The true meaning of Christmas

“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind; even if your voice shakes” – Maggie Kuhn

Almost a year ago to the day I posted this quote on The Pelican Project Facebook page. Back then, we were brand new and I was terrified. The gusto with which I’d quit my job and started this venture was beginning to seem (as many people had suggested at the time) a bit foolish. No money, no Pelicans; just a heartfelt, half-baked idea. These words, standing alone on a page of my favourite book, were one of the details that defined what Christmas meant for me last year.  Shaking voice, shaking bones…Shakin’ Stevens.

Psychologists can probably explain exactly why, but 12 months on and I feel that the sounds and smells of Christmas have brought with them that same shaky feeling. For a lot of us, Christmas doesn’t look like the adverts. Elton and his song, along with the rest of the assault on our senses that comes with the season, can sometimes serve to remind us of our reality. A reality of loneliness, of loss, of uncertainty and of fear. Humbug? Bear with me. I do have the Christmas spirit and I’m going to tell you why.

Shades of fear

At Pelican, we’ve become used to certain things; the anxiety in artists, teachers and group leaders, tasked with delivering meaningful experiences to a room full of strangers, perhaps even more fearful of investing their time, expertise and emotion to plan projects that culminate in an empty room of wasted efforts; the fear in our funders, so precious are their resources and so needy the benefactors that each decision, yes or no, causes great loss somewhere; the uneasiness in the organisations that we engage with, opening their doors to an unknown entity; the nerves in our Exeter College work experience students, embarking on a career in care and being confronted with a harsh reality; the worries of the carers we see, working tirelessly and professionally with no recognition of this in their pay slips; and perhaps the most potent fear, in our Pelican families who fear for the future of their young people, every morning waking up to the uncertainty of a fragile and turbulent existence…that’s if they’ve had any sleep at all. And of course, the fear in our core members; facing new experiences, new people and a world that, in too many places, refuses to recognise them.

I’m afraid that what I am writing doesn’t come romantically round to a case of triumph over adversity. Of course we have shared many highs in the past year, just look at our Insta/ Facebook if you need reminding. But the reality is that all of the above fears have been realised at some point this year. And many more on top of that. We’ve had tears, we’ve had failure and we’ve had sadness punctuating the joy on every page of our story so far. This year has posed more questions than it has answered. It has brought home all of the overwhelming forces that motivated us to start up in the first place. It continues to give me a shaky voice. 


We are all familiar with the Nativity story. The meaning of Christmas that has found me again this year has taken my mind to Mary. Whether to you Mary is the mother of Jesus or simply a character amongst a group of school children with tea towels on their heads, she is, for me, the woman of the moment. On our Christmas cards this year we might get a picture of Mary, radiant in a lovely blue dress with a friendly cow and a handsome wise man giving her some gold. This is nice. But I’m sure, if it ever did happen, that it wasn’t the reality. Thinking of that woman’s reality fits better with my Christmas. It fits better with my experience of everyone we have worked with this year. I think of a woman; pregnant, tired, scared, freaking out. No hospital, no home, no water birth. Voice shaking with fear…but still standing.

Christmas is awesome. I love the songs. I love the food. I especially love the booze. I love the fact that we give each other stuff to show that we care. I love that we spend time together, just because. The “true meaning” of Christmas is derived from many things, personal things. This year, like the last, the fuzzy-buzzy feeling right in my belly is coming from everyone involved in The Pelican Project and the sound of their shaky voices, standing up to the things they fear.

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