I think deep down I’m Spanish. Quite apart from loving the food (ok, maybe not the pork), the wine, Moorish and Gaudi architecture and flamenco music, I have a sneaking admiration for Latin Catholicism with its architecture, music, rituals, strong community and roll-call of saints, all of whom seem to have a festival or holiday devoted to them. And that’s at the heart of my innard Spaniard – I love festivities. I just adore any opportunity to step outside the everyday and celebrate!
So I should love Christmas, right?
Right. And I want to. I want to do craft things with hot-glue and glitter. I want to bake, host parties, wrap presents, send cards (but NOT those enclosed self-congratulatory form letters), put up lights, decorate a tree.
I want to be the one who always makes the fruit salad for the pre-Christmas barbecue that’s always held at Auntie Whatsit’s, who always gets stuck having to be Secret Santa for drunk Uncle Thingamy.
I want that stuff. I really do.
I’m an atheist it’s true, so the whole Christmas kick-starter is a not really for me. But I am a Presbyterian atheist – brought up in the Church of Scotland – so although I don’t believe in gods, I am sufficiently infused with the doctrine that I can appreciate the moral and social dimension of Christianity. I just prefer to think of it as socialism.
And I’m a socialist, so it’s not the glorification of capitalist excesses that I crave from Christmas. The opposite in fact; I don’t think I could ever be accused of “spending too much” on anything. I give home-made, hand-made; time, energy and love.
My problem with Christmas…
… is that you can’t do it alone, and the people around me are just “not that into it.”
This goes all the way back to childhood. My parents (also Scottish Presbyterians) never really embraced Christmas. I suspect this is partly because – until recently – Christmas wasn’t that big a deal in Scotland (compared to Hogmanay a week later) so their own Christmas memories were of not much at all; partly because there was never much money for “extravagance”, and partly because we emigrated across the world when I was five and for most of my childhood Christmas was just an acute reminder of how lonely it can be when your entire family consists of five people.
As an adult I’ve tried all sorts of approaches to Christmas, from spending it with boyfriends’ families, to hosting fellow expat “waifs and strays”, to staying in bed with a good book and left-over pizza. Sometimes it’s worked; other times, not so much.
But since the boy-child was born, I’ve tried – really, really tried – to create the kind of Christmases he might remember fondly, instead of the kind I had which are funny in retrospect only because I’ve chosen to laugh about them rather than cry.
In this, I have to say the Big T isn’t much help. Kind and generous to a fault, he has over the years participated in all of the manic Christmas-like activities I’ve tried, but really, his heart’s not in it. While I want to grab every excuse for celebration by the throat, wrestle them to the ground and wring every ounce of potential enjoyment out of them, he’d rather not.
But really, even if the Big T embraced Christmas with the slightly fanatical zeal I manifest, it wouldn’t make that much difference. Without an extended family to participate in festivities with, it is (see above) an acute reminder of how lonely the holiday season can be when your entire family consists of three people.
Since we moved back to New Zealand (so the boy-child could have a Kiwi upbringing) we have tried to “do” a family Christmas with the Big T’s folks. Sometimes it’s been ok. One year we managed to get all the siblings and their kids to my parents-in-law’s house and that was fun, if fraught by the break-up of a marriage and both partners trying really hard to be civil to each other. Last year’s Christmas co-incided with my father in law’s 80th birthday and that was nice. But in general, my in-laws aren’t a particularly close or cohesive family, so trying to get together for Christmas is really not a priority.
And that’s ok. I don’t want to force people to do stuff they’re unwilling to or uncomfortable with. I just feel kind of sad.
In the meantime, the boy-child is growing up. This year the “what shall we do for Christmas” talk centred around the bits of our home-grown tradition we’d keep and what we’d abandon.
- The boy-child’s Advent Calendar. Who wouldn’t want chocolates, cash and gifts every day until Xmas?
- The cornucopia filled with Cadbury’s Favourites. I don’t remember how this started, but it’s fun
- Christmas lights (though not outside)
- Our “posh” Christmas Eve dinner (if I can find a good restaurant still open on Christmas Eve)
- Making a batch of Scottish tablet (not yet made)
- Making a donation to the City Mission
- “Santa” gifts (the little tokens we buy each other to prove we haven’t completely lost interest)
- Midnight carol service (for me). The devil may have the best tunes, but the Church lets everybody sing theirs
- Our traditional pine Christmas tree. We’re all allergic to it (especially the Big-T whose job it’s been to go buy it) and I hate vacuuming up pine needles every day. It’s been replaced with a very cool, post-modern “light-tree”
- Baking Christmas cakes
- Christmas whanau brunch (but only because our brunch-mates have more pressing family commitments this year)
- Mystery presents – we all have something expensive we really, really want so we’re using the bulk of the Christmas budget to subsidize these items
- Christmas Day. Why try and create an event when really, there’s nothing to create it out of? And of course …
- Christmas Dinner (no menu planning, last minute dash to supermarket, trying to be creative with left-overs). Budget for that added to Mission Donation.
So part of me is sad (the Spanish part that craves ritual and festivity), but in truth I’m a bit relieved that the pressure of trying to make something out of nothing has disappeared. I won’t be creating warm wonderful Christmas memories for the boy-child to cherish, but on the other hand without expectation there’s no disappointment.
Aand this way we might just get through the day without any of the huge fights that have accompanied my attempts at seasonal cheer in the past. So perhaps no good memories, but no horrible ones either.
And on balance I think I’m ok with that.
For this year at least.