Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Spirit of Christmas...

2 weeks to go so today the decorations are dug out of the shed, the tree goes up and the kids are allowed to stick on the CDs of festive songs whenever I’m out of the room: Feastmas is upon us.

But things were not always so jolly in the Ayres household, oh no. For there was a time, only a few years back, when the season was almost lost to us altogether. Gather round the log fire, relax with a glass of Bailey’s, pass round the bowl of brazil nuts and let me tell you a tale of when logic and reason threatened us all…

When my stepdaughter, Holly, was in her mid-teens, she announced one October that she was not going to be celebrating Christmas that year, or ever again for that matter. We were not Christians and politically had socio-anarcho-greeno leanings, so the idea that we would worship consumerism in the name of a god we don’t believe in, was the height of hypocrisy.

This turned out to be extremely difficult to argue against.

Ok, we’re not Christian, but we could celebrate the midwinter solstice instead… We’re not pagans either – you’re just swapping one religion for another.

But really it’s just a time of year for the family to be together… Well we could choose a day that was significant for us rather than pay the inflated prices during the high season of a world geared up to take as much money from us as possible.

But what about the magic of Christmas for the little ones - Santa and all that…? So you want to teach Rogan and Meg that it’s ok for a complete stranger to come into their house, and that they should accept gifts from someone they don’t know, before eventually discovering that one of their finest childhood experiences was nothing but a lie fabricated by you, the very people who bang on about the importance of honesty in life.

But what about the presents…? So you want them to grow up believing consumerism is the only viable route to happiness, while overloading your house with stuff you don’t need, rarely use and simultaneously reduce the amount of money you have to put towards the really important things in life. Besides, anything you really want can be bought for half price 2 days after the event.

We lost the argument. She was right. Given our religious and political beliefs, to celebrate Christmas seemed hypocritical in the extreme.

And when it came down to it, in truth I’d been trying to avoid much of Christmas for years anyway. Bombarded with Christmas carols and Christmas paraphernalia in shops, not to mention all the Christmas adverts on TV starting from as early as September, I’d become a cynical and grumpy bastard when it came to the festive season. We rarely got round to putting up the tree and decorations before the 23rd of the month and I did my utmost to avoid thinking about it until the very last moment.

So she won. We agreed that we would abandon Christmas. We would have a quiet family day, but we wouldn’t bother with trees, presents, decorations or fat men dressed in red.

Initially we felt good about taking a hard line stance against a world gone mad with greed, marketing and acquisitions. There were inevitably going to be a few complications trying to explain to friends and relatives why we would not be exchanging cards and why they shouldn’t be sending the kids any presents, but we felt confident that we were doing the right thing.

Well, nearly confident.

As time wore on the doubts grew, and grew, and grew.

We could be as politically highbrow as we wanted, but it was Rogan and Meg who would be going without. Christmas really was a magical time when I was a child and now I was denying it to my own children. It wasn’t like we spent extravagant amounts of money on it anyway- we’d always kept quite a tight rein on the budget. I may have heard all the Christmas songs ten thousand times, but the wee ones hadn’t. And in the bleak mid-winter there was something rather comforting about bringing colour, sparkle and a little bit of magic into the house.

Instead of feeling noble, it began to feel that the whole exercise was one of negativity. We weren’t embracing some positive alternative, all we were doing was kicking against the system but running the real risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

So in the last 2 weeks we chickened out, back pedalling furiously against our high ideals, put up the decorations, bought some presents and stuck a school-made fairy on top of the Christmas tree. We heaved a sigh of relief, feeling that we’d almost lost something quite precious and actually gained a far better perspective on what it was important, for us, which is family being together and exchanging gifts. The gifts are not expensive – we probably spend less than 10% of the average consumer - but they are tokens of warmth and love and I don’t think anyone has ever felt hard done by.

It turns out that by keeping Christ and Consumerism out of Christmas it can actually be a very pleasant affair. I enjoy it now more than ever.

24 comments:

Dr Joseph McCrumble said...

Kim - I've have, like, so been there and done that. I share your step-daughter's ethos down to the last syllable. However, I am guided - no, let me change that - pushed by greater forces. As a dedicated humanist I find nothing quite as diabolical as Christmas. The sooner Thanksgiving replaces it, the better.

But...

It's all we've got. National tastes are so slow to change that it is very, very unlikely that Christmas will fundamentally change very soon. We are in the grip of an epidemic of spending, fuelled by the banks and big business. It's almost orgiastic. The irony is, of course, that theis goes so far against the ethos of Christmas that we have effectively demolished it. Ask anyone why they do it, and they'll think they know the answer. But they don't.

If you would like me to rant any more, please do not hesitate to ask. I'm just warming up.

Seasons greetings

Joseph

Dr Joseph McCrumble said...

P.S. Before anyone points out that Thanksgiving has religous overtones, let me clarify. I mean, the idea of a family getting together in a simple ritual of eating and bonding. No presents required.

Dr Joseph McCrumble said...

P.P.S. Anyone got any ideas what I should buy my mother-in-law?

restaurant gal said...

Dr.--Buy her a scarf or sweater or candy, or all three--same as last year!

Kim--The little ones will thank you for the holiday magic more than the gifts. You did good.

Merry Christmas! --The Gal

Anonymous said...

The whole Christmas thing is a stale pile of old shite until you have kids, then you start to remember back when you believed and the whole vicious cycle starts again, a futile attempt at living vicariously through your progeny. I for one, will let them out of the cellar for the day, and that's the only thing they'll be getting worth celebrating. Just like when I was a child.

Anonymous said...

I think you did the right thing Kim. I'm sure that people observe Christmas in many ways, some weighing heavy on consumerism and some with religion.

This time of year reminds me to be thankful for being Jewish:) Although we do give gifts to our children, the holiday of Chanukah is observed for 8 days where the tradition and history of the holiday overshadows the consumerism. Our 8 days are spent visiting family, making the traditional potato latkes, lighting the menorah, and playing the traditional game of dradel.

Hey, there's always room for a few more in my "house".

Attila The Mom said...

That was such a great story! How did your step-daughter react? LOL

Dr Maroon said...

Kim you are in danger of philosophising yourself right out the game.

If you got yourself a bike for your birthday, you better be lavishing as much Chrismas commercialism as you can on those kids of yours.
Like you said, you remember these times for the rest of your life, so give them something to remember.
You can dissect marketing control and globalisation with them when they're 26.

YO HO HO

Dr Maroon said...

I've got a 't' left over from somewhere.

Kim Ayres said...

Dr McCrumble - I can see you understand completely. Good rant - please feel free to continue.

As for the mother-in-law, I've seen these microwaveable slippers somewhere. If she suffers from cold feet, I'm sure your father-in-law will be appreciative.

Restaurant Gal - merry Christmas

Kav - I think a bit of tinsel on the bolt of the cellar door would be a nice touch

BStrong - you'll have to tell me what dradel is - is it like charades, or more like monopoly?

Atilla - She changed her mind too and is probably more into Christmas now than the rest of us. Mind you, my stepson has become more entrenched and refuses to celebrate it. We have been given strict instructions not to try and sneakily buy him anything.

Dr Maroon - if you want to stick on a big white beard and come round with a sack of presents for them, I'm sure the kids won't mind, and you might even get to sample some of Maggie's chocolate truffles.

SheBah said...

I love Christmas, the rustle of wrapping paper, the shiny satin ribbons, the tree smelling of pine, the sparkly decorations, the smell of cinnamon and cloves, pine cones, tinsel, christmas cards, christmas telly, carol singers in the street, at the door and in cold churches. Roast goose, sage and onion stuffing, yum, yum. The whole shebang makes me positively glow with delight! And the presents - gorgeous new shoes smelling of fresh leather, silky, lacy underwear....mmmmmm....I LOVE Christmas! And everybody you meet is nice to each other for a couple of weeks every year!

fatmammycat said...

I think it's great that you're giving them a good time even if you don't really agree with it. Very unselfish of you.
I'm with Shebah, I love Christmas, but only if I'm not doing the dinner. If other folk are doing the dinner I'm delighted. But I prefer the build up to the day itself. The parties and meeting up with folks you haven't seen for ages, Christmas Eve in town with everyone half drunk and galloping about looking for last minute stuff, singers, tinsel, mulled wine and watching my nieces and nephew go mental, it's terrific fun.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the misspelling of Dreidel. I guess it didn't help when you probably did a google search. The link below should give you an idea of what the game of dreidel is like. Nothing like charades or monopoly.

http://www.holidays.net/chanukah/dreidel.html

My friend Steve grew up in a home that had Christmas and Chanukah. This was before Kwanzaa became nationally recognized. His family wasn't very religious so his mother decided to celebrate all holidays so the kids would become well rounded. It certainly made for some interesting conversation.

FYI: No kid yet. If the kid moves down and lower it will be waving at us.

Kim Ayres said...

Shebah - I can't remember the last time I got silky, lacy underwear for Christmas.

Fatmammycat - I don't think Maggie could cope with not doing the dinner.

BStrong - ah, I am enlightened :)

I'd not heard of Kwanzaa before either - I am learning a lot today.

I keep checking your site to see if the new one is here yet. Is s/he holding out for a significant date do you think?

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

I'm with Shebah and fmc, yet I went through a few years of shunning the consumer orgy. These years were OK too and, as long as there were parties and drinking, the present thing was easy for me to scoff at. Now I have kids, it's less so for the reasons you and others have described so well.

I love all the smells and sounds of the season. I love the once-a-year Advocaat and nutmeg, and "In The Bleak Midwinter". Even, especially in California where drivers are daily dazzled by the sunlight glancing off the plastic snowmen in people's gardens.

rebecca said...

I've never been into the gift thing- in the US, my homeland, it just gets out of hand as people spend more than they can on things no one needs. My family of 2 parents, 4 siblings, their significant others and their kids fortunately had the good sense early on in the game to pick names out of a hat so that you don't end up buying 15 crap presents but can take the time to find something really nice for someone, which is always cheaper than 15 crap presents in the end.

A kind request to Dr. McCrumble: leave Thanksgiving out of it, please. I go home for Thanksgiving whenever I can, and prefer it to Christmas. I find that the "second fiddle" modesty that the Thanksgiving hangs on to is part of its charm.

Kim Ayres said...

Sam - One day I plan on celebrating Christmas on a beach, somewhere warm and dry - California or Australia perhaps. I must admit the sun dazzling off plastic snowmen hadn't been in my vision, but it will be for ever more now :)

Rebecca - nice to hear from you again :)

We don't have Thanksgiving in the UK, nor any kind of equivalent that I can think of. Do the shops hold off their Christmas displays until after thanksgiving? Here they go up the minute Halloween has passed.

rebecca said...

Kim, its not total abstinence but most of the Christmas stuff comes out after Thanksgiving. With a vengance. Thanksgiving is always on Thursday; the day after is known as Black Friday. To kick off the Christmas shopping season, stores hold big sales and open at ungodly hours. This year there was a traffic jam of 15 miles going either direction away from the shopping center near my brother's house when the stores opened. At 2 AM.

Yes, the spirit of Thanksgiving is great, but short lived.

Kim Ayres said...

I'd seen a couple of other bloggers refer to Black Friday, but wasn't sure of the cultural reference - thanks for that :)

Anonymous said...

Thanksgiving is deeply suspect, ask native Americans.

As for Christmas, keep god out of it if you like and return to the mid-winter, light-returning-soon celebration of our forebears. However, to do this properly you need to keep the telly off from Halloween when the advertising begins.

Anonymous said...

Have a good Christmas Kim....

Thrup'ny bits said...

Yep, Black Friday . . . the day the bottom line turns from red to black . . .

Alan

Jayne Martin said...

You see? It's like I said. It's easier to resist a mud slide. I'm glad you gave in. :)

Kim Ayres said...

It was the truth of your words, Jayne, that reminded me of this post :)