Jessica, the girl who saved Christmas: a new (and true) Christmas story

Jessica, the girl who saved Christmas: A new Christmas story || raeritchie.com

This is a true story about the time my niece, Jessica, saved Christmas.  

Once upon a time, there was a girl called Jessica.

She lived with her dad, mum, brother Joseph and Lola the dog.  Jessica liked dancing and playing the flute, but most of all she loved curry.  Her whole family knew that her favourite breakfast was leftover curry from the night before.

Jessica was a funny girl who made everyone laugh.

She was also very kind and loving – so much so that in 2016 she managed to save Christmas all by herself.

One day in the week before the 25th, Jessica and Joseph went to stay with Auntie Rae while their mum was at work.  They were only going round for an hour but Auntie Rae wanted to think of something fun to do.

Her first idea was to go to Crave, the best coffee and desserts shop for miles around, but it wasn’t open that day.

She racked her brains until she remembered the large box of Christmas decorations sitting in the garage.  Although it was already 19th December, Auntie Rae and Uncle Mark had not put up a single decoration.

They didn’t even have a tree.

This was very unusual.  Auntie Rae had always loved Christmas and often did lots of festive things, from baking to decorating to writing cards.

This year was different.

This year there was no Christmas cake, no Christmas decorations nor had she written Christmas cards.

Auntie Rae was sad that there was no Christmas in her house this year but she couldn’t feel any December magic.  She’d had a difficult year and was poorly with a naughty brain that made her feel sad a lot.

One day recently she’d been so sad that she even missed going to eat turkey and Christmas pudding with her friends.

This showed how bad things had become as Auntie Rae never said no to Christmas pudding.

On the day that Jessica and Joseph were coming round, Auntie Rae decided that although she didn’t want to get the decorations out of the garage, she would retrieve the box because they might like to do something with what was inside.

She went outside and dragged the large plastic container back into the house and left it by the piano.

In the afternoon, Jessica and Joseph arrived with their tablets to play on.  Auntie Rae was pleased that they wouldn’t be bored but also felt a little bit sorry as she had begun to quite like the idea that they might put up some decorations.  So after they’d taken off their coats and had a glass of fizzy pop, Auntie Rae nervously asked if they’d like to have a look inside the box.

Joseph said no thank you, instead he would watch what they were doing.  He did watching very well, sitting in the big winged armchair, curled up with his game, for the next hour.

Jessica, however, did want to see what was inside.

Auntie Rae felt even more sad when she saw all the lovely things that she had collected over the years but hadn’t the energy to get out before now.

She also felt a glimmer of hope, knowing that having Jessica there would make a big difference.

She was right.

Jessica got to work straightaway, finding five matching silver candle holders and putting them on the coffee table.

This first step encouraged Auntie Rae to put the sprig of plastic mistletoe near the front door.  It cheered her up no end, and she smiled as she suddenly had an idea!

Auntie Rae wobbled on a chair as she reached a large glass jar down from the top of the fridge.

She and Jessica sat together on the floor, working like Santa and his top most elf. 

Auntie Rae unravelled the fairy lights and twisted them round the inside of the jar while Jessica sorted out the silver and glass baubles.  Once she had them all, she began to add them into the jar too.  Then Jessica also found a big red ribbon that she wrapped around the outside of the glass.

When they were finished, Auntie Rae carefully placed the almost full jar on the end of piano. With a bit of wiggling and pushing, she managed to get the fairy lights plugged in down the back.

Like the shepherds on the hillside when the throng of angels came down to tell them of Jesus’ birth, they stood filled with both excitement and trepidation as Auntie Rae pushed the button to turn on the three hundred bulbs.

Ta dah!   They worked first time, filling the space with a gentle golden glow.

The two workers stood back, satisfied with what they had created.

They high-fived before eating mini mince pies in celebration.  After that they chilled for five minutes, scrolling through the WAH Nails Instagram feed and discussing which manicure they liked the best.

Rested and revived, they moved on to another project.

This time Jessica hole-punched some Christmassy postcards and Auntie Rae threaded them on to string to make a garland.

After Jessica had gone, Auntie Rae again balanced precariously on a chair so that she could festoon their second creation across the bookshelves.

As she was doing this, Uncle Mark came home from work.

‘What’s been going on?’

he asked, surprised to see there were decorations scattered around their home when Auntie Rae had been uttering ‘Can’t we just skip to January?’ for weeks.

Auntie Rae explained what she and Jessica had been up to.

She gave Uncle Mark a big hug and a kiss under the mistletoe by the door then, with a lump in her throat, whispered ‘I’m actually feeling happy and festive now’

– all thanks to Jessica, the girl who saved Christmas.

 

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Trying to escape the shoulds: the self-imposed pressure of Christmas & New Year

Try to escape the shoulds: the self-imposed pressure of Christmas & New Year || raeritchie.com

Looking back at December last year, I clearly was going through some kind of jedi like phase of great wisdom because there are several blog posts from then that I’ve felt moved to share again this year.

(An alternative reading is that I’ve not been able to dedicate the same time and thought to the blog this year because I’ve been busy writing commissions).

This particular posts spoke to me today as I’m definitely feeling the pressure of the Christmas shoulds.  I should have done so many things for Christmas, from make a cake to put up decorations to craft my own wreath from pom-poms (okay, so the latter is somethin

g that I really *want* to do).

I haven’t done these things and more and while deep down I know this isn’t a problem,

I’m still getting stressed about it.

So here’s a reminder as much for myself as anyone else that use of the word ‘should’ is not a good sign.  If you enjoy the post or find it useful, please do let me know!  You can share it on social media using the buttons below too.

***

When this post is published, I shall be holed up with my partner is a cottage on the beach on the south coast.

Back in August, we decided to have a getaway from Christmas Day until New Year’s Eve.  We found the right accommodation on the same day and booked up immediately.

It’s only as Christmas has drawn closer that I’ve begun to question our decision.  I’ve never regretted our choice – on the contrary, I think it’s a brilliant idea, all the fun of the festive build up but none of the hassle and anti-climax – but it has raised big questions about my sense of obligation.

Should a good daughter not see her parents on at least one of these days?

Should a good auntie miss Christmas with the fast growing children?

Should a good daughter-in-law whisk her partner away from his family at this time of year?

Should I be allowed to do what I want rather than what others expect of me?

The cunning among you may have spotted that all these questions are united by that most dreaded of compulsions, ‘should’.

As any pop-psychology book will tell you, use of the word should (and its close cousin, ought) is a sure sign that you don’t actually want to do something but feel somehow compelled to by pressure, be it societal, familial or even internal.

Christmas is a classic time when should based decisions come to the fore.  

You may want to stop at home with your young children but feel obliged to drag them round all the grandparents instead.

You may want to cut down on your spending but feel it would cause uproar if you stopped buying gifts for all the extended family.

You may want to opt out of Secret Santa at work but fear you’ll look like killjoy if you do.

I could list fifty more examples off the top of my head.

Alas the Christmas shoulds are compounded by the New Year ones.  

It is a rare person who hasn’t at some point in their lives made a resolution at the end of December based on something they feel they should do.

The perennial favourite is weight; many of us know that feeling that we should lose a stone – or three.  

My personal bete noir has been growing my nails.  I’ve felt obliged to quit picking my nails since at least age six.  Every year I’d vow that was it with my disgusting habit.  For the start of 1999, I even vowed that I would ‘Grow my nails like Jenni’s’, Jenni being a friend at college whose hands I greatly admired.

It took me sixteen years, yes sixteen years, to fully acknowledge how ridiculous that particular variant of the resolution was.  My own sheer willpower is not enough to overcome genetics.

My own vision of ‘how things should be’ will not override the reality of how my nails look.

I finally realised this and accepted the truth of my hands when using the bathroom on a research trip to UC Davis in July 2015.

It was a very precise moment, like a thunderbolt.  This is how my hands are, I thought, and how much more mental energy do I want to expend fighting that?  Not a lot, it turns out, and I’ve had a more harmonious relationship with the bits on the ends of my arms since.

If only it were so easy with every other ‘should’ that crosses my mind!

That said, there is one useful lesson I have learnt from overcoming my belief that I should grow my nails like Jenni’s:

Naming the sense of obligation can help to dispel it.  

Externalising it, rather than keeping it in our heads and our hearts like a dirty secret that we are betraying, can seriously undermine its power.

I don’t just believe that this applies to me; I feel that anyone could benefit from talking about their most controlling sense of should with another person or even journalling about it.

Therefore ahead of this New Year’s Eve, I encourage you to make a list of the 12 Great Shoulds in your life – one for each month of the year.

What dozen shoulds or oughts make you feel obliged and trapped?  

As my example of ‘growing my nails like Jenni’s’ suggests, the more ludicrous the better!

Here are the 12 Great Shoulds that continue to taunt me:

  1. I should be 7.5 stone because that’s the weight I was at some point in 1997 (aged 15)
  2. I should always have a tidy basket of spare towels, perfectly folded and stacked
  3. My car footwells should always look like they’ve just been vacuumed
  4. I should never ever miss the birthday of a friend or family member because this makes me an evil and uncaring person (this has been an especially tough one in 2016 as my mental health struggles have made remembering birthdays and getting to send cards difficult)
  5. I should maintain every aspect of my house to an exacting standard of cleanliness and taste.  Every. Single. Thing.
  6. I should be better at yoga than I am.  In fact, I should be considering yogi training.
  7. I should always have a completely full tank of petrol.  Even when I’ve just returned from a long journey, I ought to have filled to the very top again en route.
  8. I should never ever need to use an ATM but ought to have a reasonable quantity of cash upon my at all times.
  9. I should always have six months of savings put to one side
  10. I should not display any pictures of myself or of me and my partner together anywhere in our home
  11. I should pack away all the garden furniture and plant tubs at the onset of autumn and not leave them out over winter (can you tell that’s a current nagging guilt?)
  12. I should not experience or display any sign of human nature but rather maintain an aura of complete perfection at all times and on every occasion.  To reveal even the slightest weakness or flaw amounts to total failure.

 

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Those unforgettable moments of communion with friends: why friendship is good for our soul

Those unforgettable moments of communion with friends: why friendship is good for our soul || raeritchie.com

For Heather, a friend who always speaks straight to my soul.

A reprise of one of my favourite blog post from last December.  It seems as timely as ever.

On Friday I showed up at a friend’s house for lunch.

I knew I was seeing her between meetings she had and was told we’d be eating soup.  I expected to rock up to a tin of Heinz and a few slice of brown bread, but on arrival I was greeted by a table fully decked out for a Christmas celebration, even though there were only two place settings.

We had a festive themed table cloth and party crackers as well as a table laden with homemade soup, crusty bread, croutons, a cheese board, salad and three different desserts.

Reader, I felt thoroughly spoiled.

Topped with paper hats, we had a merry time together, sharing a meal and heartfelt thoughts.

As I left, further blessed with a glass tree decoration that she had forged herself, I knew we had taken communion together.

You don’t need bread and wine to share communion with someone. 

I don’t think you need to view the act of communion necessarily in a religious way, although obviously it comes heavily laden with Christian associations.  At its heart, the act centred on Jesus and his closest mates sharing a meal between them.

Isn’t that something we all know can be a special occasion, one that seems to take on emotional significance beyond the actual act of eating and drinking?

 

Surely that is that purpose of communion, a transformative experience that changes us?

Friendships are important because they help to remind you of who you are, whether at your best, your worst or simply your core.

Unlike familial or romantic relationships, there aren’t rites of passage or dedicated days where we can honour and celebrate our platonic ties.  This seems a shame, an oversight somehow, as if they are not as important in our lives as relatives by blood or marriage.

Yet we are able to mark the significance of friendships over and over again if only we are mindful of what’s happening around us.

We can share communion, a treasured bond, a life-affirming moment with them whenever we sit down and talk, preferably with food and drink on the table between us too.

We can experience the most spectacular thread of connection even if we were only expecting to have half a tin of reheated soup.

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, please do share it using the social media buttons below!

For more from me straight to your inbox, sign up for my monthly mailing.  It includes exclusive offers and giveaways! Every single subscription makes a real difference to me and my work.

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Those unforgettable moments of communion with friends: why friendship is good for our soul

Those unforgettable moments of communion with friends: why friendship is good for our soul || raeritchie.com

On Friday I showed up at a friend’s house for lunch.

I knew I was seeing her between meetings she had and was told we’d be eating soup.  I expected to rock up to a tin of Heinz and a few slice of brown bread, but on arrival I was greeted by a table fully decked out for a Christmas celebration, even though there were only two place settings.

We had a festive themed table cloth and party crackers as well as a table laden with homemade soup, crusty bread, croutons, a cheese board, salad and three different desserts.

Reader, I felt thoroughly spoiled.

Topped with paper hats, we had a merry time together, sharing a meal and heartfelt thoughts.

As I left, further blessed with a glass tree decoration that she had forged herself, I knew we had taken communion together.

You don’t need bread and wine to share communion with someone. 

I don’t think you need to view the act of communion necessarily in a religious way, although obviously it comes heavily laden with Christian associations.  At its heart, the act centred on Jesus and his closest mates sharing a meal between them.

Isn’t that something we all know can be a special occasion, one that seems to take on emotional significance beyond the actual act of eating and drinking?

On Saturday afternoon I met another friend.

I travelled up to Manchester to see her and we spent several hours in heavy duty conversation, oblivious to the world around us as we talked and drank and then ate, sharing a bowl of olives before tucking into hefty burgers with like-your-mum-made fries (if you’re ever in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, I highly recommend Evelyn’s Café Bar).

We parted hoarse voice and almost missing my train, shouting our ‘I love yous’ across the station concourse as I skidded to get to through the barrier in time.

After these joyous moments of sharing deeply with friends I was gutted to miss another Christmas lunch planned for Sunday.

A mix up with my pills on Friday was playing havoc with my emotions, meaning nothing for it but sitting on the sofa all afternoon sleeping and crying.

I was especially sad to not have time with these girlfriends as they were the bunch who had supported me so stoically during the darkest days of my year, providing listening ears and practical help – the kind of friends who’d come round to see you but make you sit down while they got on with the coffee making.

These same friends first alerted to the possibility of communion many years ago, when we sat around post-meal sharing wine and sharing stories, telling our truths as we never had before.

Our relationships were transformed, never to be the same again.

Surely that is that purpose of communion, a transformative experience that changes us?

Friendships are important because they help to remind you of who you are, whether at your best, your worst or simply your core.

Unlike familial or romantic relationships, there aren’t rites of passage or dedicated days where we can honour and celebrate our platonic ties.  This seems a shame, an oversight somehow, as if they are not as important in our lives as relatives by blood or marriage.

Yet we are able to mark the significance of friendships over and over again if only we are mindful of what’s happening around us.

We can share communion, a treasured bond, a life-affirming moment with them whenever we sit down and talk, preferably with food and drink on the table between us too.

We can experience the most spectacular thread of connection even if we were only expecting to have half a tin of reheated soup.

If you enjoyed this post or found it useful, please do share it using the social media buttons below!

For more from me straight to your inbox, sign up for my monthly mailing.  It includes exclusive offers and giveaways! Every single subscription makes a real difference to me and my work.

You can also follow me and my freelancing adventures on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.