As I sit here this morning I am looking out across our friends large garden, it is a foggy frosty day, and the garden looks truly amazing; as if someone has gently shook icing sugar all over it. Some of the garden is still cloaked in fog, as if it has gone to bed and will come back out when spring is on its way.

So how was your Christmas? Ours was not anything like last year, there were no re-enactments of Eastender plots in our kitchen (see my post from last Christmas for those who have just joined my blog.) but it was a completely new way of celebrating Christmas for us.

Our friends, whose house we sometimes look after, were sadly detained in England due to very stressful circumstances, and therefore we looked after both their house and ours and the six cats and two dogs that we have between us. (Admittedly five of the cats and both of the dogs are ours!) So we had Christmas dinner at their house, Christmas supper at our house, and swapped about between the two. But do you know what? We had one of the most relaxing Christmas’s ever.

As always this got me thinking. For those of you who know me you will know that I now loathe the ostentatiousness of Christmas, have done for some time. I detest the adverts that convince people that they should be happy at Christmas, and that if they are not, then they have failed in some way. They imply that of course, the only way to truly be happy is to spend money on too much food, expensive presents, decorations, and even new sofas and dining tables! Seriously why do you need it at Christmas if you haven’t needed it the rest of the year?

But,for me, this year it was reinforced. Many friends of mine lost loved ones this year, but two of my closest lost their mum, and the other their dad, in fact she buried her dear dad just before Christmas. Our friends have had to face sudden illness, of which you have no control, and on Christmas day Rich’s mum was rushed into hospital unwell. (Thankfully she is home and recovered now.) For me this further compounded the effects of all the tactless adverts with all the smiling faces, the constant harping on by everyone about being happy, how everyone must be happy; but they are not. I have an aunt who has suffered many bouts of ill health this year, each one debilitating her a little bit more, she is alone in her house most of the time and misses my darling uncle more and more each day. There are many many lonely people out there such as my aunt, and the forced celebrations just seem to compound the sadness of their situations. But we don’t want to think about these things do we? It’s just being miserable, and we all have to be happy at this time of year…… It brings to mind the wonderful poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

“laugh and the world laughs with you,

weep and you weep alone

For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth

But has trouble enough of it’s own.”

This year I felt acutely aware of the other side of Christmas and instead,  I wished people a joyous Christmas. Whats the difference?

Happiness is an emotion caused by earthly experiences, material objects.

Joy is an emotion caused by spiritual experience, caring for others, gratitude and thankfulness.

That is what has made this Christmas so different for me, even though I was in France last year I still tried to emulate the perfect Christmas, as had been indoctrinated in me all my life. This year I did not. We had a simple Christmas, and the best things for me was that we could support other people at a difficult time, that I spoke to my son on Christmas Eve (also his birthday) our dogs, because they show us every day that all they need is to be near us, and that my beautiful old cat, Molly, now in her seventeenth year, is still with us and still eating well. Not least I celebrated being with Rich, and living a simpler life. I felt free.

So what is this celebration all about? It is about the winter solstice. It is about the last feast before deep winter begins, which looking out at the garden today it clearly has. This time of year is considered the time that the year is reborn, in some cultures in the northern hemisphere is is about the re-awakening of nature. In Druid culture it is considered the Alban Arthur, the light of Arthur, or the light of winter. Basically it is about buckling down the hatches and sitting winter out. But I challenge you to instead go out among winter, look out, as I am today, and the beauty it holds, be joyous.

As I sit here about to sign off a robin redbreast has just hopped right up to the door and looked in at me, I think someone is trying to tell me something.

I hope that you all had a joyous Christmas.