Friday, 28 November 2014

Why I'm not excited about Christmas

Last week I was Scrooge McDuck (the evil one from the early cartoons, not the endearing rich uncle he was re-drawn as later) and this week I'm going to be the Grinch. I'm not excited for Christmas. I don't give a toss about tinsel, I'm not excited for Santa, and I didn't watch the pageant.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas - 2000

To be fair, I wasn't always like this. Even though I knew Santa was a myth from about seven (my parents hid my gifts in my cupboard, but labelled them from Santa, I caught on) I used to love Christmas. Let me paint you a picture of my childhood Christmases.

Festivities started during the school term. Sometime around the pageant we would make gifts, and have a 'market' where parents would sell their craft to other parents, kids would sell their craft to other kids and it was Christmassy and lovely. We'd sing some terrible songs, decorate the classroom and generally faff around being festive. We didn't include Hannukkah, Kwanza, Thanksgiving, etc. etc. We just covered Christmas, and sang about Santa in a rusty Holden Ute.

Photo Credit: Sampaguita Quilts
I went to the Magic Cave, back when it was huge (I think it was huge, I was very little). I remember elves everywhere, and the walls decked out like a glittery cave. I remember getting photos on Nipper and Nimble. I remember getting sick on fairy floss, sitting on Santa's lap and marveling at the giant Christmas trees. I remember getting a lucky dip book with Christmas stickers.

Christmas at home started with the pageant. My dad used to work in a building on the parade route, so we watched the parade from a fourth floor balcony for a couple of years, just my family. Then we got into the habit of watching it at home while we put the tree up. I remember always being a bit bored when Santa arrived, it meant the pageant was over. And a jolly fat man waving for ten minutes is a little dull.

We had a six foot tall Christmas tree in 3 parts. Each layer had 6 branches that needed to be un-tied and separated, and then each twig bent away from the others to make a big fuzzy fir tree. And then we would unpack the bigger-than-me box of decorations and argue whether the angel or the star went on top of the tree this year. We had over a hundred handmade decorations we'd collected over the years, from school crafts to tiny frames of baby photos.

In the week leading up to Christmas my aunt and uncle would come down from Canberra. We generally only saw them once a year so the lead up to Christmas was spent with them, visiting grandparents, going out for lunches, going to parks and beaches and playing a lot of french cricket. We'd also catch up with our local aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends and all those other people we didn't find time to see throughout the year. Dad would start his holidays a week before Christmas and go back to work on the 3rd of January. As a kid Christmas meant seeing everyone, all the time.

I used to love a good Santa Clause movie

We had a sort of routine. Christmas Eve was spent with mum's side of the family at Nan and Pop's house with my great-grandma Nanna Bo. Pop was a crazy old tinkerer, so there were go-karts, merry-go-rounds, a golf buggy and a motorised chair swing. Probably all very dangerous. He would also play pranks on us and do magic tricks. Nanna Bo told dirty jokes that went right over my head and rode in the golf buggy.

Fast forward to Christmas morning, home with the immediate family, we would open presents one at a time in our pajamas and take photos of everything. Presents were an excellent mix of clothes, expected toys and unexpected jokes. One year gifts weren't wrapped, just buried in a huge box full of shredded newspaper. The next year our 'only' gifts were a Matchbox car (for my brother) and a Barbie doll for me. Har har, very funny. The real gifts didn't come out until after a very distraught young me nearly had a heart attack from trying to politely not cry. Then the real gifts came out and I removed joke-present-Barbie's head. In retrospect it was hilarious, but it was a little cruel to young me who didn't understand it was a joke.

Christmas lunch was grandparents on Dad's side, plus my aunt and uncle. More gifts. Funny paper hats. Pop set a brandy cake on fire. Nan always made some delicious peach tart/cobbler thing. I asked her the recipe when I was older, but dementia had kicked in and she didn't even know what desert I was talking about. That peach tart will forever be the taste of Christmas lunches at Nan's house, and I don't think I will have anything like it again.

Christmas dinner and Boxing Day would move around a bit. But they were always with family.

New Years Eve (which is obviously still part of the Christmas holiday) was back at Nan and Pop's house. If we hadn't died on the go-karts, merry go round, mechanised chair swing or golf buggy they were dragged out again. Many risky shenanigans were had and we would watch the fireworks from the empty block next door.  New Years Day lunch was  always at our house. It was an informal drop in affair that started somewhere around midday and went till after sunset. My dad failed terribly at cooking a barbeque every year. I never got to bat in French cricket. We played kelly pool. I was never good at table tennis.

My childhood Christmases, from the build up to the end of the holiday season, were great. I couldn't sneeze without head-butting some family member or other who had come to visit. I was a shy quiet kid who preferred to sit in the corner reading, but Christmas was a time with set social rules of gift giving and bon-bon popping, so I had a great time.

And then time passed, as it inevitably does.

My cousins were all older than me. Spending New Years Eve with your family gets less exciting as you get older.

Nanna Bo passed away, and suddenly Christmas Eve lost it's importance.

Families fight. A lot. Our extended family fell apart.

I have to take some blame. I grew up. I started to ask for presents. I got really disappointed when I didn't get what I asked for. I was even more disappointed when things I got were generic gifts.

Generic gifts are terrible for the giver and the recipient.

When I was young Christmas was almost a three week festival of family, and friends and exciting meaningful presents and outings and fun. As an adult? It's stress. It's disappointment. It's tension. It's crappy overpriced decorations, meaningless gifts, and forced dinners with people who haven't seen each other in months. Now when Christmas comes around, I just feel heaped with obligation.

What really infuriates me is the commercialisation of Christmas. You can make the choice not to include it in your home, or your family, but that doesn't stop you from being bombarded with crap when you step out your front door. I don't mean the Christmas lights on houses, which are a feel-good tradition for some people, but the meaningless consumerist bollocks that you can't avoid. Christmas earrings. Reindeer ears on cars. Disposable tinsel. Wrapping paper! Those material things that will only have relevance for one day and then pile up in landfill. Businesses encouraging you to hand over your hard earned cash to buy what is literally rubbish on December 26, just for 'getting in the spirit'. Sickening.

Christmas shouldn't be about the gifts or material consumerism. But when there are no rituals, no family events, that's all you have left. And I don't want your token gifts. If Christmas has reached a point that you're gifting people with random lawn ornaments, boxes of chocolate and gimmicky statues, just stop. Stop spending your money on crap you don't think is good, for people who don't want it. If you're buying a gift make sure you thought about it. Make sure it is something that person wants, or something they don't know they want, but will be blown away when they open it. Make it something that reflects your relationship. Make it something awesome.

So I'm going to be a Grinch this year. I'm not excited about the festivities. I'm not going to hang tinsel or go see the Christmas lights. I'm planning a quiet night in with my partner. Next year we'll have a place of our own and start some new traditions based around friends and family celebrating good times and better company. I'll make some dodgy decorations. I'll make a festive collar for my cat. I'm going to start building my own traditions. And none of them will be based on presents.

And for a more eloquent summary of what Christmas should be like, Tim Minchin. You can buy his music here or download this song.

Update: I got a present on Christmas, despite making my partner promise not to buy anything. It was pretty hilarious, personal and wasn't wrapped. Perfect for me. Read all about it.

1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean about the extended family falling apart. Seen it happen over the years on both sides of my family. I might have to steal this for an idea for my blog though (writing about my christmas not yours obviously).


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