This is a talk I gave on Wisdom app on Christmas Eve 2021. I talked about finding inspiration from Christmases past, present and future, as well as engaging the senses and taking time to be introspective and take stock of the year during the festive period.
You can listen to the talk here and you can also read the transcript below.
Hi everybody! Merry Christmas Eve if you’re celebrating Christmas, I thought that I’d just pop on and have a little chat about writing about Christmas because I don’t know about you, but this is a really busy time. But also I have a bit of time off work now between Christmas and New Year. I’m not back in work until the 4th of January. My last day at work was yesterday, which was the longest day ever. You know, when you’re just waiting for work to be over and it just absolutely drags?
So it’s really busy. You know, seeing family and getting everything ready. I’ve I feel like this time of year is time to reflect and write and think about Christmas. Think about the year that we’ve had. Think about what’s happening next year. What do we want to achieve? So for me, after Christmas Day, at least, it’s really nice downtime to write and to think and just be a little bit introspective.
So, I wanted to talk today about writing about Christmas specifically, and then maybe afterwards, then we’ll have a session about writing about the year as a whole and what’s to come.
Which is obviously all through the lens of covid. ’cause obviously there’s people who can’t see their families for Christmas due to being poorly or having to isolate and things like that. And I know it’s still like a really difficult time for people.
Everything I wanna say is kind of through the lens of how, yeah it’s a really nice time of year, but also it’s still quite difficult as the last two years have been quite difficult and I find as well like the older I get, the harder it is to feel festive. I think when I was a kid – I went to a Catholic school, Catholic infants and juniors school – all of my memories are just so Christmassy andit feel it feels like when I was a kid, Christmas was everywhere and it was inescapable and wonderful. But now that I’m an adult, I have to go looking for it and I have to be more deliberate about finding ways to be festive. It doesn’t come as easily as it did when I was a kid. In my prevailing memories of Christmas as a kid or the projects that we used to do at school, I remember drawing pictures of the Nativity, being in the Nativity play. I was a shepherd. We used to light the candles for Advent in assembly.
Uhm, what else? Just going into town with my parents and just seeing all the lights and things.
It just feels like there was a lot more of it back then and now I have to go looking for it and try to get into the Christmas spirit. I don’t know as well if I do things too quickly because I’m really organised. I like to get my Christmas shopping done quite early and get everything wrapped up. Partly because I don’t want to have to do two wrapping sessions, so I’d rather do all of my wrapping at once, and then I don’t have to do anymore, but that means I have to do it quite early because I give people gifts at different times depending on when I’m seeing them, so I can’t just do everything on Christmas Eve because there’s people that I see earlier than that. And also I think I do that because I’m excited about Christmas and it gets to like the end of October and you know, Halloween’s out of the way. Now I’m ready for Christmas. So I don’t know if I did myself a disservice by doing everything super early because I’m excited and because I’m an impatient person and by the time Christmas actually comes, I’ve kind of run out of steam a little bit.
But I think when I was a kid, the run up to Christmas was all exciting because we were excited about Santa coming and all of the festivities of the day. But now I’m finding that I really enjoy the run up to Christmas and the day itself is obviously still really nice, as I see my family and everything.
But I don’t know. It’s funny how these things change as we get older.
But anyway, these are some of the things that I might think about when I’m writing about my Christmas.
So I know it’s a really busy time for everybody. People are preparing food and doing their food shopping. Wrapping presents, maybe still buying last minute presents. Going to see people, dropping presents over and then of course the busyness of the day itself.
So there’s loads going on on.
Again, obviously if you’re you know, lucky enough to be well and all your families are well. And everybody listening, I hope that you’re able to do that and have the Christmas that you want.
But yeah, I think that this time of year is also a great time to do some writing.
So I wanted to share a couple of things to inspire people to write about Christmas and a few things to think about.
And if you’ve listened to any of my talks before, if you follow me on Twitter – where I am @writersamr on Twitter, Facebook and Insta – you know that I’m a three times cancer survivor. I’m doing my PhD on creative writing and cancer survivorship, so I’m looking at how writing can help people who have had cancer with the emotional side of things.
And the work that I’m doing at the moment is I’m kind of at the place where I’m thinking, you know, I’ve spent an awful lot of time writing about cancer and I know people say it shouldn’t be your whole identity. You know. People say don’t let cancer or other illnesses define you.
But I think that it is a big part of my experience and who I am. So I’m 34 now and I had my first diagnosis at the age of 22. And I’ve had three altogether so yeah, I spent a lot of time writing about it. And so I started my my PhD in 2019 and quite soon after I started it, I thought maybe I don’t want to just write about cancer all the time. Because I started my PhD thinking right, I’m going to spend six years (’cause it’s it’s part time, so it’s a six year course) I’m gonna spend six years writing about cancer and all the ways that it’s impacted me and wronged me and everything.
But yeah, I’ve got a few months in, I was like, actually, I’ve spent ten years writing about cancer and maybe I don’t want to do that anymore.
So what I’m thinking about now is who else I am besides a cancer survivor. Because I have a genetic condition called Lynch syndrome which makes people more likely to get different types of cancer and that’s why I’ve had three. It means I have to have a lot of tests and things. I have to go for CT scans and gastroscopies and all sorts every year just to check if it’s come back or if all is okay.
So it’s something that you can’t just forget about. I think even without Lynch syndrome, I wouldn’t be able to just forget about it anyway, but it’s something that doesn’t go away and it really impacts people. You know, people end up with PTSD symptoms from having a cancer.
So yeah, there’s an awful lot to think about and write about there. But also, I’d started thinking I don’t want to write about that so much anymore, I don’t want to think about it so much. I really felt like having to go through these tests every year makes me feel like a patient a lot of the time and I don’t just want to feel like a patient, you know, and it just makes me wonder. WelI, I’ve dealt with this for so long. Who else am I? Apart from being a cancer survivor?
Who was I before and can I return to that? Can I even really remember what it was like to not be this new person impacted by this life changing thing.
And so my work at the moment is really trying to think about who else I am apart from a cancer survivor. What is my identity now and how has that changed?
And one part of my identity is that I really love Christmas. I’m a December baby. My birthday was on the 10th so December has always been just a really great month anyway that I just always love and it always surprises me when December comes back around because it feels like it’s always so far away and then it comes and it feels like it’s my month like on the 1st of December. I’m like “welcome to my month!” because it’s my birthday and because I love Christmas so much.
I know that a lot of people who were born in December, especially people who were born closer to Christmas than I am, am don’t really want to think about Christmas necessarily until their birthday has come. You know, people might say it’s not Christmas yet because it hasn’t been my birthday yet.
And maybe their birthdays are overshadowed by Christmas, but I think mine is just far away enough that I can not feel like that, and I really like Christmas being part of my birthday, I like my birthday being festive. The Christmas tree has to be up before my birthday comes and yeah, my birthday should be Christmassy, I just love it.
So anyway, that’s enough about me and my Christmassy feelings. I wanted to share some prompts about for writing about Christmas, so the first three that I thought of are a little bit of A Christmas Carol theme, if you like, thinking about Christmases, past, present and future. So firstly, thinking about what you’re doing for Christmas.
Now obviously in the context of 2020 and 2021, what we’re able to do, what we’re not able to do, depending where you are and what your circumstances are.
So what your plans are for the day, what has the run up to Christmas been like for you?
How long is Christmas for you? Is it a whole month thing? Or is it something that you don’t really want to think about until a couple of weeks before? Do you do all of your Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve? Are you very organised and like to do things early or do you enjoy the last minute rush? I watched the movie Jingle All The Way yesterday so is your Christmas any anything like the present panic of Christmas Eve?
And then what? What about afterwards as well? So do you have traditions for Boxing Day? What happens between Christmas and New Year? And maybe you could write about New year as well.
Which we’ll talk about a little more later, I guess.
So yeah, thinking about what your Christmas is like now and then, maybe also comparing it to previous years and or what it was like when you were a kid.
And then thinking about Christmases of the past. So what did you do when you were younger? I talked about what Christmas was like going to a Catholic school when I was a kid, so what was that like for you as a child? Was Christmas a big part of your childhood? Was it very religious?
What parties did you go to? What family events? What presents did you get? What did you want Santa to bring but he never brought you? Like maybe something that all your friends had that you wanted?
What traditions did you have?
In terms of food and presents and all the little rituals, like so here in in England, obviously I don’t know where all my listeners are from, but in England we have a shop called Argos and I don’t think they do it in print anymore, but they used to do a big catalogue of all of their products.
You would go to the shop and they wouldn’t have like things out on shelves really to buy, but you would go and look in the catalogue and you’d put the number in the machine or you’d write it down on a piece of paper and take it to the checkout and they see if it’s in in stock and then you they would get it out of the back for you. But the joy of Christmas as a kid was the Argos Christmas catalogue and just sitting at home, ’cause you’d take the catalogue home with you, and looking through the catalogue and circling all of the toys that you wanted.
It was a big thing I. I bet there’s a lot of people my age of like oh yeah, of course I remember as a kid circling everything that I wanted in the Argos catalogue, for sure.
So anything like that, even just like really small things that we remember doing.
And also, what did you write about when you were younger?
If you’ve been a writer for a long time, did you write about Christmas stuff when you were a kid? I remember writing a Christmas song. I can’t remember how it went at the moment, which is probably a good thing to spare all of us.
Oh! “Christmas time is nearly here. A time for giving, a time to share.”
I don’t remember anymore. That’s probably for the best. It’s not my finest work.
Did you write any Christmas stories when you were younger? Do you still have them? That would be an awesome thing to look at and get the nostalgia going if you still have things that you wrote about when you were younger, especially Christmassy things or pictures that you drew or anything related to Christmas from your childhood to have a look at.
Or ornaments, when you’re decorating the tree, are there ornaments that you still have from your childhood? We have ornaments in our family that have been in the family for years.
And I remember making versions of me, my mum and my dad to put on the tree. They were just made out of paper. I put cotton wool in between two bits of of paper to make little 3D models, so I think I did my dad as Santa. I think I was an angel and my mum was an elf.
So yeah, just little things like that, handmade Christmassy things.
There’s a few things to think about there to get your nostalgia juices going.
And then Christmas future. What are your hopes for Christmas future? Obviously if this Christmas is not what you would normally do, what are your hopes for next Christmas? What do you want next year to be like? What do you want the state of the world to be?
Are there big changes that you’re hoping for? Maybe you hope that your family might have grown, or maybe you’re expecting your family to have grown, maybe you’re expecting to spend next Christmas with some different people, or maybe you’re looking to move and maybe next Christmas being in a different house or a different city. Or maybe you just want it to be the same.
Maybe there’s a previous Christmas that you loved and you would like to have that Christmas again.
What would the perfect Christmas look like for you for next year?
Even for this year. What would be?
Your ideal Christmas.
And then thinking about engaging the five senses, so this could again be related to memory, so we have sight hearing, taste, smell and touch. How can you incorporate these into something that you’re writing about Christmas in order to really jog your memory and to make the story or the poem or whatever you want to write come alive for your reader.
So let’s start with sight. What comes to your mind when you’re thinking about the things that you see during Christmas?
I really love looking out of my window and seeing the house opposite with their Christmas lights. It’s really simple. It’s just a little string of lights around their window, but then it’s reflected on the cars opposite, so actually you end up with three versions of these lights kind of scattering themselves everywhere, and it just makes me happy to look out of my bedroom window and to see the Christmas lights.
So what can you see when you’re looking out of the window? What can you see in your house in terms of decorations? How does your house look different now? How does your street look different?
When you walk around your town or your city, what interesting things do people have on their houses? For decorations? There’s a house down the street that has a dinosaur in a Christmas hat which really confused me when I first saw it ’cause I thought it was a green snowman.
So that was a bit of an unusual thing that I’ve noticed this Christmas. So what else?
And when you’re walking around the city at night, I love city lights at night. Or in the countryside, or just when you’re walking around, your neighbourhood, what can you see?
Something else I love is to go into a big shopping centre and seeing all of their Christmas decorations or their lights strung from the ceiling.
Yeah, it just makes me feel joyful.
Hearing, then. What does that bring to mind? Of course we have Christmas music, which I used to hate when I was a kid.
I really used to dislike Christmas music, but now I love it and I titled this talk, Those Christmas Writes thinking of the song Christmas Lights by Coldplay, which is one of my favourites and an underrated Christmas song I think. So what Christmas music do you love?
If you remember from your childhood, maybe you were in a choir and used to sing Christmas carols. Maybe used to go carolling. Maybe you still do.
What about the noise and the mayhem of Christmas morning? If you’re in a family with children? I’m not at the moment, but I remember when my my niece and nephew were little and all of the mayhem when everybody would come over to our house in the evening and there was, you know, shouting and the scrunching of paper as people tore open their presents.
I remember having to release my niece’s toys from the card, we had to untie all of the plastic ties at the back and what a nightmare it was trying to get them out and somebody would be trying to listen like trying to watch TV, which is just impossible because everybody would be really noisy.
What do you remember and what do you hear at Christmas now?
What about taste, then? Because food is such an important part of Christmas for a lot of people. So who does the cooking? Or do you go out somewhere for Christmas day for dinner? What’s traditional? What’s not traditional for your Christmas dinner? What do you have for breakfast?
I have chocolate for breakfast on Christmas morning. I normally get given a chocolate Santa so I usually eat the head for breakfast. So unhealthy, but it’s okay because it’s Christmas. You can do whatever you want.
So what are the traditions? Do you have an evening meal on Christmas Day or are you just too full up for from Christmas dinner and turkey to have an evening meal? Do you have a little buffet? Do you have leftover Turkey sandwiches? That’s what I quite like.
What time do you have Christmas dinner and have your traditions like this changed over the years and why have they changed?
And then think about sweet treats as well, like what’s traditional for you to have, or what new traditions are you starting?
And then thinking about smell, which again could be related to food and cooking or candles or the smell of sweet treats, especially when you’re out and about like the smell of ginger, ginger bread, cinnamon.
What does the smell of Christmas make you think of?
And then touch.
Always a little bit difficult to write about touch I think, and to think about it, the same with the smell because I think sometimes when I’m writing about something, if I’m thinking about the senses, I think about sight and I think about what I can hear and those are the two main ones for me. Obviously, if you’re not really eating anything then taste doesn’t necessarily apply. But smell and touch, sometimes I just think, well, I’m not really touching, you know, the character isn’t really touching anything.
There’s not really any smells around, so it can be a little bit trickier to think about smell and touch.
Maybe sometimes there are things that are in the background that we take for granted that we kind of know that they’re there, but we’re not quite paying attention to them.
Furry socks. Do you get socks for Christmas? So many people get socks for Christmas. You get those really furry slipper socks or dressing gowns for cosy nights in.
Or maybe the feel of food, like I thought of candy canes because they’re quite hard. They have quite a distinctive texture.
Or the feel of gingerbread or something like that. So what things are you touching? Maybe the scrunch of the wrapping paper or bubble wrap if you have a present that’s bubble wrapped and you like popping it.
What does this conjure up for you if you’re writing?
So those are the tips that I have for writing about Christmas.
And I just wanted to mention the end of the year in general as well, because as I said at the beginning, I I feel like this is a really reflective time of year, especially in the time between Christmas and New Year.
When I’m I’m not working I at my day job I I do like to spend some time on my passion projects, my side projects, my writing, trying to get published, publishing other people in my lit mag Peeking Cat and reflecting on 2021. So what have I achieved this year, specifically for me in terms of writing, and what have I had published and my PhD and what have I managed to do there?
Thinking about hopes for 2022 as well, So what would you like to achieve? Again, thinking about where would you like to be this time next year. What do you want to have happened for you?
Obviously it’s been a really difficult couple of years now.
Can you believe that it’s been a couple of years?
Do you think that things are going to be very different this time next year? Gosh, I hope that they are.
I think if we just try and grasp as much joy as we can wherever we can, and that’s why I’m enjoying talking to you now about Christmas and the little things that are nice about this time of year. You know the lights, the music.
You know, just trying to be happy and and I said earlier that it’s different now, trying to find joy at Christmas as an adult. I do think it was easier as a kid. And of course it’s more difficult now with everything going on in the world and it’s quite difficult to ignore those things. But if we could just take a little bit of time to reflect and just even spend ten minutes, half an hour on writing a poem, writing a story, or just journaling some thoughts about Christmas and the end of the year. What 2021 has meant for you, what you want 2022 to be like and is there anything that you can do in 2022 to make the things that you want happen.
And how you might find some joy this Christmas in the big things and the small things as well.
So I hope that that’s given fellow writers a little bit to think about in terms of writing about Christmas.
I’ll end it there. Thank you so much for listening. I hope that was interesting and useful and conjured up some happy Christmas memories for you.
I hope that you have a peaceful and reflective and joyful Christmas period. Merry Christmas everyone, chat to you again soon. Bye for now.