Time to Reflect


As we enter the first Monday in this characteristically dreary February, Christmas seems further away than ever. And yet, Gelf the Elf still sits placidly beside me as I search for the momentum, for the memories and the Light. I suspect that I have not been alone in feeling that all too familiar sensation of January daze. It’s a daze of wilfully hopeful anticipation, and optimistically performed ‘resolution’ for the year ahead; but it’s also a daze of wistfulness, a mourning for the time just passed, a reminder of the burdens still present.

Like Janus, the Roman God from whom its name derives, January is a time of beginnings and of transition. It is, in fact, a month in which we become uber-aware of ‘Time’ itself; of its limits and of its possibilities. Having stood still in the nostalgic peace of those festive ‘silent nights’ and lazy Christmas pyjama days, Time is back ON. The carpets are hoovered, the Christmas decorations are back in the box, and clocks seem to be ticking faster than ever before. For most of us, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, time to get back to work, and well, frankly, time to just simply ‘get on with it’.

January is certainly a beginning, with all the rush of mixed emotions that beginnings bring. But it’s also an end. The end of what is deemed by some as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’; the end of Christmas. For many, this is of course a relief. The world can only stand still for so long; and it somehow seems easier to hide in the nondescript abyss of the ‘everyday’. Many of us seem well accustomed to self knowingly churning out those stock empathetic phrases of concern which recognise Christmas as ‘a difficult time’. But it often seems all too easy to neglect the bitter realities of such statements – something my research experiences have at times made painfully apparent.

For those who found their problems only magnified in the eerie stillness of the Season, those who experienced its abundance as emptiness, and those who found its expectations and exhortations only oppressive and restricting, the January daze is often, if anything, jarringly preferable. For others, this return to the ‘everyday’ realities of January carries with it the quiet sinking sigh of disappointment. It’s a weary worn sigh; a bittersweet reminder that good things and good times don’t last forever; a realisation tinged with that creeping, fearful scepticism that perhaps they never really existed anyway.

It is into this atmosphere of dazed disbelief that February enters; no wonder perhaps that it is so often depicted as a dried up, lifeless month of boring drudgery. It seems no accident therefore that it should have been welcomed in with two key societal acknowledgements of the seeming need to re-collect after the inevitable ‘blues’ of the January daze. Christians across the world have this past weekend been reminding themselves of the glow of Christmas Light in celebrations of the oft forgotten festival of Candlemas which, in many traditions, draws the liturgical season of Christmas to a close. Meanwhile, 1st of February was designated Time to Talk Day – a national campaign promoted by mental health awareness charity, Time to Change.

Carrying out post-Christmas interviews amidst other burdens over the past month has brought home to me more than ever the need to create the time, and indeed the space, to talk and to reflect. Just what these spaces might look like – what form they might take –  is a question which I have found pervading my thoughts now for quite some time. So often have I heard fellow researchers speak of the tangible sense of empathetic empowerment, and indeed gratitude, felt in the midst of the qualitative interview. So often have I myself been moved by it. And yet, so often is this powerful experience relegated to an intriguing but decidedly secondary methodological side-note, or even footnote.

It is time, I believe, that the academy paid attention to the transformative potential contained in this fascinating footnote; time we begun to explore more thoroughly our societal vocation as the providers of a unique kind of space for generative thought, talk, and reflection; time that we turned our talk into conversation, and our conversation into reflection.

If any of this resonates (or does not resonate!) with you, please put these thoughts into action, and join the conversation by sharing and/or commenting below.

Do remember you can still share your Christmas reflections by logging your story in The Festive Log Research Project Questionnaire, or by commenting on Facebook or Twitter using #TheFestiveLog

For more information, take a look at the project’s dedicated webpage, or contact: lucinda.a.murphy@durham.ac.uk

Christmas Came Early!


Getting in the mood for Christmas research with a s – elf – ie!

It’s 26th October. Officially under two months to go until Christmas. And here I am curled up with my laptop, my elf, and my fairy lights. As someone who has been anticipating this Christmas for rather a long time, I have to say I’ve felt a pretty intense sense of combined excitement and, quite frankly, anxiety-inducing horror as I’ve felt the autumn roll on. Overhearing the odd reference to Christmas plans (or even – heaven forbid – life after Christmas!), watching the Christmas merchandise expand, and seeing the adverts get into gear has made me all too aware of the advancing creep towards my ‘busiest time of the year’, or as some have put it, my ‘first Christmas on the job’. If my PhD has taught me anything so far, it has certainly given me a small insight into the bittersweet year-round realities of Santa’s workshop. My research elf Gelf has been sharing many a stressful story about the extensive preparations taking place through the summer in the North Pole, and we have together already begun to note many parallels!

I’ve been thinking for a while about when might be the right time to launch my official ‘fieldwork’ period. Of course, working in my own culture, thinking about a tangibly familiar phenomenon I have myself grown up with (and which now surrounds me most of the time in thoughts and conversations about my research!) has made for an extremely porous kind of ‘field’, in terms of both time and space. But somehow, now that we are past the two-month mark, and now that I’ve definitely had more than one ‘Christmas promotions’ brochure drop onto my doormat, this felt like as good a moment as any to launch the online part of my project!

In many ways, it is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas… and refreshingly for me not just in my reading material, but in the world outside! Clintons is full of Christmas cards, M&S has already been decked out with sparkly trees, Elf on the Shelf memes are spreading like wildfire, and my mum has started rehearsing ‘Jingle Bells’ with the kids at school.

And yet… if I were to reveal that I’m currently listening to Michael Bublé’s Christmas album before we’ve even got to Halloween, I suspect most would be quite perplexed, and some perhaps even a little outraged. I am well aware that there’s still something quite odd, if not simply plain wrong, about the fact I am sitting here casually wearing my Christmas jumper as I write. But of course, I’m not really wearing it ‘casually’. I’m actually wearing it rather self-consciously. I’m wearing it deliberately to get myself into the right kind of mood to launch my Christmas project.

This calling in of the Christmas spirit may seem a little premature according to everyone else’s calendar. But of course, it won’t be long before my research assistant Gelf and I are joined by thousands of others in Britain and indeed across the world re-telling stories, re-playing music, re-visiting Christmas markets, and re-rehearsing specific and often formulaic personal rituals in a frantic and all too familiar attempt to get in the mood. At no other time of year do we regularly see this level of collective meaning making, this level of expectant and exorbitant preparation – this level of ‘getting in the mood’.

This is precisely why Gelf and I are fascinated by this season of the year. As we prepare for and get increasingly into the spirit of our fieldwork, we want to invite you to have a think with us about what that feeling of ‘getting in the mood’ is really like. More specifically, we want to explore what it is like to get in the mood for Christmas – what kinds of things or activities it might entail, what kinds of emotions it might make us feel, and when exactly we might feel the need to do it.

If you would like to join our pre-Christmassy conversation, please do log your story and let us know what personally gets you in the mood by commenting below or messaging us on Twitter or Facebook using #TheFestiveLog.

You can find out more about Lucinda’s research by exploring The Festive Log Research Project section of this website. Here you will be given the opportunity to continue to think about some of the themes of the research for yourself, and to get involved by logging your own Christmas story.

If you would like to follow the project as it takes shape, you can join the conversation on Twitter using #TheFestiveLog, or liking the project’s Facebook page. If you’re feeling particularly Elf loving, you can also follow the adventures of her research assistant, Gelf the Elf @MyElfGelf.

Watch this space for more festive b-log updates over the coming months!