Photo: Mary Evans Picture Library
Photo: Mary Evans Picture Library

OPINION

Christmas isn’t about showcasing how much you’ve achieved on a greetings card

A viral tweet reminds Daisy Buchanan that many of us don’t achieve exciting goals between January and December – and that’s perfectly okay

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By Daisy Buchanan on

I have a strange multiple choice question for you. Which of the following words best describes your achievements, emotions and prevailing feelings as we transition from 2017 to 2018? Is it A. Excited B. Engaged C. Expecting or D. Emily? Emily Seawright’s tweet went viral earlier this week when she shared a picture of her family Christmas card, in which she’s holding up a card bearing her own name, option D, while her siblings, their partners, and her parents hold the other words aloft. (If you know your memes, you’ll remember that a different family did a similar thing a year ago, in which one single sibling held up a sign that read “egg salad”.)

The picture made me laugh, but it made me think about the annual achievement audit that takes place in many families during this period. The images we often use to define Christmas are ones of festive family togetherness, but there’s often a little tension in the air too. Sometimes Christmas feels like a company AGM, and everyone is under pressure to tell the board exactly what they’ve done to earn their keep, and be considered for a promotion.

Many of us don’t achieve exciting goals, or meet major life milestones between January and December. Or rather, we achieve difficult goals constantly. We manage to pay the rent every month, we leave jobs and relationships that make us unhappy, we fill our days with tiny triumphs such as going to bed on time instead of waking up on a drool-covered sofa, or making a new friend at work, or managing to accrue enough Advantage points to buy a significantly nicer moisturiser than usual. Every day we deal with the pointless, the annoying and the absurd, and I think that if we can survive it and keep smiling, we’ve achieved something great. But that’s not a headline. It doesn’t make the Christmas card.

In 2011, my sign would have read “Emily”, or perhaps “Existential crisis”. I’d just reached the end of an extremely painful, complicated break up. One of my little sisters was engaged and getting married the following June. I’d been working towards a promotion throughout autumn, after almost four years in the same job, and I’d just been told that I wasn’t going to get it. When I tried to buy a train ticket to my parents’ house, my bank card was declined. That year, I needed someone to celebrate me. I felt broken, dejected, a failure – even though I’d worked so hard to achieve success and have something to be proud of. And I had plenty to be proud of. I’d moved house by myself. I hadn’t missed a day of work since the break up.

Sometimes Christmas feels like a company AGM, and everyone is under pressure to tell the board exactly what they’ve done to earn their keep, and be considered for a promotion

Also, there is no evidence that Emily’s life is remotely similar to mine, when I had my very bad year. For all we know, that picture was taken the day that she got back from the Maldives, and she flew to the Caribbean the next day. She might be a company CEO, or be on the brink of signing a book deal. The signs are revealing because they tell us a lot about the way we value and celebrate women. If you’re becoming a wife or mother, you get a sign. If you’ve just won a million dollar account at work, or you’re planning your next space mission, or successfully rewired your house, your friends and relatives aren’t expected to be interested. Although, if the latter applies, you should definitely lobby for a sign that reads “ELECTRICITY!!!”

The internet may have birthed the Christmas card meme, but I think it’s also responsible for the sense that our lives need to be filled with thrilling, photogenic events. The value of our achievements isn’t necessarily defined by the hard work we put into them, but the way we choose to document them. I know many Mums who have struggled with fertility issues, and been emotionally and physically exhausted by the process of starting a family – but if I relied on Facebook and Instagram for information, I’d assume that their path to motherhood was instantly fulfilling. One friend went travelling on her own earlier this year and curated an envy-inducing feed of temples, beaches and sunsets. “Your trip looked amazing!” I gushed, when I saw her. She replied “I got quite bored, and quite lonely. I wouldn’t go again.” Social media encourages us to summarise each other’s lives. It quickly becomes a personal PR exercise. We get lost, and forget to think about who we are and what we want, because we’re so anxious about what to write on our sign.

If you’re reading this, you have probably endured and survived adversity on a personal and global level over the last 12 months. You’re made of morning runs and hangovers, mortgage instalments that were paid on time and credit card bills that took you by surprise, great hair days and broken boilers and meetings where you killed it and bin days that were missed. This year, I think we should all be Emily. Our successes are myriad, and complicated, and not necessarily connected to our relationship with other people. We’re not defined by those relationships. We define ourselves.

@NotRollergirl

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Photo: Mary Evans Picture Library
Tagged in:
Christmas
Mental Health
The internet

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