In Borough Market this week Beth and I stopped at a blackboard onto which people had written things they wanted to happen before they die. Reading through the spectrum of thought ranging from instinctive and amusing to deep and heartfelt my mind drifted towards the coming festivities, and the question most of us are asked at least once, “What do you want for Christmas?”. What you really want for Christmas, or at least, what will truly give you most enduring pleasure is almost certainly impossible to buy.
Woken from a beautiful slumber by the radio I half hear a report about how social media is making us unhappy, and I dreamily wonder if that’s really a newsworthy item. On the TV and in the town the hype behind Christmas is reaching fever pitch as we’re told to buy more of this and more of that in order to ensure that the holiday reaches its joyous potential. It’s hard to have a happy Christmas mostly because of the pressure we put on ourselves and those around us to do so.
One of the reasons that lurking around on social media has a tendency to bring us down is that it promotes a false image of other peoples lives. Who puts the mundane and rather depressing aspects of their existence on Facebook? Well, actually I can name a few people, but they are the minority. Most people seem to be having literally the best time ever.
Our tendency to find too great a proportion of our self esteem from comparison with others is a source of great discontent because the way that we look at other people focuses often on all they have which eludes us rather than taking a balanced view. Anyway, the comparisons are unrealistic because no two lives are the same. Happiness and contentment are not measured on some sort of external scale, they come from within. To be content with all we already have is, perhaps, one of the most valuable gifts we can give to ourselves.
My friend Charlotte knows a thing or two about gingerbread. She’s Danish and, by all accounts, they consume the stuff by the truckload in Nordic countries at Christmas. I remember reading a recipe a few years ago which made something like 200 biscuits because “you need enough for the friends that drop in over the Christmas holiday”. I don’t know how many friends you have but, even if mine were incredibly greedy, I don’t have enough of them to eat through their own bodyweight in gingerbread.
Looking for a new recipe this year Charlotte kindly wrote one down and popped it through my door. Just this simple act of connection is something so basic but immensely powerful? Taking her recipe I messed about with it until I had come up with something of my own, and then I made gingerbread to hang on the tree and give away to friends as gifts. While this involved effort it was full of joy and connection, spending the day in the kitchen with my daughter, cutting and baking and decorating. The value of connection beginning outside of my house in someone else’s, brought in and nurtured before being sent on again is also a gift of real beauty.
Sometimes hope is well disguised. When life appears intent on kicking us when we’re down we find it impossible to hold onto any sort of hope that things will change. But hope often plays a long game, ignorant of our desire to see the horror of what is in front of us morph into something altogether more acceptable and manageable, and instead looking way out onto the horizon, far beyond our own fathomable notions, before settling into a different peace and calm which holds its own particular joy and reward. It’s remarkable how often we find that, despite everything, we managed to stay upright. Hope, and the sheer determination of goodness, always seems to outweigh anything which threatens it, and it is hope which we rely on to keep us thinking that way.
There was one particular wish on the wall which caught my eye. “Before I die I want to….. see my sister fall in love again”. Contentment through connection, fuelled by hope. No better gifts at Christmas, or at any time. I wish you all three in abundance.
If you want to get either my recipe or Charlotte’s for gingerbread you’ll find it over on my alter ego website. It’s so easy to make and both are truly delicious.
Have a peaceful Christmas.