Thoughts on Advent Calendars, Chronic Illness, and Holiday Stress

And so it begins.

When I was a child, we would start every day in December by lighting an Advent candle. It cast a warm glow over the breakfast table, contrasting with the blackness outside the windows. In Denmark, so much of December is so very dark.

Burning down the space allotted to each day — about a centimetre — lasted about as long as it took me to eat breakfast. I seem to remember that we all slowed down a little, not wanting to leave the table until it was time to blow out the candle for another day. It started the day with hygge, that unique Danish concept of warmth and cozy togetherness. It set the tone for the whole month, giving impatient children something to look forward to every day, while at the same time building anticipation.

And that is why I used the Advent calendar format for Chronic Christmas: Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic Illness.

Living with a chronic illness is incredibly stressful. And the holiday season piles more on top of the already existing intensity. So many of us end up crashing on the actual big day, unable to participate as much as we want because we exhausted ourselves getting there. And it leaves us very little room to enjoy the season or the celebration.

And that was my goal with this book. For us to slow down, to create hygge and anticipation. As I was writing it, I imagined you gathering with the people you love as the month of December wore on, focusing on each other instead of the rush and the consumerism glaring at us from everywhere. And from a larger view, I imagine all of us gathering around a virtual table, diving into the special Christmas atmosphere called julehygge.

One of the ways we can do that is to show each other what we are doing (and not doing) to celebrate the season. Why not share the stories of your holidays on social media using the hashtag #ChronicChristmas? Show me and each other what your holidays look like. Let’s help each other focus on what’s really important to us, instead of all the other stuff.

I plan to do that, but I’m not going to inundate the blog with it. It will be part of what I talk about in this space this month, but not all of it. Because let’s face it, that would be boring. Take a look at the other spaces where I hang out to see what I’m up to. There’ll be #ChronicChristmas posts on my Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, And the tradition of the book and this holiday, there might be a couple of surprises.

And sure, I do hope that as many people as possible buy my book, but I’m not obsessive about it. #ChronicChristmas is about doing something together, not whether or not you have read the book. You also don’t have to celebrate Christmas — this is my favourite holiday, but I am decidedly secular about it. If you celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Festivus, the solstice, or anything else (or nothing at all), share what you do using #ChronicChristmas.

That first chapter in Chronic Christmas the book suggests that instead of using your energy going to the mall, you shop online. And that brings me to one last thing for today. 

It started on Giving Tuesday and ends tonight. Until midnight, 50% of the proceeds from the sale of any of my books or the products in The Shop will be donated to MSF/Doctors without Borders. Because at its core, the holidays are about being kind to others and especially those in hard situations.