This year, in an attempt to do something more meaningful for our annual Christmas night out, some of my closest friends and I headed to a carol service held by candlelight in the majestic surroundings of a cathedral. With promises of mince pies and mulled wine, an adult choir singing our favorite Christmas carols that didn't include references to Santa, combined with the late hour it promised to be a perfect evening for adults only.
We had chosen this carol service specifically over the more family orientated sing-a-long ones featuring children's choirs as none of our group yet has children, although I am finally expecting a baby in February after almost four years of battling infertility and IVF treatments. Despite being so close to my goal of being a mother I have not forgotten for one second the pain that I have endured to get here. I especially cannot forget how much more intense that pain was at Christmastime.
Children and Christmas it seems are inextricably linked. For many of us, some of our most cherished memories are our childhood Christmases and we associate those memories with a time of innocence and wonder when things were simpler. But for those who desperately want children and are unable to have them, this association suddenly becomes immensely painful. Despite all of the other things to enjoy about the festive season, catching up with old friends, enjoying good food, giving and receiving gifts, for those who are childless, and don't wish to be, none of those things bring the joy they might once have.
When I was struggling to get pregnant it would break my heart to see signs on every house (except ours) directing Santa to stop. Not knowing if Santa would ever visit our house filled me with fear and an indescribable sadness. My tasteful color coordinated decorations and Christmas tree dressed with attention to detail seemed cold and unwelcoming compared to the over the top decorations and gaudy, mismatched trees I spied through the windows of those houses where I knew children lived. On Christmas Day I would rather draw the curtains than have to look out the window and see excited children learning to ride their new bikes or scooters, or building snowmen if it happened to be a white one. Their joy exacerbated my pain.
At our carol service the choir did not disappoint and nor did the mince pies and mulled wine, however the evening was slightly marred by the unexpected recital of a poem about parents out shopping for Christmas presents for their children. It was one of those poems where every line rhymes with the next one and every verse ends with a punch line designed to get a laugh out of the crowd, although in this case it was only those among us who were parents who really got the joke. They glanced at each other knowingly or gently punched each other on the arm delighting in the wisdom and insight this simple little poem had into their busy and chaotic lives as parents.
In contrast to the spirituality of the music and the raw emotion in the choirs' voices this poem seemed out of place. It also angered me that a night that had promised to be focused on reflection and remembering the true meaning of Christmas had so quickly been brought back to children and families as though they were the ones for whom the celebration was really designed.
While Christmas is undoubtedly a truly magical time for children and their parents we must be careful not to forget that Christmas is for all of us to enjoy whether we are young or old or whether we are childless or not.
This Christmas, if you know someone in your life who doesn't have children, don't just assume it's because they don't want them and spare a thought before complaining about the pressures of being a parent at this time of year, or about how busy and stressful it is. You never know, they might just trade places with you in a heartbeat.