Have you heard of the Danish concept of hygge*? The idea is cosiness, suited to those dark winter months. For me it’s the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree in an otherwise darkened room, tucked up under blankets watching a heart-warming film, and indulging in a little mulled wine, all coupled with plenty of family card-playing over cups of tea.
In 2012 there was no hygge to be had. December festivities were an attempt at normality rather than any actual Christmas cheer. My ex-husband and I separated five days before Christmas.
It was unbearable. The emerging traditions, the cosy warmth; snatched away into a chilling vacuum of Christmas past.
What was originally a planned joint family day was spent partly locked in the bathroom, wanting only to sit on the floor, sobbing and sobbing. Conversation, presents and joy were palatable for short three or four minute bursts before I wanted to scream and hit something. I didn’t want to be near anyone, but I didn’t want to be by myself. Jokes weren’t funny, games were irritating and I was unbelievably on edge.
I struggled to think about anyone except myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. I wanted everyone else to enjoy their Christmas. But it was too hard to think beyond myself, my pain, and my loss.
We survived that Christmas, somehow, and all returned the following year. Time had left the wound less raw, though still agonising and sore to touch.
But the particular memory I have now of that first Christmas is that, amongst the loneliness, there was love. Not the love I was desperately missing, but a long-lasting, well-established acceptance of anything I was feeling – in this case, my anguish and anger. Love that tolerated my inability to eat and my constant urge to cry. It was an unconditional, deep-rooted love from my childhood that was given without question, despite me and because of me. It was a love that would have done anything to soak up my pain and make things well for me. It’s the same love that sent Jesus to earth on that first Christmas.
Even now, sometimes the loneliness takes me by surprise. In a family of naturally formed pairs, I’ve had to acknowledge how lonely I sometimes feel. It’s not all romantically attached couples, but their closeness can magnify my own sensation of being alone. Excusing myself to go to the bathroom to acknowledge those emotions is helpful. I miss being part of a pair, but now I’m better able to choose when to hold this emotion for later, and when to let the pain out.
I’m honest about how fragile I might be feeling – admitting that you think you’re going to find it hard frees you up to ask for a hug, or excuse yourself for 15 minutes. It is perfectly fine to not be ok, to be angry and to be hurting.
In a natural time of family, cuddling up close and picking out presents and decorations, Christmas is a hard time to be alone. It’s a hard time to feel lonely. But seek the love within the loneliness – the friends and the family who accept and understand and with whom you can fully be yourself – tears, tantrums and all. It’s this love that has tempered the memories of the years, filed down the sharp edges of pain, and now makes hygge possible again.
*The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell – good for a laugh