Christmas with the Bailey* family

After the year we’ve had, there’s a lot of talk about celebrating a ‘normal’ Christmas this year. But is there really such a thing?

Across the UK, many families will be celebrating in December with their favourite food, their preferred time to share gifts and their own traditions. The chances are that no two households will celebrate in exactly the same way.

As we recognise that sometimes Christmas, New Year and other holidays need to look a little different for the families of care-experienced children, we want to celebrate the beauty and the joy in the fact that there’s really no such thing as a ‘normal’ Christmas.

"In lots of ways, our Christmas looks like everyone else’s. We have a tree, we eat great food and there’s a big focus on family. But there are a few things that we have to do a little differently in my house, and one of those things is presents.

We had to make a special arrangement with Father Christmas very early on. At two and three years old, our girls were so excited at all the talk of Father Christmas that was happening at nursery. But when it came to that first Christmas Eve we spent together, we realised that our eldest in particular was actually incredibly frightened at the thought of a man she’d never met coming into our house. We quickly made a deal with Santa and asked him not to visit our house and to leave the stocking-filling to Mummy and Daddy.

Surprises are really difficult for one of our kids to handle. The idea of presents is exciting, but there are a lot of other emotions involved. There’s a nervousness about what’s inside a wrapped gift, there are expectations and hopes that are sometimes fulfilled but sometimes not, you have to say thank you and look really pleased even if you don’t feel that way. All of this can be overwhelming, and it creates massive anxiety for our little boy in particular in the lead up to Christmas Day. So what we’ve started doing is buying his gifts with him present. Just the other night I asked him, “What would you like for Christmas this year?” We had a conversation and we picked up the tablet, and together we chose his presents – and I purchased them with him sitting right there next to me. We still wrap the gift and place it under the tree, but knowing what he can expect at Christmas takes away the surprise element and minimises the anxiety he experiences.

My son isn’t the only one who doesn’t like surprises – my husband hates them too! He likes to choose exactly what he likes, and whether or not it’s wrapped doesn’t make a huge difference to him. I, on the other hand, love arranging a surprise. I think that sometimes, as a parent or carer, you have to lay aside some of those things for the sake of your children, or to find them somewhere else. I’ve taken to planning a surprise girls’ day with my daughters every year, who enjoy those kinds of things too.

Christmas in our family is all about balancing different needs, different likes and interests, different hopes. In a lot of ways, it’s pretty far from ‘normal’ – but is there really such a thing as a ‘normal’ Christmas anyway?"

*names have been changed for anonymity

Date published:
Christmas 2021


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