Christmas can be hard. But you don't have to ignore it

Some teachers and students struggle with Christmas. But it can be celebrated sensitively, says Sarah Simons

Sarah Simons

Festive scene of ginger bread person and mug of cocoa

Come on, we’re nearly there, the last week of term. I love Christmas and I’ve been doing a few festive activities to punctuate my English sessions for a couple of weeks, on the run up. Just 10 minutes here and there of something daft or fun or unusual, with a yuletide theme.

There’s a school of thought that says we shouldn’t make a big deal out of Christmas because some students will have a dreadful time of it over the festive season. So the most sensitive thing would be to keep Santa on the QT.

Watch: Oldham College bring festive cheer to pensioner

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Loving families

It’s fair to say that for some, it definitely won’t be a traditional tableau of large, loving families, installed, post-turkey, in front of a crackling log fire, hoovering the Quality Street, while watching The Sound Of Music. But why is that an ideal that we aim for anyway? It’s a construct of domesticity that rarely exists outside the world of advertising and only serves to make most of us feel inadequate. Come on, we’ve sussed that women’s magazines sell us a photoshopped idea of faux-perfection that we’ll never meet, so surely the Christmas jig is up, too?

It’s completely possible to be inclusive, to respect a range of experiences and traditions, while still getting excited about the Christmas hols; making sure that what we are celebrating and how we do so is as diverse and unique as we are. A happy Christmas can manifest in a million different ways, and traditions only exist because of repeated ritual.

In my house we have traditions, but we long since binned all those ideas of what Christmas should be and made it into what we wanted it to be. For many years that has involved my husband, son and me recreating our favourite meal of the year (one year we had a barbecue, another year a heated up Indian takeaway, one year a feast of deli food) usually followed by a box set marathon and at least one nap. We stay in our jim jams all day, only putting jeans and a jumper over the top to take the dogs out. It’s lovely.

Individual traditions

Your festive highlight might be a day on your own with a film and a ready meal. You might ignore the whole thing altogether - it’s just Wednesday round your gaff. It could be some quiet time with your partner, reading the papers then going to the pub. It could be a raucous flat, full of crisps and wine and a load of mates. Maybe it’s dinner for two with your best pal – which could be your dog or cat or bearded dragon. Like us, you and your immediate family might quietly celebrate without added relatives. Or something else.

I don’t know, maybe it’s the day you choose to be sad if you’ve lost someone close to you. The point is that there should be no pressure to conform. It’s too much.

When my lad was little I struggled with Christmas Day, as it reminded me that I don’t have the family I had expected. Firstly, because I lost five babies after having my son, and for a while, especially at Christmas, the house seemed too quiet without the gaggle of kids I had imagined, opening presents and causing havoc. And secondly, because our extended family are scattered all over the place and there are, like in most families, some complex relationships. Wedging them all round a dry turkey and a pan of crusty Paxo has never seemed like the most sensible plan.

But a happy family comes in a selection of shapes and sizes, and now, as my son’s older, I’m grateful for the family that I do have instead of grieving for the family that I don’t. No one gets everything and I’m very fortunate in loads of ways. So like lots of my students’ Christmas hols, mine will not be perfect, but I know it will be adorned with hefty chunks of joy and laughter. And that’s worth celebrating.

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Sarah Simons

Sarah Simons

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat

Find me on Twitter @MrsSarahSimons

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