This week in Sunday Life I anti-Christmas
Christmas is like cheap pizza – all cheesy, intoxicating promise, but somehow (so disappointingly!) winds up tasting like cardboard.
Actually, correction. Christmas is like cheap pizza to the violently lactose and gluten-intolerant – something everyone else seems to enjoy, while you get…tofu.
Why all the bah humbuggery? At the core of my festive deflation is the mass, crass, exhausting, relationship-compromising ritual of buying presents. Did you see that Black Friday footage from the US? The whole notion of massly, crassly buying up stuff for “loved ones” seems to send human nature to its most depraved base. And the fact that it’s such a far cry from the original premise of festive giving just deepens my malaise. As, I think, it does for so many.
Admittedly my family as a whole is particularly and notoriously awkward with the ritual of gift-giving. We always keep our receipts; invariably our Kris Kringle recipient feels guilty accepting anything isn’t wholly functional and necessary. Um, I just don’t think I’ll get maximum salad-making use out of the hand-carved bowl you paddled three days through shark-infested waters to some Solomon archipelago to purchase. I know, why don’t you just keep it?
Over the years, we’ve tried all kinds of consumerist-dodging approaches, but none have really hit the right tone. We’ve done Kris Kringle with an upper price limit of $20 (which pretty much gets you a Led Zeppelin CD from the discount bin). We went through a giving-a-goat-to-a-third-world-village phase. We spent lunch wondering whether said village ever got said goat, which was a bit of a cracker fizzler. One year we all got a boxing bag from Mum and Dad. Not each. One to share between six. The next year it was one-sixth of a ping-pong table. The idea was to generate less “stuff”, a commons approach. Which would have been sound if we weren’t all adults living in different states.
So what’s the nourishing, satisfying, happy way to navigate one’s way through this? The thing is we humans actually do like giving. A bunch of studies show that one of the most effective way to get a happiness hit is to give away your money, which certainly suggests donating to charity – unconditionally – is a great route. I’ve previously written about how giving to consequential strangers brings us joy – giving a jar of chutney to the garbage man and the guy who makes you coffee each day is a lovely angle.
This week I stumbled on the Center for a New American Dream’s How to Simplify the Holidays guide. Their aim is to reduce mass, crass consumption and up the connection and care factor. They suggest giving “experience vouchers” (“This entitles you to three home-cooked meals at my place”), re-gifting parties (everyone brings in their waffle makers and $20 CDs from last year, whacks in a pile and swaps; so wrong and yet somehow so right!) and they suggest actually giving young kids just the box and wrapping the present came in.
Festive giving, by the way, is a crude reenactment of the time three wise blokes showed gratitude to God with some myrrh and so on. Which is why I like this suggestion: hold a gratitude ceremony on Christmas morning where everyone writes down what they’re most grateful for from the year that was. The notes go in a hat and are read out; if you guess who wrote it, your Kris Kringle goes to them. A little complex, but nicely mindful.
For Grandparents: get the grandkids to write down the best thing gramps taught them and turn it into a book….I like the e-program Blurb for this).
Another study I encountered this year: making stuff by hand makes us happy. The Simplify Your Holiday guide suggests having a cooking day with friends (instead of Christmas drinks), the results of which you give as gifts. To this end I’ve just invited some friends around to make some fermented pickles. You may laugh, but they were all keen.
Other studies say experiences make us happier than stuff ever will. To this end, in the time-honoured Wilson family tradition of getting Christmas just a little bit off tone and awkward, we’re all chipping in to go… bob-sledding. Think of us when you do your gratitude ceremony Christmas morning.
Are you going simple this year? How so? I reckon EVERYONE is craving less this Christmas….even if we haven’t quite finessed the technique for achieving it. Or not achieving it…