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136. A Recipe for A Peaceful Christmas

We all want peace at Christmas, yet often our attempts to achieve it result in precisely the kind of stress we are wanting to avoid. I wondered if there were a few things we could learn from an old fairy tale..... I went to see Matthew Bourne's The Sleeping Beauty last night, at Sadlers Wells. It was a Christmas present from an old friend and was magnificent. I t's probably a long time since you've read the story of the sleeping beauty and, in any case, Matthew Bourne takes a few liberties with the plot, so I offer you a synopsis. Once upon a time there was a king and a queen and they were very sad because they had been unable, for many years, to bear a child. So sad and so desperate were they that they put themselves at the mercy of one Carabosse, a wicked fairy who said that she could give them a child. True to her word, a little girl, Aurora, was born to the couple the following year, amidst much rejoicing. Now Carabosse, like all people who are disposed to hatred, was a deeply hurt and vulnerable person, and very sensitive to slight. So happy were the king and queen that they clean forgot to thank her and Carabosse, in a fit of narcissistic rage, cast a spell over the child. At the age of 21, she would prick her finger on a rose (I told you MB had taken liberties) and die. Now there were three other fairies, of a kinder disposition, and one them was able to commute the death sentence to a long sleep, which would be broken only by love's first kiss. Aurora was played by a tiny, slender, feather of a girl (Ashley Shaw). From the start she is at the mercy of all around her, a delicate blade of grass buffeted by every puff of wind, whether it be of love or ill will. There are her terrified parents, with their desperate attempts to protect her. There is the malevolence and curse of the wicked fairy, incurred through no fault of her own. Even the good fairies look a little less than wholesome. And once she falls asleep, of course, she is more vulnerable then ever. The story jumps to years later, when the wicked fairy is long dead, but her son has not forgotten and he, as it happens, quite fancies Aurora. He makes his way into the palace and to her bedroom where she sleeps. He kisses her, but she fails to awaken. He shakes her. Still no response. He then lifts her from the bed, holds her, throws her, touches her, lies with her, she a rag doll in his arms, still deeply asleep. This was remarkably unsettling to watch. I felt a strong urge to dash onto the stage, pluck her from his arms and take her across the road to Pret a Manger and sit her down with a nice cup of tea. Today I've been turning over the question in my mind, just why was it so unsettling? It was easy to explain the discomfort - none of us likes to watch someone who is innocent and helpless being taken advantage of by someone more powerful. Our basic humanity tells us that it is wrong and should not be happening. But I think there is something else here, and that is that it touches into an innocent and helpless place in ourselves. A place that we like to pretend does not exist. You may be wondering what on earth all this has to do with peace at Christmas, and it is this. We may all be rushing around like headless turkeys trying to ensure Christmas goes well, and with any luck we will all have wonderful Christmases. But in our pursuit of a peaceful and happy Christmas we are, like Aurora, innocent and helpless. We can buy our presents and put them under the tree. We can make sure the turkey/nut roast goes in the oven on time. We can do our best to be nice to Grandad, our best to enjoy seeing our parents, or, if we're alone for Christmas, our best to do things that give us pleasure. But over what actually happens, and how we feel, we have very little control. We are innocents, blades of grass, nourished by every ray of December sunshine, and buffeted by every gust of December wind. If you find these words disquieting, it may help to remember that things did actually turn out quite well for Aurora. Despite her helplessness, she got her gardener (another liberty) and lived happily ever after. You see, and this is the crux of the matter, we have learnt to associate vulnerability and helplessness with harm, and control with safety. If you are having a deep hollow laugh at this, you know that this is true. And you know too that we are all deluded. One of my best ever Christmases was when I was in my teens and my parents asked some friends of theirs to join us for Christmas Day. We laughed all day long. One of my worst was when my husband was taken ill suddenly and we spent most of the day in casualty. Neither of these Christmases were the result of anybody's success or failure at controlling. They just happened, and attempts to control them would have made both worse. All our Christmases, happy and uneventful, difficult and sad, and all the shades in between, will be as they are. And the more we can accept our helplessness to control it, and the more we can accept everything as it comes, good or bad, the more peaceful each of our Christmases will be. I wish you the most peaceful of Christmases, and may the winds of the universe blow kindly on you in 2016. With love Anita