My unbridled love of Christmas often surprises those who don’t know me well enough to know that I live for my annual festive crafternoon. It’s a fair point, and one I’ll concede readily; I am, after all, the eternal goth and wearer of the most humbug collection of pins and badges for miles around (I once nearly wore my beloved House of Addams black-heart-in-a-jar pin to a wedding, but thought better of it).
Nor was my childhood particularly idyllic, either. My parents divorced when I was 3 years old, and despite the domestic violence (“DV” as the solicitor called it back then) and the bailiffs that were called in to remove my Dad from the house, we would still split our time between the two households each Christmas.
My Dad’s effort at festivity was about as misguided as any of the very few attempts on his part to provide a normal, stable family environment. Christmas-time with my Mum, however, was a blessedly magical period, with mince pies nibbled by Santa on Christmas night (and carrots nibbled by Rudolph), a beautifully decorated tree with all the wonderful ornaments my Mum collected over the years, playing in the snow, and practising carols on my keyboard, giving as well as receiving, and the rare, (usually) sustained good cheer between family members.
When I got a little older, family relations were more strained. Christmas lost a little of its magic. No Santa, no snow, and quite a lot less of the childhood innocence that made the festive period so enjoyable for me. I stopped eating meat, and so Christmas dinner became a more problematic affair. Then I stopped eating all animal products, and it became almost impossible. Eventually, I broke with tradition and started hosting my own vegan Christmas dinner for friends and loved ones. A curious transformation started to take place: I decided to take back Christmas; to take the magic and make it my own. I started to embrace all the most wonderful and dearly held festive traditions and throw myself into it all with warm, cosy abandon.
This Christmas will be particularly poignant for me. My Mum, the one who taught me to love all the most loveable bits of Christmas, passed away too soon in early September 2017, just over three months ago. She was only 64, and there were a lot of future Christmases to look forward to. At my Mum’s public celebration of life event, these were the words I shared:
I first met my Mum in in July 1981. I arrived two days before her birthday (putting into place a tradition of making her life difficult, I think).
Today there has been a lot of talk about her legacy, and it is heartening to hear all your stories about how her legacy will live on.
But, as my Mum, she also transcended all of these massive, precious achievements. I began to think, what was her legacy to me?
So I wanted to share some of the many things that she taught me (to some degree, in order of importance):
- How not to suffer fools (gladly or otherwise).
- How to be an unapologetic voice of dissent.
- How to question everything and think critically.
- How to be a better ally.
- To hate Tories.
- How to try, try again.
She gave me an appreciation of stationery. And buffet food.
She taught me,
- How to swim.
- How to crochet, and sew.
- How to play backgammon.
- How to bake potatoes (properly).
- How to roast parsnips (properly).
And perhaps most importantly…
How to decorate a Christmas tree…properly.
So I guess that I dedicate this little guide to Christmas appreciation to my Mum. My childhood wasn’t easy, I’m mostly a big fat humbug, I don’t eat turkey, but I’ll always rejoice in the warm, wonderful happiness of Christmas my way. This festive season, please take care of yourself and only say ‘yes’ to that which makes you happy. Here are a few ideas for a cosy, crafty, vegan Christmas.
Baking & making
Once upon a time I ran a little from-home vegan bakery. I would regularly work full time in my day job and then arrive home to bake 72 cupcakes in the evening. Those days are definitely behind me, but the urge to bake is un-quellable once December rolls around. I’ve rounded up some of my favourite festive vegan recipes here.
- Sweet & smoky glazed tofu ham
- Banana Eggnog Pancakes
- Vegan Rullepølse
- Simple Christmas cookies
- Dresden Stollen
- Shallot and shiitake gravy
A couple of my own recipes:
The easy/cheating option
Every Christmas for the past few years I’ve rolled out Jenny’s Mini Mince Pie Croissants, an incredibly simple creation that will impress your festive guests no end. Simply take one tube of Jus Rol croissant dough, cut each triangle in half, place a little marzipan and one teaspoon of mince pie filling into each, roll up and bake.
As above-mentioned, each year I host a little festive crafternoon for my friends. We gather for one Sunday in December, ensure that lots of tea/coffee and snacks are in stock, and we try our hand at various DIY activities. We’ve made (non-wool) felt tree decorations, mini cross-stitch hoops, sugar scrubs and moisturisers, and more I can’t remember. (Search Google for ‘acrylic felt’ if shopping online!) I love getting crafty around this time of year, and it’s lovely to give home-made presents if you’re so inclined. Here are some of my favourite festive how-tos and freebies:
- Embroidered Christmas wreath
- Polymer clay tree ornaments
- Fox and deer embroidery pattern
- DIY Lavender bath bombs
- DIY Lotion bars
- Christmas Unicorn (!!) felt ornament
- DIY Christmas stocking
The almost unbelievably cute option
Paw Print Salt Dough Ornaments. Vulpe once came home from doggy daycare with one of these a few years back and it was so adorable I nearly died.
If there’s one thing I struggle to fit into my schedule, it’s enforced downtime. As I work full time, study part time, half-arsedly run a blog, cope with a chronic illness that means I have about 40% energy around 70% of the time, AND try to maintain a life outside of all that stuff, there is pretty much always something I feel like I should be doing.
I do feel for folks working in retail at this time of year; I got my first ‘proper’ job when I was 15 years old, and until I was around 26, I worked in one form of retail job or another. Cinemas, Clarks shoes, Music Zone (remember them?), a jewellery shop, a kids’ clothing retailer, a theatre box office, and plenty more. For the past 10 years or so I’ve worked in Higher Education, and with that comes the rapturous delight of CHRISTMAS CLOSURE. This means that my annual leave entitlement comes topped with the veritable cherry topper of all perks: all closure days and bank holidays as bonus. Although I don’t have children, and therefore no real ‘claim’ to the additional time off, these days I always book the week before Christmas off work well in advance. I usually end up with a minimum of two weeks away from my day job and boy do I make the most of it.
With the accumulation of 2017’s various difficult events, this year I’ve decided to go one further and book us into a remote Scottish cabin for the week before Christmas. It is in this hidden spot, sheltered by a forest and overlooking a peaceful frosty loch, that I plan to embrace the wonderful art of JOMO: the joy of missing out.
Whilst I’ll be bringing along some books and Uni work to beaver away at should I get bored, more than anything else this is an opportunity to force myself to relax a little, and just enjoy being removed from business as usual. Christmas (or New Year) is an excellent time to do this as the whole country kicks back a little for a week or so.
Whether your own JOMO involves seclusion, going back home to family, escaping from the family, or any combination thereof, I recommend doing what you can to schedule in some valuable recharge time.
Some tips for embracing JOMO
- Remove social media apps for a few days.
- If you can’t manage removing the apps, (ask yourself why then) disable your notifications. Assign social media time, and only check your apps at those time(s).
- Reverse Pomodoro: using an app like FocusKeeper, use the 25 minute blocks to do nothing. Use the 5-minute breaks to check your phone, etc.
- Get some nature; leave the phone behind. Take a walk in the park, take the bus to a garden centre, ride your bike in a forest. Take some nice photos, collect some nice leaves!
- Have a real proper actual go at a mindfulness routine for a few days. That means download the app and use it. Go on, give it a go. Maybe combine it with the next point on this list…
- Try your hand at Morning Pages. Don’t read any of them back until the end of a week, or a few days later. If you’re a blogger, you’re likely to pull out some great ideas. If you’re a writer, it should kick-start some greater creativity. If you’re neither, it’ll be an interesting exercise and theoretically should ease worries and anxieties!
Whatever your festive plans, I hope you manage to carve out some time to do what makes you happy. Christmas shouldn’t be about obligation; instead, try to make it about rest and regeneration, whatever form that takes for you.
Making it your own
Y’all. Christmas can be rough. Families can be rough. Expectations can be rough. But listen: I give you my permission to make Christmas whatever you want it to be. Do no harm but take no shit, am I right? Of course I am. Do you dream of spending Christmas alone in your living room, sitting in your pants, eating vanilla pudding? Well that’s okay. It’s okay! It’s your Christmas and you should do what you want.
But that stuff isn’t easy to do. And so I wanted to share with you my number one advice-giver on the internet, Captain Awkward. The Captain absolutely nails any and all advice on setting boundaries, dealing with relatives, scripting out difficult conversations, and much more. Here I’ve just picked out a few key columns that might be useful for you this Christmas.
- #987: “Coming out as trans to family at (or before) a family wedding.”
- #943: “I’m being pressured by my family to reconcile with my estranged grandmother now that she’s dying.”
- #926: How to deal with a well-meaning but controlling mother-in-law?
- #917: “How to set boundaries with people who think boundaries and hurt are manipulative? AKA Help implementing boundary advice?”
- #914: “I broke ties with my abusive parents as an adult. Now what?”
- #867: “My partner constantly harasses me about my weight. Any advice?”
And on the subject of sage advice, here I include Jes Baker’s wonderful body-positivity-during-the-holidays master list, and some new and updated signage for anyone who feels the need to comment on what’s on your plate.
- The “How to Stay Body Positive during the Holidays” Master List
- Three Printable Signs (+ Tips) That Will Make Your Holidays More Enjoyable
What about you? Do you have any tips for surviving the Christmas period?
All images are from Pixabay.
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