Now that I don’t have to spend my Christmases without a significant other I really enjoy them. I loved them when I was a child too – there were just a few awkward years in between when they were depressing, irritating, and on occasion, dull.
The inescapable family
One thing that never changes for me, and as a festive theme, is the presence of family. Last year an advert for John Lewis started a trend for strongly emotive seasonal selling which has now spread to other big brands like Boots.
The Christmas themes aren’t new – there’s togetherness, a focus on giving being better than receiving, the idea that gifts are worth more than their monetary value, and so on. The general idea is to make us appreciate the old-fashioned values of Christmas so it becomes about spending quality time with your family and being thoughtful, rather than being a mad whirlwind of consumerism and gluttony.
This is all very admirable, although, since these messages are coming to us from shops hoping to sell us things, it’s a little hard to stomach at times.
The truth can be colder
Away from this cosy, log-fire vision of Christmas there’s also the stark reality that many families are not like the ones in the TV adverts.
Some families don’t care about each other, and some people do not have any family. Some families have problems, and may find Christmas very stressful and even upsetting. I am not a Grinch, but I know that Christmas isn’t wonderful for everyone.
Even for me, who has some wonderful people to share the day with, it’s a double-edged sword. I like seeing my family, or my in-laws, swapping presents, and eating roast parsnips and mince pies. I dislike the large amount of noise and the inability to spend any time alone. I also don’t like spending so much time in a house that isn’t my own. I can’t wander about or do the things I normally do. I can’t make myself a cup of coffee without feeling displaced and asking permission.
If I had the space to let all my relatives come to my home this would also be irritating. It would feel crowded and I’d be running around like a headless chicken trying to keep on top of the drinks and food, and keeping the place in some semblance of order.
This is the challenge of Christmas for those with Asperger’s who also have families who want to see them. The day will always be irritating as well as fun. It will never be truly relaxing. Nonetheless it is better than offending everyone and annoying your (non-Aspie) partner.
For me the worst Christmas advert is by Morrisons as it features a woman being stressed out and miserable as she runs around single-handedly preparing dinner for an enormous family. Her consolation? When she sits down (she is last to do so) at the table and sees her family digging in with a level of gusto that suggests they have been starving. This presumably is meant to show their appreciation but I imagine they’re all thinking ‘what the Hell took her so long?’
Are we meant to believe that women don’t, or shouldn’t ask for help at Christmas? Are we meant to believe that nobody in the entire family offered to help with any of it? If I had such an uncaring and ungrateful family I would refuse to invite them over for a cup of tea, much less a full Christmas dinner. And yet this advert assumes this is normal. It seems to say ‘this is how things are and there’s nothing wrong with that, because look – she’s happy at the end’.
It’s this kind of pessimistic sexist view of Christmas that really irritates me. I’m happy for adverts to espouse traditional family values like caring and thoughtfulness, but don’t turn Christmas into some awful challenge that people just have to put up with because it’s expected of them!