I don't suppose anyone who has never fostered could possibly understand how it is through Christmas week if you are in fostering.
There's big and little stuff they won't get, can't ever get, to be fair.
So if you've done it, or have been doing it, or might do it next time, I hope the following few thoughts help you along.
The regular weekly pattern of fostering is tied to the rhythm of the week: Saturday/Sunday, which is home time, versus weekday; school time. There's a rhythm, it gets jolted about, but we have a week consisting of two full-on days, and then five half days, with time during the daytime to think and chill.
Every foster child is different, of course. Our time with them is precious, it's when we do our job. The style and substance of our time with them is delivered to us by the universal world calendar, not by a thought-out schedule aimed at the child's needs. Or our needs.
Half term school holidays last for a week, people think, but they don't. They last nine days, ten if the school tacks a damned Inset day on the Monday, which they tend to.
Foster parents have three half terms per year, blocks of 9/10 days full-on fostering per academic year. We do it. It usually involves setting up an event on the Thursday, a trip or a cinema visit. Bowling.
The Easter break is like an extended half-term. There's no highlight unless you or the child is madly Christian. The weather is turning, outdoors is an option.
Summer holiday is a lulu. 6 weeks. 45 days back-to-back. Long enough for a whole new routine to settle in. Long haul, with a few trips and specials to keep interest, maybe even a week away. Outdoors is a full-on option, even just the garden. Play groups and sports fiends put on things.
But Christmas is all out on its own.
No outdoors. No play groups, no nothing. Hollywood releases its Christmas blockbusters in the weeks before the holidays, or else January 1st. Thanks.
Pantomime? For foster children? Least said the better.
Right, here's how it goes.
They break up from school full of Nativity and hymns and cake and Christmas Fayres, pumped up like all the other children.
They aren't like all the other children. Of all the events in the life of any child, there is no greater chasm of difference between foster children and other children than Christmas. The whole massive event, and let's be clear it is a MASSIVE, MASSIVE event, is all about FAMILY.
And nothing, absolutely NOTHING could blindside a child more than being forced to spend Christmas with some other family, no matter how loving and generous they are.
Christmas fuels their sense of loss, anger towards their life-story, confusion about their feelings, grief, anger towards the incompetence of people who say they are trying to help, frustration, envy, inferiority. I could go on.
There are endless minute details, specific to each foster child, as to why each foster child endures a greater hell at Christmas than any other time. There will be exceptions to the rule, it's just that I've never met a carer who had such a story.
People who haven't fostered actually need to believe that Christmas is...the most wonderful time of the year... especially for foster children. They want to believe it's a magical time for foster children, who usually have had pretty miserable Christmases before. For once there is no chaos, there are presents under the tree, a chance to stay up until midnight on New Years Eve.
In reality Christmas for foster children, which begins with the media/school build-up starting around December 1st, through until first day back - around January 3rd, is one of the greatest challenges they face while in care.
The low point can be December 27-30th. The empty bit in the middle which challenges any family. Our job, which you only grasp if you actually do it, is to make lemonade from the lemons the world wraps up and gives these kids at Christmas.
If there is a God I'd like to ask 'Hi Fella, next time, could you arrange a low profile birth for your second. No 'Wise Men', no 'Kings', no 'Wandering Star'. Instead, start him (or her) off with an elected Caesarian, no voodoo, no turning it into a JK Rowling.'
And , God, if you can't resist the "I"m a Celebrity and So Is My Kid" hype, can you schedule it away from the artificials of 'New Year' and the introspective soul-searching and resolution-making that points everyone inward, because foster children do enough inward without the Jules Holland countdown.
ps I had a normal, typical fostering Christmas yet again, and yes in spite of everything, it was the best Christmas ever. Shame I can't be specific, but the basics are as above.