It's that time of the year again.
It's the crazy lead up: the mad stress filled shopping trips, where you park 2km away if you get there anytime after 10am.
It's the awkward encounters with family: we really do our best to get along but with so much unspoken of history, it's tense.
It's watching my son bloom with excitement: wearing his Christmas outfits every day since mid November, staring at the presents under the tree and the pretty lights - eyes wide with wonder.
But this Christmas feels different.
For so long Christmas was celebrated in a church for me.
We sang songs, and heard a story about a virgin birth and tried our best to say and do the right things.
That world is no longer a part of mine.
So what does Christmas mean once you leave religion and it's institutions?
I believe it means more than it ever did. Without the prescribed traditions, and the things I'm told I must believe and know, my faith can be larger and incorporate more.
Christmas means coming together in community. Sharing food with those in our lives. Welcoming in everyone at the work parties, laughing together, eating and drinking together, shedding tears together for the pain this year has brought.
It means freedom. It means I don't have to think through right and wrong for every action I do. It means I can just be me. I trust that I am inherently good, that I am enough, that I can just be.
It means rest. No rushing around from church to family events. I can enjoy a morning of eating pancakes and unwrapping presents and getting lost in the wonder with my son.
It means whatever I want it to be. Fresh starts, women's empowerment, authenticity to be me in all my vulnerability, strength and weakness - and to look across the table at you in yours and to accept you with your flaws and your greatness and love you despite it all.
It means I can hold grief and still hold joy at the events that unfolded this year that I thought would shatter me. They did in many ways. I am not who I was before. But I prefer the new me; the open heart, the deep thoughts, the liberation. It's who I always was underneath it all.
Somehow it is the most wonderful time of the year.
I've shed the religion that was killing my soul.
Be brave. Remove the rose coloured glasses and sit in the pain. Let it shatter you and remake you. Somehow, you too will find joy here. Joy beyond measure. She is everywhere, this Joy. We cannot escape her. Embrace joy.
Merry Christmas to all.
May you sit a little longer in moments of joy and liberation this year.
Emily is a renowned community connector, advocate for women, Asset Based Community Development advocate and leader in her local community, recognised for her work as the Local Woman of the Year in New South Wales in 2016. She has delivered training and workshops all around Australia, empowering communities to address gender based violence and discover the inherent dignity and worth in everyone.
See all previous articles and poems by Emily Messieh