It’s almost exactly a month until Christmas. I have to admit it’s not a time of year I treasure. The more uppity I get about climate change, the more Christmas bothers me. All the twinkling lights and excessive decorating and manic gift buying – it all just seems wasteful to me. It’s like all the least sincere parts of Christmas hit me in the eye every time I venture out the door. Yesterday, I did our weekly food shop. The shops were dotted with plastic trees strung over with bland decorations in bland arrangements and tinny Christmas Carols were my constant companion, wherever I went. The news agent’s window was a mass of porcelain figurines of reindeers and snowy houses and Santas and elves and stockings and trees. Nearly all these traditional images of Christmas are so foreign to the Australian climate and yet we have persisted with them for well over 200 years.
The thing is, there’s significant pressure to be part of this Christmas hurdy gurdy – like a crazy merry go round that everybody is expected to be enthused about riding on all at once. If you’re not enthused you just feel like a spoil sport. Isn’t it okay to say that it’s dizzying and makes you feel a little sick?
And yet, I admit to being somewhat hypocritical. Because I did love Christmas as a child. I loved the flashing, colourful lights. I loved the mysterious presents under the tree. And I loved that we (my parents and my brothers and I) usually had a special breakfast together.
When I was small, we lived on a tiny island in Indonesia. We were in an expatriate community of maybe twenty houses. Nobody had extended family to spend the day with and so it was tradition to prepare little skits or sing songs. All the families who hadn’t “gone home” for Christmas would gather at the Club House for a big lunch and the chance to perform our special something.
And then, once we moved back to Australia, we always had the extended family gatherings and I loved seeing all my cousins and aunts and uncles and playing in my grandma’s pool. I think there was occasionally even the classic Aussie cricket match. But when a family feud (on one side) tore some of that asunder, Christmas lost its magic for me. I was already nearly finished high school by then (among the oldest of the cousins) so I guess I was growing out of Christmas anyway. But if you’re not religious, the “specialness” of Christmas is encapsulated by the good will of the people around you. Family feuds aren’t great for good will so I guess the spark went out of Christmas. It started to be about logistics. And maybe for the adults (and maybe especially the adult women) Christmas is always about logistics. Food, venue, gifts, cards… sometimes it feels almost like an annual wedding.
Anyway because I loved Christmas for most of my childhood, I wanted to emulate that excitement for my own kids. My husband (from the word go) would’ve preferred only a couple of presents each but I still find that hard to imagine and a day or two before Christmas I start feeling horribly stingey and a bit guilty (that hurdy gurdy thing again) and find myself sneaking extra presents into the mix. But now, with the kids better able to express their wishes, it seems like they only care about the gifts and I feel that I have inadvertently bestowed the wrong values on my little ones.
You either hurdy gurdy or you don’t, it seems. And you really need to make that decision from the day your first child is born and stick to it so that it’s all they know. Take it from me. I sat on the fence and now I’m getting uncomfortable.