5 Ways of Reviving Your Dying and Dull Christmas

When Christmas turns into a form of repetition, where we do the same things at the same time, it becomes a bit like the digital world. Things are either on or off. Ones and zeros. The Mulled wine when people arrive. The lunch serves dead on at 1 pm — the after-dinner coffee at 3. This repetition can be reassuring, the one time of the year when everything is predictable. It runs ‘like clockwork’. It is what we always do. It can also feel repetitious in a negative way – dull, lifeless, something to be endured, not savoured.

Same old, same old?

For many people, Christmas is pretty much the same each year, and they want to keep it that way. When elderly parents who host Christmas Day become frailer there can be awkward and even tearful points when a decision is made to change things. Many people are reluctant to change, many surrender to same-old, and those who suggest change can be labelled as Yuletide spoilers and heretics. Christmas can freeze over, even if it isn’t snowing outside (again).

And many of us don’t like that change, especially at Christmas. Doing it the same way as last year – good. Changing anything – bad. Christmas becomes binary, just like the code that powers our smartphones. We do it this way, or we don’t. And when we do it the usual way, it becomes a kind of pre-defined program.

When we choose to repeat something because we feel nurtured by it, when it feels healthful, the repetition becomes a benign rhythm. For those of faith, that can be Midnight Mass at our local church, and for all of us it can be pulling the crackers, present-opening time, or lighting the brandy on the Christmas pudding. There’s nothing wrong with rhythm – Nature is based on rhythms, the change of seasons, the pace of growth, harvest, decay and then new growth. We can enjoy the rhythm of checking in our social media on the bus to work each morning. It can easily fall into a less favourable repetition when we get less out of out, enjoy it less and feel we are going through ‘the motions’ rather than enjoying the reassuring taste of doing something again.

Five Ways of Re-Lighting the Christmas Fire

So,  when repetition begins to feel pointless, grey and lifeless, it is because we don’t feel animated by it. It feels empty, samey, without purpose. And that can be the time for stepping off the line of doing it or not doing it and looking at changing it and doing something different. Here we can become creative; we can be innovative, challenge that lifelessness and purposelessness and look to re-kindle, refresh, remake and revive.

But hold on a moment! Before you do any of that, I would like to suggest a more immediate way to put life back into your Christmas, and it might just involve tasting and savouring those very repetitions and rhythms of Christmas that are already there, and it  might also involve noticing and changing a lot of the digital distraction and digital displacement activities that have invaded your Christmas as a means of coping with the soulless repetition of what you’ve been half engaged within recent years or even decades. So, before we change or add anything new, let’s look at detoxing and reviving what our current Christmas already offers us.

Why am I focusing on the digital world? Because that tends to be the place we flee into when we are less interested in the physical world in front of us. It offers more stimulation for many people.

People are spending more and more time on their smartphones and plan to even more this Christmas, and there is evidence that texting can stress us out. And never mind sleep-walking to our presents; some of us now sleep-texting. Also, our attention becomes divided between the digital and physical worlds, and neither gets our full attention. We only half taste the food of life. If you feel split in that way, or that Christmas is an empty or diluted experience, you might be ready to reinvigorate your experience of this annual festival.

Part of it is about getting back into the physical room and using all of our senses until we reach a tipping point we may have forgotten about, in which fully engaging gives us the reward of a fuller, more satisfying Christmas experience. And, when we go into the digital world, we make some very conscious effort to step away from the physical world and do our digital time fully and properly. Research is increasingly suggesting we aren’t built for multi-tasking, and we can end up in a kind of digital stupor where our physical and digital Christmas experiences start to dilute, undermine and even cancel each other out.

So what can we do about it?
Here are those five ways to reviving your Christmas…

Five ways of reviving your Christmas…

1. Do the same thing differently.

2. Do the same thing more richly or deeply.

3. GIve the same things more or less attention and intensity.

4. Reduce or eliminate the digital distraction and displacement that has crept in.

5. Value people that are sharing your Christmas more.

All of these five activities really overlap with each other.

The Digital Devices – What’s it got in its pocketses?

In the world of our digital devices, our addiction to them and our distraction, we tend to get a lot of advice about switching them off, based on the idea that they are all bad. It becomes about denying the digital world, banishing it.

Whether they are bad for us or not, the digital realm and its various devices, from smartphone to Alexa, from tablet to PlayStation, they are all very much a part of our lives and they offer the opportunity to connect to friends, colleagues and relatives around the globe, whether they are in the next room or on the next continent. They inform and entertain us instantly and allow us to buy and sell, research and interact.

They are all a finger press or voice command away, and they offer access to information, entertainment, escape and buying and selling. Within a moment, we can be laughing or smiling at a cat video, taken away from the melancholy repetition of the real room we are in. But soon enough it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because we offer little or no effort to light up the physical room we are in. 

We become a minimal, diluted, diminished non-participant in our own physical Christmas. But we can also find ourselves sighing at the same repetition and diminishing returns to be seen in our online version, as emoticons and smilies, cat videos, same old same old music and film clips, games and eBay offers also disappear into a cycle of mediocrity. Often this is the case in which One (The physical world) plus One (The digital world) doesn’t even add up to Two.

So, let’s get back to the list above and see how we might just breathe life into our Christmas, not by denying the digital world, but by ensuring it truly complements the physical one. That will involve exercising (and recovering) the bit of our willpower that can be lost to compulsive connecting, habitual and lazy digital distraction.

That distraction can also be fun, engaging, entertaining, and simply more attractive than the old repetition going on in the physical room.

Those people in the room are friends, family, and this is one time of the year – perhaps the only time – when we spend some time physically together. That might seem like hell on earth to some, yet it is also a genuine opportunity to inhabit our physical selves and connect for real fully.

1. Do the same thing differently

You are checking your messages, alerts, email every few minutes. The phone keeps ending up in your hand. You are only half (if that) in the room, regarding your attention. You aren’t listening to people entirely (if at all). There’s nothing wrong with seeing who has sent you messages on Christmas day. So, go on, give the physical and the digital worlds your full attention. Do one first, then the other, and let people know what you are up to. If you stay in the room but head into the digital realm, let those people know you are off and away for ten minutes. Equally, if you are slow to answer online to digital friends, give them a heads up on where you physically are and what you are doing. And then…

Put your phone on standby.

Turn off alerts for an hour and be fully present, perhaps when presents are being opened, at a meal or shared snack times. Or if the family are going for a walk.

Put the devices off during that time. Enjoy the company of others. Often, even if it feels a bit repetitive and mediocre, we can become bored and disengaged. It is always different because we are never the same person twice. Give everyone full listening. Join in during those times. Then, for an hour, step into the digital realm and immerse yourself.

Dive into the digital world, read your messages, play your game, respond to alerts and notification, watch those suggested movie clips and listen to some music, check your social media. Give each realm a lot more attention and focus rather than half concentrate on both at the same time.

2.  Do the same thing more richly or deeply

Slow down. Read those texts as if you are savouring food properly. Imagine the people who are messaging you. Ask them where they are and what they are doing right now. Instead of being disembodied entities online, remember they are people, human beings like you, having their own Christmas.

Look appropriately at any pictures or videos they send you. Read thoroughly what they write. Slown down and enjoy a richer experience, both in the physical and the digital world. Ask questions, read texts through before you send them (you will edit them, and they will be better for it).

3. Give the same things more or less attention and intensity

Allow your feelings to express themselves. If you are about to tap in a smiley, then smile physically too. Play around with the level and quality of your attention. If text or physical conversations become too serious or intense, lighten them a bit. Add some humour, be a bit more tolerant as it’s Christmas and doesn’t default to irritation.

Christmas can be an emotional and tiring time for some people. So give them a bit of leeway to be clumsy in what they say or type. Turn off notifications in every message or picture sent. You don’t have to read them all or look at them all right now.

Finish your yule log slice first and don’t type and text at the same time. Multi-tasking at sense-loaded Christmas can be too intense. Do one thing at a time and pace it all more lazily. At other times, immerse yourself – make that phone call and enjoy it, really watch that movie and leave your phone off, let all the emotions impact upon you. One minute, less intense, more light, less attention; another give it your full attention and immerse.

4. Reduce or eliminate the digital distraction and displacement that has crept in

Notice if you are on your digital devices as a default, as a distraction drug. Notice how other people feel short-changed by your attention. Make a gesture of generosity towards them and give them full attention with all your senses. Listen to grandma, give full eye contact, make that hug count. Make the Christmas gesture of prioritising the people in the room for at least parts of the day. It’s an act of will, a decision to value those who are present. Yes, it is a present of real presence.

Make a gesture of generosity towards them and give them full attention with all your senses.”

5. Value people that are sharing your Christmas more

Remind yourself that people come together once a year at the time of giving and receiving. Be part of that. Not everyone feels equally valued at Christmas, and the gift of listening can help someone value themselves more, a present more valuable than any physical stuff. Online, reply to messages fully, respond not with a lazy ‘cool!’ but with replies that address what people are messaging you in detail.

Phone them instead of texting. Arrange to physically meet up in the New Year, if your intuition is telling you that might be important. Respond correctly, not generally, both in the physical room and online.

Let people know you matter to them as unique individuals.

So, Go On …Make a present of your Christmas presence

This is a way to enhance the Christmas you usually have without changing those things. It is about deepening and valuing yourself and other more. It is about putting the digital realm in its place, skilfully and mindfully alongside your physical Christmas. We develop habits over time, and the digital world exerts a strong pull over us.

Just a few minutes here and there, an hour with the devices placed away from our physical Christmas, this can add value to both our physical and digital Christmases, joining them up better, complementing rather than competing with each other. And you might find it a more rich and valuable experience too.

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Paul Levy 31 Articles
Paul Levy is a writer, a facilitator, senior researcher at the University of Brighton, founder of FringeReview, and author of the book Digital Inferno, published in 2014 by Clairview Books.