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Christmas – Not For The Feint Hearted or The Homeless – by Mary Egan Campbell

Article by Mary Campbell © 5 December 2019 .
Posted in the Members' Blog ( ).

When I was growing up, Christmas was a magical time. Of course we were poor as church mice, living hand to mouth so the only thing we had to look forward to each year was Christmas. Bed time stories were all snowflakes and candy canes with lots of colour and joy sprinkled across the pages. Of course there were sad stories too like “The little match girl” or “A Christmas Carol” but mostly we read stories of Santa Claus and his helpful little elves or one of my favourites “The Grinch who stole Christmas”. Libraries were a veritable Mecca to us in those days. We had no book shop in our little town but we had a small little library in a damp stone walled room, which had once been part of an old derelict courthouse. Christmas holidays meant that we had so much more time to read and stocked up on the most colourful and magical stories we could find.

Christmas was and still is special to me. To a little girl dressed in hand me downs and mostly boy’s clothes the very thought of colourful Christmas trees and sparkly lights alone was enough to lift the spirits. But the stories were the best. My parents read to us small ones and when we were old enough we read our own books. My favourite Christmas story book of course being; “Twas the night before Christmas” which was all the more festive when told in rhyme. I still read that story to my own children today to get them in the festive spirit.

But what does it all mean? Should we really be crafting fairy-tales for our children in this day and age when the reality is so much darker? Are we setting them up for a fall by giving them false hopes and wishes of happy ever afters in a world where many families struggle with alcoholism, depression, illness and poverty? As writers we have the power at our finger tips to rewrite the stories we tell our children and maybe toughen them up for the road ahead. But it’s a very difficult decision to make. To crush a child’s dreams is to give them no hope but perhaps better that than false hope?

In the past children’s stories were much darker with strong morals or lessons to be learned such as found in Aesop’s Fables or Grimm’s Fairy tales. Down the years we have softened or altered these stories to make them more palatable or age appropriate but part of me feels we have lost a valuable source of social education for our younger generation. I personally will never forget the lesson of the boy who cried wolf.

Christmas is a struggle in so many ways for so many people. Sold to us as a festival of love and laughter and gift giving it has become so commercialised now that many people have come to hate the whole season because of the financial pressure and stress it can bring. For a homeless child living on the street or in temporary accommodation this Christmas, reading glossy sugar and spice tales of happy families snuggled up around roaring fires drinking hot chocolate together just doesn’t seem right. First of all these kind of stories will only serve to make them feel even more unhappy and envious of what they perceive to be the norm, when in fact very few of us if any live the perfect story book lives depicted or experience the magical Christmases as promised in seasonal movies books and songs. We might strive to, but the reality often falls short.

As a race we humans seem to be missing out on the important things in life. Materialism is getting in the way of compassion and community spirit. We rush to get bargains and stress out over missing out on the pre-Christmas sales. We guilt ourselves into buying more and more gifts each year to keep up with the Jones’s and peer pressure thus putting ourselves under tremendous financial strain in the lead up to what should be “The most wonderful time of the year”. People work overtime and scrape to save or borrow heavily just to get through the season. We start booking Christmas parties, panto tickets and Santa visits before September is even over in case we miss out. Concert tickets for loved ones sell like hot cakes and the crushing weight of failure when we miss out on the Golden Tickets is almost unbearable. Add to that Christmas cards, decorations, party food, drink, work and school secret Santa gifts and an endless round of Christmas parties and events not to mention baby sitters and taxis and it in fact becomes “The most expensive time of the year”. Writing a story, poem or song with that title would definitely not win anyone any favours.

People who are alone and lonely likewise will find the festive celebrations very isolating. Christmas is all about lovers and families and merry making so for anyone who is on their own it can be very depressing indeed. It’s difficult to get into the spirit of gifting when you have no one to buy gifts for. If you don’t get invited to parties or have children or relatives to visit and share the seasonal joy with it can be very daunting. People can get used to being on their own but when faced with an over the top silly season that stretches out longer and longer each year that goes by and all the trimmings that go along with it some simply cannot cope. It’s everywhere, in the shops, in work, on bill boards, on TV and adverts, movies and the radio, thrown in your face 24/7 for 2-3 months of the year and if you’re not part of it, you are in for a season of suffering.

Being winter time there is also a lot of illness about. Losing loved ones at Christmas time is especially poignant because of the season that’s in it. When there is so much love floating about everywhere, the loss becomes amplified.

Then there are families where no happiness crosses the threshold. There are no bed time stories and not even a kind word to lift the spirits. Families break down for many reasons such as alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty, and mental health issues. Home life is marred by the impact of this and therefore very different to the fairy-tale home. Some people even experience violence as a result of the above issues and in these cases there is often no love or home comforts at all. Survival is paramount. Santa Claus rarely visits such broken homes and if he does is not anticipated with the same level of joy and excitement as in other homes.

As a writer I am very observant and have become adept at people watching in my everyday travels. I see first-hand the struggles others are going through. While my own home life has its ups and downs, thankfully we are reasonably happy most of the time and we as parents promote and foster the Christmas fairy tale in our own home. Perhaps it is time for change.

We are seeing many changes at the moment. Environmental as well as social and political changes are always at the forefront now. Maybe it is time we relook at the way we write too. Maybe we should call a spade a spade and out certain fantasies as just that. Disney has created an industry of the whole fairy tale magic appeal of books but real life is not like Disney land. We have the power in our hands to come up with new ways of inspiring hope and pursuit of dreams in our children without resorting to magnificent fantasy tales of lives and riches they may never realise. It will be challenging at first as all new changes are but maybe the true success of being a writer is being able to embrace such change and exploit it in new and creative ways to make it more palatable and acceptable to the masses. Anyone can create fantasy but few know how to eulogise and promote the truth.

Perhaps we could relook at how we write and tell more empowering and uplifting stories that may help people cope with their own individual realities. Christmas time is a time of sadness and struggle for many so maybe we can try to address this. We could try to empower others to help people in need with stories of real heroism in our everyday lives. With the right encouragement our children and our peers might yet become the next Greta or Ashley Judd. We can help right some of the wrongs in the world with our words. This is probably the best Christmas gift a writer can give.

(c) Mary Campbell

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