybe it was the direction of the sun or the time of day, but the effect was magical. The path glittered like something out of a fairy tale and I half expected to be transported to a different land – maybe if I had wished hard enough I may have seen one of Santa’s elves peaking out from behind one of the trees! I thought about the beauty that surrounds us whoever we are and whatever our circumstances; rich or poor, we are all entitled to walk along a glittery pathway.

We are all created as equals. Sometimes it is easy to forget that. I certainly do. I think most of us, at some time in our lives, have looked up at someone we see as more famous, wealthy or seemingly more accomplished than ourselves and felt a little overshadowed. It is a habit that is hard to shake off. But we all have our skills, our own uniqueness that no-one can take away. We can all have a chance to shine and take a walk along a special path. There are so many unsung heroes we may pass along the way; those who carry on in the most dire circumstances, and still raise a smile.

This time of year, as I rush around crossing things off my long Christmas ‘to do’ list I often stop in my tracks and remember to be grateful. There are so many people without a roof over their heads, both in our country and in foreign lands. So many innocent children caught up in wars that have absolutely nothing to do with them apart from raging in the lands they happen to be born in. How can this be? The contrast between different lives is sometimes overwhelming.

One day, I hope there will be a world where every child, indeed every human being, has a home where they feel safe and secure at Christmas and all through the year – a place where they can stop and look out through the window at the moon and stars, and feel at peace.

I sat drinking a hot chocolate with a friend today and we talked about life; how things sometime surprise us and turn out differently than expected. How sometimes it’s hard to take the rough with the smooth. How busy life can be at times. But would we really want to walk in anyone else’s shoes, however important they are?

I love this Malagasy proverb –

‘ A canoe does not know who is King, when it turns over, everyone gets wet.’

I hope you can walk the glittery Christmas path today.

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A Crystal Ball for Christmas?

Don’t panic – you WILL be ready for Christmas!

It’s almost December and I had one of those nights last night when I woke up worrying about Christmas shopping, or to put it another way, the lack of it in my house! Of course, when I was up in the morning with the curtains drawn back and the light streaming in, I realised how little I have remembered about past experiences: I wonder why I fall into the same trap every year. I am getting on a bit now and I have seen a lot of Christmases – I should know that everything always gets done in the end! And if it doesn’t, does it really matter?

This year, I am more aware than ever that not everyone has the chance to celebrate Christmas in the way that I and my family do, and I am mindful of the fact that we are bombarded with commercialism at this time of year. The big stores competing to screen the best Christmas advert may cause us to ooh and ahh as we watch their presentations of cosy and homely perfection, but at the same time, we are encouraged to fill our homes with every conceivable gadget and tasty morsel so that we can achieve the perfect Christmas.

However, the perfect Christmas is about being together with family and friends, following the old favourite traditions and perhaps starting new ones. What do you remember when you look at past Christmases? It’s not normally about money spent or having the best of this or that, it’s about the simple things – the old favourite recipes that come out every year, the games after lunch or the corny jokes in the Christmas crackers.

I have written before about the anxious feelings we can experience with the holiday season fast approaching. The fact remains that no matter how hard we try to keep sensible about the festive season, there are extra things to think about this time of year and many of us can feel jittery and stressed. We may find ourselves more reliant than ever on those we love. Sometimes though, we find that those around us have their own problems and anxieties which sometimes present themselves in unexpected ways.

If you had a crystal ball and could see into the future, do you think you would find happiness? Would you put an end to anxious feelings you experience if you knew how life was going to pan out for yourself or others?

I recently came across a story about a ‘Naughty or Nice’ book. The heroine of the story mysteriously received a book through her post box at Christmas, which enabled her to find out more about the people she knew, and the actions they appeared to be taking to achieve what they wanted in life. Just by uttering a name over the book, the girl found that the book magically opened and revealed unusual and sometimes apparently undesirable things about the people she thought she knew. What was interesting was the girl’s reaction and the conclusions she came to after seeing what was revealed in the book. Rather than being helped by what she saw she was often dismayed and perplexed, and felt let down by neighbours and colleagues, and the people she loved. Rampaging around she accused people of various misdemeanours and often made them ashamed or shocked. Things got worse and her life started to unravel.

However, before long, she realised that if she turned the book over, there was another side to each story. People did things for a reason; they were led to perform certain actions because of a series of events. Sometimes what looked bad on the surface wasn’t really bad at all but just part of an ongoing story. Once she saw that everyone had their frailties and their own wishes and desires, indeed, their own story, she forgave, and built both old and new relationships. The book showed that hardly anyone is just ‘naughty’ or just ‘nice’, but perhaps a bit of both at times.

We may feel it would be a good thing to see what lies ahead and why things happen like they do, but I think most of us do not really need a crystal ball or a magic book. If we give ourselves time and give time to other people we can probably work most things out and find the real reasons for why things happen as they do.

So when we are feeling our own lives are complicated or we are bowed by worry or stress, it is good to remember that very few people live perfect lives. Almost certainly, anxiety and fear manifest themselves in our behaviour and can show that we are uncomfortable in our situations; we may feel isolated, but chances are that others will be feeling the same too at times. We are not the only ones who’s behaviour can be misinterpreted, so don’t beat yourself up after a night out; don’t go home and worry about how you come across to people. Chances are they won’t have noticed – they will have been more concerned about they came across to you!

Most people have times when life gets them down, but if you are someone who doesn’t have anxiety, I urge you to be a bit careful with your words and reactions during the holiday season. What may seem silly to you could be a genuine concern for someone else. At the very least, look at both sides of the story.

By the way, I must say I love the John Lewis advert featuring Elton John singing ‘Your Song!’ It’s my most favourite song of all time so I’m not totally against the advertising!

 

Have a good week!

 

 

Seen on a Christmas tree near me.

 

Back to the Forgotten Way of Life..

It was a beautiful day here at Dove Lane yesterday. A perfect winter’s day with clear blue sky and not a breath of wind. The freezing air brought a crispness to the leaves bejeweled with frost that crunched under my feet,and as a big golden sun just topped the fir trees, it was the sort of day that reminded me a  magical Christmas could be just around the corner.

Thinking about Christmas drawing closer, I was prompted to wrap up warmly and head off to the shopping centre to start some Christmas shopping. ‘Himself’ had gone fishing with his oldest friend who was over from Canada and was therefore well occupied, so I was ready to devote some hours to serious shopping.

Driving along with the radio on I listened to the news and to a report on the situation in war torn Syria, I listened to the  very sobering news of people in Aleppo walking over the rubble of damaged buildings, while carrying their belongings. Around twenty thousand have fled their homes just over the past 72 hours. Many more thousands left before. Some people live in shelters, some in mosques, schools or tents, while others find refuge in damaged buildings. The majority of those who flee are families, many with infants and young children. How can they cope in flimsy shelters; their situations made worse for all as winter takes hold and temperatures drop?

I feel ashamed to think I have been a bit stressed over an imminent house move; bickering has broken out with some of the people in our housing chain who want to get on with things. This move is a chosen one with excitement and promise for the future. It has not been forced upon us in dire circumstances. Whatever happens, the situation is not dangerous or life threatening.

But for some, the implications of fleeing home are immense. It’s not just a matter of picking up a few things and leaving. There is a huge knock-on effect. Apart from leaving the familiarity of home, when sometimes it is all they have ever known, all their security, their haven, is gone. All they have left is a few belongings. I can only pray these innocent people, caught in the ugly crossfire of war, can be guaranteed a safe passage, and access to food and water, and medical care if they need it.

I saw a picture of children as young as six playing together amongst the destruction in Aleppo, with beaming smiles on their faces as they looked at the camera. Children are our future, the future of the world, and whatever their race and wherever they come from, they need a safe place to live; to learn and grow, and most of all, play without fear.

By the time I had parked in the busy town car park, I was in much more of a thoughtful mood. I listened to the cheerful Christmas music blaring out in every shop and looked at the shops loaded with luxury goods of all descriptions and wondered about all the commercialism, and how it is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the festive season. Do we lose sight of what is really important when we rush around trying to tick everything off our shopping list? The paradox is this: we get stressed at Christmas because we want to please everyone, and yet we would probably please them more if we reverted to the more simple ways of doing things.  I still did my shopping; of course I want my loved ones to have a good Christmas, but I was more mindful of treading lightly with my thoughts, being considerate, and realising that everything gets done in time.

It is always easy to look back with rose-tinted spectacles. To look back at a time when life was simpler, and there was no online shopping, no permanent bombardment of advertisements tempting us to buy things we don’t really need, and we didn’t spend a fortune on gourmet foods with exotic names,( because we hadn’t heard of them and didn’t know we needed them).

But maybe sometimes it is good to stop and think about what we really need to be happy. And to think about those people who are just trying to survive.

You can donate to help a child in Syria at http://www.savethechildren.org or call 0800 8148 148

Every amount, no matter how small, will make a difference.

I’ve just been listening to people talking about having arguments at Christmas; how to keep the relatives happy and how can they make time for themselves. Every year it happens and yet the year rolls around and we forget about last years trials and tribulations and start the whole process again. Maybe this year things could be different!

In these frantic weeks before Christmas I wish you peace and love and the power to make a difference in whatever small and positive way you can.

Blessing to you.

Flags of Peace

I wish that I had special powers

And could turn everything around

So we could change the way we look at things,

And keep our feet upon the ground.

To ask the floating clouds above,

To spill the gentle rain,

To water the dry and barren land

And make it green again.

And could I harness the force of the wind,

Calm the raging sea,

Reign over nature’s wayward mind,

And let it quietly be?

For every child in every land,

There would be food enough to eat,

Arms stretched out to hold them tight,

And shelter from the heat.

And the warmest blanket

In the coldest night;

Comfort from a stranger;

And a candle burning bright.

And what if I could ask the world,

To find the path to peace,

With every country’s ‘flag unfurled

As all the wars have ceased?

But if I cannot change the world,

I can bend when the storm appears,

Do great things in smaller ways,

To dry another’s tears.

For I alone cannot decide

The way the world should be,

And I cannot begin to know

What there is still to see.

                            (C) Lyn Halvorsen