….but we are all fabulous.
My partner and I are 7 weeks through an 11 week work trip away from the UK. The remaining 4 weeks away include Christmas and so before we came away I had to think about what to do about cards and presents.
We decided that with one or two exceptions we would not send any Christmas cards or presents to adults (including each other) – instead I sent an email to family and friends at the start of December explaining that since we were away we weren’t planning to send any and didn’t expect to receive any either. For those children I would normally buy presents for, I wrote Christmas cards (using left over cards from previous years) and enclosed some money. I then gave the cards to my wonderful mum before we left the UK to post when the time came.
I then didn’t think much of it – one or two lovely people suggested sending us things here – which we declined since we are moving around a bit and also already having to send stuff home by sea mail to avoid being overweight on luggage on our return. But apart from that the run up to Christmas has really just been something going on in the background in form of supermarket music and the fabulous lights on the road near where we are staying…
Christmas kiwi lights on Franklin Road
Yesterday, after a perfectly lovely day in Auckland (a ferry ride and trip to the art gallery in case you’re interested) we popped into a department store to pick up a couple of things we needed. Within a few minutes we were transported back to the annual consumer madness that exists around Christmas. There were all those special gift displays constructed for this time of year, boxes of chocolates, expensive perfumes, novelty socks, racks of cards, rolls of wrapping paper and that feeling of overcrowding that seems to accompany all of that stuff. We got out of the shop as fast as we could.
There are many things about Christmas that I like. I like that my world pauses for a day or two, that no-one sends or expects you to respond to email on Christmas Day, that I get to spend time with my two favourite people (just one of them this year but we’ll make up for that on my return), I’m not a Christian but I like going to church and singing carols and thinking about peace on earth, I like watching the Sound of Music for the 100th time and twinkly lights and going for crispy, chilly winter walks.
But all of that comes with a bunch of stuff I don’t like so much. I don’t like stressing every year about which presents to buy (a perfectionist tendency can make this an anxiety-inducing nightmare on occasions) and while I like seeing wrapped presents, I hate seeing the bag of discarded wrapping paper and packaging afterwards – such a waste of resources and often pointless since we frequently buy things from wish lists. What is the point in buying something from a wish list and then wrapping it up and giving it to the person who asked for it (unless they are under the age of about 15)? I am a 47 year old woman who is fortunate enough to earn enough money to buy most things I want (I’m talking books and CDs not yachts and diamonds), if I were to receive a present, the thing on the top of my wish list would be something the other person has though of for me (not generic or the first thing they see and it definitely shouldn’t be expensive) or simply doing something nice together. I would also prefer not to receive chocolate or bottles of wine unless they are meaningful in some way – I really don’t mean to seem ungrateful but I am trying to cut down on both and this time of year in particular is usually already filled with an excess of calories and alcohol. I hate the fact that we over-eat and over-drink and then spend January breaking the resolutions make to tackle the consequences of our over-eating and over-drinking.
And of course, as always, all of this excess seems especially awful when there are so many people without enough to eat, or somewhere to live, or a country that wants them. When parents get themselves into debt to give their children what the media and advertisers tell us we all want/need.
I have bought into all of the above for far too long – been guilty of giving generic wine or chocolates, of placing too much importance on the value or item and not enough on the thought that is supposed to count and been disappointed when the item from my wish list was misinterpreted. But each year I have felt increasingly uncomfortable. I don’t want to stop giving or receiving but I do want to cut down on waste, excess and mindless giving. This blog isn’t saying anything new or earth shattering, but it reflects the fact that since I have stepped out of my usual routines for a while, the things I knew and felt but perhaps didn’t act on are increasingly becoming things I know and feel and want to change.