I am going to start with a sob story. I spent Christmas 2014 and New Year 2014-15 in hospital. The entire festive season. I was admitted on 19th December 2014 and came out on 2nd January 2015. At one point I was the only patient in the hospital, with nine members of staff taking care of me. It was miserable. I was really unwell, lonely, missing all of the celebrations that I should be enjoying, and missing my loved ones. Yet it was one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had. Possibly not for the reasons one would immediately think.
It didn't make me "realise the true meaning of Christmas" as we so often hear spouted to us. Nor did it "restore my faith in humanity", another saccharine-sweet diatribe we so often hear. What it did make me realise is that, even in those circumstances it was still possible to make the most of it and have a good time. I wouldn't say it was the best time, but still good.
After all, what choice did I have? I could lie there each day being miserable or I could embrace the situation and be as upbeat as possible. To me, there is no question, positivity wins. So we decorated my room, had cards, Christmas toys, sweets and chocolates and I made sure that everyone knew how grateful I was for them caring for me during this period.
The result was one of the most memorable Christmases I have ever had.
I saw the kindness in people, how they reacted to positivity. I talked to some of them about Christmas and what it meant to them and was fascinated to hear so many different approaches to it. I heard sad and happy stories and gems of inspiration that would not have otherwise been shared. Some people told me why they dislike this time of year, and that was as interesting to hear even if not following my path of positivity. I learned many meanings of Christmas (which is why I am not spouting the "true meaning"), and it expanded my understanding of humanity rather than simply restore my faith in it.
The main thing it taught me, though, was however you spend your festive season, do it brilliantly.
It doesn't matter if your Christmas is completely over the top, played out in a drunken haze, or spent quietly with minimal fuss. All fine. It may be that you celebrate the religious festival of Christmas and all the commercialization has no meaning. Good for you too. It may be a very sad time of year. A time of mourning, loss, or reflection. There are those who try to avoid all the celebrations, or suffer them with a false smile. But there is still the possibility of doing it well.
Of course, there are people for whom it is a terrible time of year. Homeless, alone, hungry, unwell, missing loved ones, living in fear. Our hearts go out to them and I would never be so crass and vulgar to try to include these people in my quest to be positive. I realise it is sometimes not possible. If we can take any hope from this, it would be that there are people who give their time to help and we hope that it does make a difference.
But back to my main point. The reason I came to the conclusion of "do it brilliantly" is that it is such an important time of year and doing it brilliantly can make a real difference. We all have bad times, but doing the festive season well can end a year on a high, and start the next one equally so. It can teach us many things about ourselves and others and inform us on a number of "true meanings" in a wide range of aspects within life.
I never want a Christmas and New Year like it again. My lunch on Christmas Day was puréed because I couldn't eat solids, and my celebratory drink at midnight on New Year's Eve was an orange flavoured laxative. Both miserable. Hence why I am not saying this experience has changed me forever to be a philanthropic volunteer or serial reflector. This year I want decorations, presents, carols, hymns, to be with my wife and son, to have extended family and friends close by, a proper lunch, to wish anyone and everyone Merry Christmas, mean it with all my heart and take joy at their smile when they hear it.
I will reflect a bit, and I will be thankful for everything I have in life, but I won't be melancholy. I will make a point of embracing everything we do, and try to do it brilliantly.
I hope you do too.