Monday, December 16, 2013

'Tis the season to be criticised for not conforming to society's rules

I really hate this time of year. Don't we have enough to deal with? It's hot, it's humid and the shops are full of grumpy, angsty people who constantly tell anyone who'll listen "I'll be glad when it's all over" and yet are shocked and even angry when you answer with "I don't celebrate." How dare I turn my back on this high holy day of consumerism and act like it doesn't matter? What is wrong with me?

In short, nothing. This is my decision. Yes, it is religious based, but let's face it, my spirituality is quite low at the moment, so I could go back to the whole festivity thing and no one would really notice. But still, I choose not to because it doesn't feel right to me.

That's my choice. Having Christmas is Lee's.

My husband loves celebrating the season with lots of presents, decorations, food and time with the family. Every year he tells me he's only giving one thing to each child, but each week in the lead up sees another item join the growing pile. He loves finding something perfect and buying it for the person he thought of when he saw it. Things get Aiden-heavy for a while, then Erin-heavy, then something new arrives for Connor or Blake. Or me.


I don't celebrate at all. I don't buy anything at all (sort of. There is a proviso, which I'll discuss later.) I don't buy presents specific to that time, I don't buy paper, I don't wrap them up. I don't hand out cards, or wish or return greetings (beyond a "thank you. Enjoy your week/weekend). I do make White Rocky Road which I give to Lee to hand out at his whim, but that's another story. Lee and I have, over the course of our marriage, learned the basic art of compromise. He buys the presents but asks my opinion. We don't have a tree or decorations. I help with the cooking in the lead up, but have a total day off on the 25th. I accept his presents but he wraps them in non-festive paper. I buy things for him and the kids when I have the money and give it to them the moment we're all at home. Lee does not wish me a Merry or Happy anything and I don't either. We just love each other and our family and that's all that's important.

Except for one thing.

My childhood was spent in total poverty. We had very little and had to make do with the small amount we did have. Christmas was, for us, opening the few things we could afford then heading off to Nanna's for cold meat and salad for lunch. Here were the real presents, the pillowcases of stuff that she'd accumulated for us throughout the year. There were lollies. Lots and lots of lollies. And sultanas. And boxes of biscuits. And pencils, textas, books, sharpeners in the shape of apples, erasers in the shape of ballerinas, pencil cases in the shape of well, pencil cases, all pretty, all lovely gifts, all designed to make the school shop a bit easier for my Dad.

One year things were so bleak for Dad that he could only afford one present each for Raymond and I. Even before I opened it I knew it was a book. What I didn't know was which one. There were worlds of possibility in that wrapping and for a few moments I held the unknown universe in my hand.

 It was "Mr Midshipman Easy". Not exactly the most promising book for a girl who loved fantasy and science fiction, but a book anyway. I opened the cover and made the real discovery. It had come second hand from the Good Samaritans and had cost Dad 20c. That was the year I really came to understand just how poor we were. I never asked my dad for anything financial again.

I did get other books that year from my Nanna, but it was "Mr Midshipman Easy" that stayed with me as a treasure. I told Lee this story early in our relationship and we both cried over the sadness of it. Lee suggested we do something similar, in order to keep in mind that it's not the present that's important, but the love that goes with the choice. So, every year, Lee and I scour the second-hand book shops and buy That Book, the one that shows just how much we mean to each other and the place of books within our lives. Over the years Lee has bought me books about strong female role models ie female Gladiators, women who approach the world full on (Ladies who Lunge) and Betty White. I have bought Lee books on Soccer, on the men of the Stuart dynasty and islands that didn't exist. I don't have anything solid in mind when I buy for him, only that it celebrates some aspect of his personality. It's not a Christmas present, but an acknowledgement of where we (separately) came from and where we're going together.

The year is rapidly drawing to a close and I look back on the year that has been the many years before that. Does it matter that I don't celebrate a designated societal holiday? No, it does not. Does it matter that my husband (who is a very giving man all year) becomes even more exuberant one day a year? No, it does not. Do I care that you think I'm bad because I don't say "Merry This or Happy That?" No, I do not. And do I care that you think I'm bad because I accept my generous husband's generosity all year round, including on the 25th? No, I really, really, really do not. All I care about are the people in my house and their happiness each and every day, whether socially designated or otherwise.

Have a wonderful day, everyone.

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