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Angela Frazer-Wicks, Family Rights Group’s Chair of Trustees and member of our parents panel, reflects on how she discovered the magic of Christmas after painful Christmases past, and why 2023 is extra special.

Everyone who knows me will tell you that I love Christmas. Every room has a tree, the staircase is draped in garlands. There are lights everywhere, inside and out. The air smells of cinnamon, spice and oranges, and Christmas music plays on a loop

This is how my daughter will remember Christmas as a child and I want her memories to be filled with love, laughter, joy and silliness. A time of indulgence and naughty treats, late nights and too much chocolate. Lego sets all over the floor and new gadgets finally freed from their plastic constraints. A time of pure happiness.

Because my memories of Christmas are none of those things. They are filled with fear, anxiety and dread.

Childhood Christmases meant being forced to spend time with toxic parents. Playing happy families when others were around, painfully aware of the consequences of behaving badly. They would both smile sweetly and brush it off as “Christmas cheer”. Until everyone left. Then I would be beaten, bruised and sent to bed – that’s what Christmas as a child meant to me.

Then as a teenager I left home, thinking that I could leave the sadness behind me. Only, one kind of sadness was simply replaced with another. Spending Christmas after Christmas alone, no family dinner, no decorations or pretty lights – all the while trying to convince myself that this was better than a false Christmas. Over time I began to miss the falseness, the rows and even the beatings – surely it was better to feel something than this empty nothingness? Alcohol was my only companion and the only gifts that drinking brought were depression, self loathing and tears.

Then I was blessed with a baby, a beautiful boy, just before Christmas – the best present ever. We were poor, we had nothing, but we had each other. The loneliness was then replaced with a desperate urge to provide, to make his Christmas memories better than mine. Decorations, bright lights and colourfully wrapped presents. But inevitably January brought debt and financial hardship. Depression loomed around every corner. I was ripe picking for the wrong man.

Then there were the Christmases my boy wasn’t at home with me. The ones he spent with his foster family, the family who could provide all the things I couldn’t, the ones who could keep him safe. The abuser who had caused us to part made sure there was no money for gifts. This brought judgment, shame and guilt. Forced to share precious moments sitting on the floor of a conference room wearing party hats and fake smiles, trying to pretend we were happy. When all we really wanted for Christmas was to be safe and together.

Then the worst Christmases ever lay ahead. For my boy and his baby brother were gone. I would never again see their faces on Christmas morning, delighting over the gifts Father Christmas had brought. There would be no pretty lights on a tree or colourful paper strewn on the floor. There would be nothing but grief and a never ending blackness. The only thing playing on loop would be the image of them with their new family, making happy memories. I would pray they weren’t too sad that I wasn’t there. Christmas would never be merry again.

And then I met a good man. A man who put the joy back into my life, someone who showed me the real meaning of Christmas. Not gifts, or lights on trees, but love and happiness. The boys would always be missing, would always leave a hole I couldn’t fill but it didn’t mean I could never be happy again. I began to live, I found my voice and began to campaign for change. I found others just like me and we came together. I had a purpose again. Christmas was no longer a time to dread. The tree was back, the lights twinkling, new memories were being made.

And when my beautiful little girl was born, things changed forever. Christmas was now a time for her, to shower her with love, to fill her days with magic and wonder. The tree got bigger, the lights got brighter and the laughter got louder. Never forgetting who was missing but looking forwards, not back.

Years later a magical Christmas brought my boy back into my life. He was now a man, but my boy just the same. Separated by miles but together again, at last. Sharing love and happiness at Christmas once more.

And this year Christmas brings a special gift – a medal from the King. Recognition for the many battles I have fought and won. A trip to the castle, fancy outfits and even a day off school. My family got to see me be honoured – a memory that I never expected, but one that will forever make me proud.

For me, finally, the days of dark and lonely Christmases are behind me, my child will grow with the happiest of memories etched on her mind. There will be no shouting, no tears, no sadness, no pain, just peace and joy.

For me the darkness will never again overshadow the light – Christmas from now on will forever be merry and bright.

 

Photo: Angela at Windsor Castle after receiving her MBE, alongside Beverley Campbell, FRG’s Family Participation Officer.

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