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Christmas

I love Christmas as much as the next person.

Except that I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like Christmas, it’s a lovely time of year and people are generally happy (in sporadic outbursts) and there’s snow sometimes, which is great. But I don’t like Christmas *because* it’s Christmas, and I think that might be why I don’t love Christmas as much as the next person.

As a child there was always snow, not always a white Christmas but then I believe a white Christmas is defined as a single snowflake falling on Christmas Day, regardless of whether it is accompanied alone, whether it stays as a snowflake when it hits the ground or whether it even hits the ground at all, so maybe there was always a white Christmas. There was snow every year, often lots of snow. I may have rose-tinted memories but it seems like every single year there was at least one week when the schools were closed because of snow. My high school’s catchment area was very big, because of being on the edge of nowhere and all the kids that lived in the middle of nowhere having to come down to us, having attended primary schools with four pupils and one teacher, or whatever. Because of the middle of nowhereness their homes would get blocked off by snow relatively early on and so they would be sent home because better safe than sorry, and who wants to strand children away from their parents in winter? I have photographs of the year my mum’s car was completely covered, and by covered I mean you wouldn’t know it was there. That same year the wind drifted the snow up the back door one night, and when we opened it in the morning we were faced with a white wall, top to bottom, not even a little bit of sunlight poking through. I once had to dig a path for the dog to go out for a wee. Another time we got bored of snowmen and built a snow dog, big enough to sit on.

Snow doesn’t make Christmas, but snow helps me to like Christmas.

Christmas is a good time of year to spend with family and friends. Lots of people get holiday time from work at Christmas and as a result it’s as good a time as any for everyone to gather in one place, hang out, eat, drink, be merry because they will feel crappy tomorrow cos of all the eating and drinking but at least they don’t have to go to work. In my hometown there was a big thing about going out on Christmas Eve. It was like Hogmanay only without having to wait up for the bells, lots of people were around, home from university, from wherever they’d settled or wherever they worked or whatever, they would come home to see their family but on Christmas Eve they would go to the pub and be with their friends. Everyone is happy because they don’t have to go to work and because they get to see their family and friends and because there’s snow.

Family and friends don’t make Christmas, but they help me to like Christmas.

 When I was little we had quite a big garden with trees in it, and every year dad would cut down a tree from the back garden for us to decorate in the living room. There was a huge tree in the front garden that we would put lights on out there, it was kind of hidden away from the rest of the street behind a bush so it wasn’t a showy thing but we knew it was there. But the one in the living room was grown in the garden, and decorated in the house, and it was a thing. One year a squirrel attacked our dog on a walk in the woods, and she killed it. It was brought home, stuffed and put into the Christmas tree with the decorations every year thereafter. For as long as I can remember we had a star that my dad had made, out of wires and green and red LEDs and a wooden star covered with foil, with holes punched through for the LEDs. It would flash in a pattern, alternating green and red, and it was just the star we always used. There was a fairy we hung sometimes. By a little tinsel noose. This tree, with its odd, homemade, slightly twisted decorations, this was our thing. We had decorations, stuck to the walls and ceiling with thumb tacks, lots and lots of christmas card holders, heaven forbid we got a card that wasn’t put on display. Decorations don’t make Christmas.

Decorations don’t actually mean that much to me.

Now I am all grown up and shacked up with a man who isn’t that into Christmas, we don’t decorate. The first Christmas we were together I had a little pang of regret but that’s OK, I don’t want to make him live in a grotto when he doesn’t want to. Now I find I prefer it that way. The Christmas of lights and decorations and tinsel and trees is outside, and when I’m on the bus going through Brighton or walking through the Lanes I think how beautiful these lights are, that the council puts up, they are so huge and bright and pretty. But back home, inside is our haven, all year round, and there are no holes in the walls from thumb tacks, no bits of tinsel or tree to get stuck in my feet or to hoover every day without ever getting it all. I’m OK with decorations elsewhere. But I am glad of our haven.

One bittersweet part of Christmas is the presents. You get to buy people presents and sometimes you feel crappy about it, because you can’t afford what you consider ‘decent’ presents for people to whom, if you could, if they needed it, if you were a match, you would donate a kidney. You would be terrified, because hey, it’s a big operation and then you only have one kidney and what if something happened to your last kidney, are they going to give your other one back, or does someone *else* have to give you a kidney, and if that happened who would give you their kidney, and is this really some kind of kidney domino rally going on right here? But there are people in everyone’s life that make us all wish money was no object, but it is an object, and it’s quite a little object, so sometimes it is the thought that counts and so you have to spend a LOT of thought. And then, if you think of the perfect present, and it doesn’t make you need to live on cold beans til February, then you get this amazing feeling of “this is so perfect, they will love this, this will make their life better in some way, for some small period of time, and my cheap, selfish, financial constraints haven’t ruined everything after all” and everything’s OK. You still want to buy them a home cinema as well, but if you don’t, it’s OK, because what you’ve got for them doesn’t suck at all, and they will still know you care. And getting presents, well, that’s quite nice too. Because other people have spent a lot of thought too, and they have gotten the amazing feeling out of what they found for you, and they want to see you open it and watch you love it, and you love it all the more because of how much they want you to love it, and it’s just a big old circle of love. I used to think I loved presents, I assumed I was as selfish as the next child about it, until one Christmas I confused myself quite weirdly.

My sister and I went into the living room one Christmas morning to look at our presents, and my sister had a little pile of presents, and my brother had a little pile of presents, and I had one present. I opened it, and it was a bottle of shampoo. Body Shop shampoo, I think, something pink, it smelled lovely. I watched my sister open present after present and I thought, oh, she loves them so much. I love my shampoo. And that’s all I thought of it. I later found out that we didn’t see my present cos it was huge, Santa brought me a hifi, but it was behind the door which we had flung open to get to the shampoo. But oh, how I loved that shampoo. Actually it’s making me want to buy a big bottle of fruity shampoo. And that is how I found out I wasn’t as greedy as I thought I was.

At least, that’s how I remember it, maybe I threw a massive tantrum, or maybe I was fighting back tears and trying to put a brave face on being the Least Favourite Child as well as the Middle Child. I do not remember how that shampoo smelled. I do remember that I loved it.

Presents don’t make Christmas, but they make it easy to like Christmas.

I was raised Catholic, and so I know the story of Christmas. I now have my own beliefs and they do not include Jesus Christ, so the religious bit of Christmas isn’t a thing for me. I do think it’s become too commercialised but then what hasn’t? When everything comes down to who’s got what, every opportunity to obtain Stuff is an opportunity to get one up on someone else, or even if it’s not about everyone else, it’s an opportunity to get something else to love like another limb. And I’m not saying that’s got to be a bad thing, there’s nothing wrong with sharing what you’ve got with those you love, or those you love sharing what they’ve got with you. But I really, really do believe that the best bit about Christmas is the bit where the people I love open the presents I’ve bought for them, the one that stayed under my skinflint budget but cost me easily a hundred thousand thoughts, and, hopefully, love the presents, recognise the sentiment and the logic behind it, maybe even get some use out of it, this thing I have gifted, this thing that made me think of them, and that will somehow reassure me, if they love it, that I got it right, who they are and what they like, that I do know them and that I do understand them, to this certain extent, to this certain degree. That if I buy someone a DVD it is because I know they will love the movie. If I buy them a t-shirt, I know it will make them look gorgeous. If I buy them a Pornography Woodlouse I know it will make them laugh.

Shut up, it’s a thing.

Presents don’t make Christmas. Giving presents is why I like Christmas.

Spending time with family and friends is why I like Christmas.

Snow is why I like Christmas.

Time off work is why I like Christmas.

Jesus is not my homeboy.

An addendum.

After a short discussion with my little sister, I feel it is important to tell you what this coming Christmas, which I will spend with my mother and siblings for the first time in five years, will mean to me. 

Kir Royale for breakfast.
Scrabble.
Nibbles.
Telly.
Family.
Food.
Laughs. 

That is all I want for Christmas. If I could include Mister in this list, he would be at the top, but it’s just not possible. So he will be top of the list of what I want for the rest of the time instead.

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