Christmas has always been my favourite time of year. The streets adorned with twinkling lights; returning from frosty walks with cheeks ablaze to the promise of hot chocolate, and indulgent festive bakes; a whole season dedicated to celebrating families, sharing and creating memories with loved ones.
I had always fantasised about what ‘my very own’ Christmas would look like, when I was the adult creating the magic for my enchanted brood. During our many Christmases before having children, Tom and I would discuss which traditions we would borrow from our own families, as well as new ones, just for us.
I would be lying if I said that Christmas didn’t lose some of its sparkle after Findlay died. It can be hard to muster the cheer of the season when your heart is utterly broken, and the first year without him I never thought I’d ever feel true happiness again. The long-imagined fantasy of the perfect family Christmas seemed lost forever.
Fast forward two years, and things look very different. My heart still aches for my missing boy – as it no doubt will until my dying day – but this year will be spent trying to convince a 17 month old that he really doesn’t need to pull EVERY. SINGLE. BAUBLE off the tree. Plus, we are in our brand new house, so actually have a kitchen (and more importantly, an oven!) which can handle a turkey. Leo was here last Christmas of course, but things were a little different as we escaped to the Peak District with my family, and were very much still in the fog of chronic sleep deprivation!
So this year, it what feels like our first ‘proper’ Christmas since Findlay died, I was determined to do something positive; to embrace the Christmas spirit of love and goodwill and to celebrate and honour our son.
And, thanks to the gods of Instagram, I was able to find the perfect way to do so.
The wonderful Jess at The Legacy of Leo has set up an advent project aimed at doing exactly that – #AdventToRemember is aimed at anyone who is missing someone this Christmas (whether it be a child, parent, relative or friend) and is an initiative to help remember and include loved ones whilst spreading a little Christmas cheer and love.
Since deciding to get involved with this year’s #AdventToRemember, I have been hugely inspired by others, both from within the baby loss community and beyond, in their ideas for activities, random acts of kindness and events. Over the last two years, we have already developed a couple of family traditions to honour and include Findlay, such as attending remembrance events and getting matching Christmas wreaths for his grave and our front door, so this project seemed like the ideal way to expand on these further and dedicate the whole of December to our family, and the special little boy who created it.
There’s always so much going on at Christmas – it can be hard to know where to start! With markets, carol services & Christmas tree festivals, there’s bound to be something to take your fancy in your local area. Here’s a round up of some of my favourite events happening in Norfolk this December – maybe one or two of these could make it into your advent?
Thursford Christmas Spectacular
I have many fond memories of visiting my grandparents in Norfolk at Christmas, an in particular, the wonder that is the Thursford Christmas Spectacular. It’s as if someone bottled the essence of Christmas, mixed it with extra glitter and razzmatazz and exploded it all over this little Norfolk village. An absolute MUST Christmas event – although you need to book early if you don’t want to miss out.
Holkham at Christmas
It’s no secret how much I love the magical place where sea meets sky, and nowhere does Christmas quite like Holkham Hall. With candlelit tours of the hall in all it’s glory to an audience with Father Christmas himself, a visit here is a must if you want to get into the spirit of the season.
Christmas Train Ride
We are fortunate in Norfolk to have several heritage railway lines, all of which offer various festive journeys throughout December. From Santa Specials in North Norfolk and complementary mince pies for passengers in Alysham, why not avoid the traffic and get on board this Christmas? For something extra special, the Polar Express is departing from Dereham station on selected dates throughout December. Whilst this event is now sold out, if you’re in the area why not listen out to see if you can hear the sleigh bells…unless you don’t believe of course.
You can always rely on the National Trust to put on a good show at Christmas, and Felbrigg Estate. Taking place the first two weekends in December, this beautiful winter trail takes you through the gardens and woodland, where you will discover music, crafts and tasty winter treats, all amidst the glow of festive decorations. No need to book tickets in advance, but head to their website for more details.
Sands Lights of Love Service, Friday 8th December
Each year, Sands hold services in December at venues across the UK. The services are family friendly evenings of traditional carols, reading and musical performances. All services are free to attend, there is no need to book and you do not need a ticket. This year, the Norfolk service is being held at St Andrews Hall in Norwich. For more details, head to the Sands website.
Make New Traditions
Part of the heartache of missing at Christmas is not being able to share moments and memories with your loved one. Why not create some new traditions dedicated to and for them? Each year we buy a new decoration for Findlay, either for the tree or elsewhere, and write him a Christmas card, as a way to acknowledge and share our love and missing of him. I hope as Leo grows, he will share in these traditions, perhaps helping to make a card, and I look forward to seeing how he chooses to remember his brother over the festive season.
Christmas Crafts & Activities
You only need to open Pinterest and you will be bombarded with hundreds of suggestions for makes and bakes to get you in the festive spirit. This year we’ve decided to have a go at one or two which we think Leo will enjoy, such as a Christmas sensory box, salt dough decoration and baking (think simple tray bake rather than Grand Designs inspired gingerbread house. Although this advent is about remembering and celebrating Findlay, it is also about bringing the joy of Christmas back into our home, so we hope that these activities will be fun for us to do together.
Now, I am by no means a Martha Steward protege, so in the likely event that these activities all go horribly wrong, we have several ‘minimal effort – maximum enjoyment’ activities planned, such as watching Christmas movies, dancing to Christmas songs (hairbrush at the ready for my Mariah tribute and drinking hot chocolate until I feel sick. Job done.
Share the Love
Christmas is the season of giving, so why not make a charitable donation in memory of your loved one? We’re planning a number of donations to charities which mean a lot to us and the wider baby loss community, such as Sands, Tommy’s and Aching Arms so why not make a donation to a cause close to your heart?
Local food banks are desperate for support this time of year; it’s easy to add a couple of extra tinned items to your weekly shop and your donations can make a huge difference to vulnerable families in need of a little extra help this Christmas. Find out what’s available in your area and ways you can get involved here.
Similarly, why not see what you can do to help local hospitals and shelters? The influx of presents under the tree is more than enough reason to have a sort out of what’s lurking in the cupboards. Do you have any toys and books which you could donate to the children’s hospital? And I’m sure the residents of your local hostel would love to rehome last season’s winter coat. You know what they say – clean house, clean mind – and you can feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that you’ve helped others too. Win win!
Random Acts of Kindness
Buy a stranger a coffee, leave change for someone’s train fare at the station, scatter festive chocolates around the town centre as a welcome sugar-boost for weary shoppers. You’d be surprised how much these small, simple acts can make someone’s day and you will get the joy of knowing their smile is thanks to your love being greater than your loss. We decided to make some cards to explain why we’re doing these things, and a little bit about Findlay, as nothing makes my heart sing than having others know his name, but of course they can be totally anonymous too.
We’ve got lots of things planned for the next 24 days, so head over to my Instagram if you want to see what’s in store. I am hoping to do a follow up post to this one (#AdventToRemember pt.2) with pictures and details of everything we got up to throughout December, so keep a look out for that one. I might get it published before Easter – if you’re lucky.
However you choose to ease the missing this Christmas, I hope the season passes gently, and that you manage to find a little festive cheer.