This is not written in the spirit of The Grinch, but is simply an exploration…
First a bit of history. I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren (aka Exclusive Brethren) which is a strict Christian sect, or more appropriately – a cult. We didn’t celebrate much, and certainly didn’t celebrate Christmas. Jesus’s birth was mentioned in our usual daily meeting (church) on Christmas day, and “the world” was looked down upon for using it as an excuse to have a party..
I was never told about Santa, or given presents, and to be perfectly honest was never bothered about it…just a bit confused. I remember asking my mom loudly in a supermarket about Santa at Easter time. :-) She blushed and shushed me.
When I was 18 I left the cult and was excommunicated from my family, and celebrated my first christmas with the lovely family who took me in. I don’t remember it in lots of detail – emotions were high from having recently left home and there was a lot going on – but I do remember feeling blessed and lonely all at the same time. Blessed that I had such a lovely family including me in their celebrations and lonely because almost everyone else seemed to be spending time with their real families whilst mine wouldn’t even talk to me. I had joined a charismatic church at this point, so Christmas had some meaning. (By the way I am no longer completely excommunicated…my mom even sends parcels sometimes and we chat on the phone about twice a year, but their rules do not allow me to see her so my husband and children will probably never meet her. My 3 brothers don’t communicate with me.)
For a few years after that I celebrated Christmas in various rave clubs in Somerset West and Cape Town where I lived at the time. I had been shunned by the happy clappies at this point, as you can imagine – and to my great relief I began exploring a world where there may or may not be a God and where fear wasn’t a factor in determining this. Christmas in South Africa was a different affair to here in the UK – buffets and braais (barbecues) around the swimming pool and swims at the beach…and I don’t remember getting loads of presents at any point.
Then I came to the UK on a working holiday – almost 8 years ago now – and a year later I met my husband. Christmas officially become a stress. It’s not anybodies fault, and is slightly tricky for me as I don’t really know which of my experiences are ‘the norm’. We spent our first christmas together at my in-laws. We were presented with astonishing amounts of presents – a bin bag full each- nevermind the bigger stuff for the kids in the family – and not just the immediate family. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity, and whilst I got some really useful and lovely presents, I also couldn’t help noting the quantity of stuff that I may never use. I also felt terribly guilty that I could not possibly reciprocate.
Before long Steven and I discovered The Story of Stuff Project and other more balanced ways of living. We became much more aware of what we buy and have even requested no presents from family members. We started shopping at charity shops (we very rarely go into a regular clothes/toy shop). It is truly liberating! I can now not fathom how people are bustling about spending all their money on an i-phone or playstation that is going to be upgraded again in a years time – only to be left broke and in debt.
Then there is the issue of quantity. I am used to nothing, but now like to get a present or two. Steven grew up with Christmas being about lots of presents. We now have to find a happy medium. This year we bought quite a few charity shop pressies for each other and the kids, but I am still feeling rather like a consumer. Instead of 10 to 12 presents that will be thrown to the side while fumbling with the wrapping on the next present, how about two or three really treasured ones? The thing is, I like giving and I don’t intend to give that up just yet. I like making a little something for friends and family – and I like seeing my daughters eyes light up as she rips the newspaper from a new swing (even if it is temporary while she grasps at the next present). But perhaps less is more – I think we may try this next xmas.
But what we want to figure out more than anything – is what are we celebrating if not Jesus’ birth? Since we are not Christian I feel that if we celebrate Christmas we really are just being sheeple(at best). Although I do really like the opportunity to spend time with friends and family, and have a good meal, and think we will continue to do this – I don’t think we should need an excuse to do this.
Winter Solstice/Midwinter is on the 21st and it was apparently around and celebrated by Pagans, with greenery(hence the christmas tree), before Christmas came along. We feel mucg more connected to the rhythm of nature rather than to any religion so really it’d make a lot more sense to celebrate this. We could take it the other way, and instead celebrate the New Year with presents… So what do we do? Change the day we celebrate it? Change the way we celebrate it?
Will this make the kids feel left out? Does it matter?
I have friends who don’t give presents at all and instead go away for a few days together, or go out for a good meal. I have friends who buy lots of expensive presents, I have friends who buy lots of cheap presents, I have friends who make presents or shop at charity shops. I love home made presents. Most people say that they don’t have time to make presents, but isn’t it ironic that they don’t have time because they are working their butts off to make money to buy presents and pay off their credit cards?!
My husband has told our 4 year old that Santa is just a story. This Christmas I have felt cruel that she ‘knows the truth’, but really – why should she believe in a funny man bringing her presents if she’s good? It’s freaky, in my opinion. I’m happy for her to believe in fairies and elves…kids need make believe.
I think it’d be quite fun to have a treasure hunt for your presents…perhaps an idea to try next year. Do you have any ideas for an alternative to Christmas? I’d love to hear from you…