Talking Point

On the First Day of Christmas: Christmas itself

Annette Spencer


Annette and I first met across the table from each other at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Group Chairs Meeting.  We did not see eye to eye at all to begin with; but over the last few years we have become firm friends.  A real interest in ethics, a passion for equality and the role of faith in changing our future, shared experiences of becoming Chartered Practitioners and a love of the bottomless brunch (highly recommended) mean we always have lots to discuss – we do sometimes write an agenda!

Annette talks about what Christmas means to her.

What does Christmas mean to you?

Controversially, Christmas is not a word which generally fills me with joy. Rather it seems to be the nexus of a perfect maelstrom. Firstly, in every organisation I’ve ever known all the important things have a 31 December deadline. But in reality, since the length of the Christmas ‘break’ in the UK is getting ever longer, this means you will have to complete everything by about 14 December. So from mid-November working life has an added piquant intensity.

Secondly, there is a cultural mandate that you must be invited to – and attend – as many office parties, Christmas drinks, catch-ups with old colleagues and general excuses to crack open some prosecco as possible. Don’t get me wrong – I like a party, especially if the prosecco is a good one. But making it compulsory to party hard every evening in December, while trying to meet all those office deadlines (see above) tests the energy of even the most hardened party-goer.

And finally, because it’s Christmas, what small amount of spare time you now have left is suddenly filled with seasonal tasks. It’s an endless round of writing or emailing cards, ordering wonderful food, finding interesting and unusual gifts, wrapping presents at pace, dressing trees and purchasing emergency supplies of reindeer treats (well, you never know!). All to ensure that for 48 hours everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, will be perfect.

Before you write me off as a complete grinch (and it has been said), if I focus on Christmas being that lovely moment some time on Christmas Eve when everything is done, the guests are assembled and the lists abandoned, then I really do love it as much as everyone else. I just wonder if we could arrange the preceding four weeks to be a little less crazy.

What importance has it been to you in 2017?

In 2017 I have in fact been slightly more mellow this Advent season than usual, despite what I said above. I put this down to two important lessons this year. I took a break from work over the summer, and one result of this is a renewed appreciation for the privilege of busy-ness and business. I’m rather less resentful of the false December office deadlines and rather more convivial at the office parties.

This year some of our family were also very ill, and for a while it seemed there might be one or two empty chairs at our dining table. So to sit down on Christmas Day with a full table of all the people in the world I really care about is a much more powerful feeling than I imagined, and a highly effective provider of perspective. It’s also a reminder of the symbolic and actual significance this annual moment of family has for many people.

Epiphany is all about looking forward – what are your hopes for 2018?

The lessons I learned in 2017 came from unexpected and unconventional sources, so in 2018 I hope I will be open to learning from those situations which don’t automatically seem that educational. As one of my wise men (see below) said, it’s not what happens to you that matters, but how you respond to it. And I hope my new zest for working life and my gratitude for family life will retain their Christmas strength.

Who are your three wise men?

My father – for wisdom and wisecracks in equal measure
My Director of Studies at university – for being a bigger influence on my subsequent life than I could have imagined at the time
My best friend, Jane – for unfailing honesty about what I’m doing well, and what I’m not!

What or who is your guiding star?

I strive to make fairness my guiding star. It protects me from prejudice and favouritism, it delays me from jumping to opinions, and it helps me make the best decisions I can whatever the choices. Of course, sometimes stars can get obscured by the clouds…

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