For several years in a row I have done a post about Christmas as I have found it to be a time when many of the tensions of clergy spouse (CS) life seem to be amplified. However with 2020 being the year it has been it is harder to know what to say as I have no previous experience of Christmas during a pandemic! My thoughts so far are:
- Let yourself grieve if you need to
One piece of advice I have always given in previous Christmas posts is that some of us need to allow ourselves to go through a mourning process when it comes to doing Christmas as a CS. I found the first few years especially hard at Christmas as I adjusted to this life and I had to let myself grieve Christmas as I used to know it so that I could move on to embrace the new reality. Having come out of the other side of this I have been able to get Christmas into a healthier perspective and enjoy how we celebrate it as a clergy family.
We’ve all had different challenges this year and Christmas will be the same. Perhaps you are not able to spend Christmas with all your children because of the 3 household limit. Or are not able to see elderly relatives because they are shielding. Maybe it is your first CS Christmas and that combined with a pandemic just feels a bit too much right now. It is normal to feel sad/angry/disappointed/bereft about this. Let yourself feel what you feel. When you accept the situation and allow yourself to mourn you are enabling yourself to move on. Suppressing how you feel often leaves you stuck and unable to move forward positively. Being married to an ordained person does not magically protect you from finding things hard so don’t beat yourself up if you find the next few weeks challenging.
2. Ask for help if you need it
I am giving this advice as someone who is absolutely terrible at asking for help. I don’t know if it is that weird British stiff upper lip thing or not wanting to put people out but asking for help makes me really uncomfortable. I think there is also often a culture of self-sufficiency in clergy families where you feel you should have such strong faith that you can get by on prayer alone. What I’ve realised is that trying to be self-sufficient denies people the blessing of helping you. If we never ask for help we miss out on so many different gifts that people have, on relationships that could have gone deeper. Obviously the forms of help we can offer and receive right now are limited by the restrictions but if you are having a hard time do ask for help. Fellow CSs are a particularly good source of support so see my previous blog posts for information about Facebook support groups.
This advice does come with a warning: not everyone will respond well when you ask for help. I’ve observed that some people find vulnerability in their vicar/clergy family difficult to deal with. This is their issue not yours. If you get an unhelpful response please don’t think there is something wrong with you, that person just doesn’t get it – there are plenty of people out there who will so do not be disheartened.
3. Be realistic about what you can do
This is another point which applies in non-covid times but I think is even more important this year. Be realistic about what you can do as a household. Some people may think that the restrictions on holding events means less work for clergy but the opposite is actually the case. Many, if not most, are balancing in person events with all the extra work that comes from having the safety measures in place, as well as providing various forms of online content. The pandemic means more people are in need of help from the church than ever before. I know many CSs are involved in all sorts of activities at the moment from organising Advent window trails to making sure those in need do not go without this Christmas. Alongside this there is paid employment/studying/children/elderly parents…the list goes on. So just remember that you are only human and you cannot do everything. Just because an idea is lovely does not mean that it has to happen. I had several lovely ideas for things I would like to do and have done exactly none of them. And that’s ok.
4. Do what works for you
Writing this is making me realise that most of my normal observations about Christmas actually apply just as much, if not more, this year. In previous years I have observed that although we heap huge significance on the date of 25th December it really is just another day. As a Christian I love celebrating the birth of Jesus but I can acknowledge that most of the Christmas traditions I grew up with are completely irrelevant to his birth and can be done any time. If your OH is too knackered on the 25th to be a meaningful participant in present opening etc can you do it on a different day? Can you all have a pizza in your pyjamas in front of a film? Or do whatever seems fun/restful/life giving to you.
Our children have just reached the age where they are aware of what other families are doing for Christmas (our 7 year old seems to be the only child in his class who does not have an Elf on the Shelf) so I’m all too aware of the pressure we can feel under to do things a certain way. But if Christmas day is just becoming associated with stress around how we celebrate then we are robbing ourselves of our own peace of mind to fulfil expectations we don’t need to have. This year of all years don’t put yourself under the pressure of ‘making Christmas happen’ or having the ‘perfect’ Christmas; Christmas can look after itself and you look after you and your household in whatever way works for you.
5. We have basically been unknowingly training for this moment
It was sort of fascinating to hear various MPs talking about ‘saving Christmas’. From their rhetoric I would have to conclude that some of my past Christmas days were not the real deal as we did not spend every one of them with family! Most CSs (along with many other people such as NHS staff, prison staff etc) survive every year with a Christmas that does not look like whatever Boris Johnson had in mind and has apparently saved through the magic of bubbling. If you are an old hand at the vicarage Christmas like me my feeling is: Our moment has come! We can calmly face Christmas 2020 knowing that having to do things differently may not be what we want but is perfectly doable. I never expected the CS life to have such a specific application to a pandemic situation but that is just one more surprise in a pretty surprising year.
Whatever Christmas 2020 looks like for you I really hope you find some form of joy and blessing in this season. If that doesn’t happen and it all feels terrible then see points 1 & 2 above – some times in our life are just really difficult and some seasons are bleak. If that’s how you feel you are not alone and you are not failing. Be kind to yourself and ask for help if you need it.