Thursday, 31 October 2013

Preparing for the Christmas Crazies

Have you been seeing those little hints around the place that say it's coming? The odd bit of tinsel strung up in the supermarket, a few red, green and white items tucked discreetly on one side of an aisle somewhere on your way up and down with the trolley? The odd post by some well meaning friend on Facebook...only X Fridays until Christmas. Gosh folks, it's bearing down on us like a runaway train, so we'd better get organised. I'm not sure who said it all had to be such a fuss. Who came up with the idea that Christmas has to be perfect? Who decided that everything must be colour coordinated and that outdoor chairs ought to be dressed for the occasion...along with everything else indoors and out? What a fantastic merchandising effort it has been. What an advertiser's dream. What sort of junk will they foist upon us this year? I know, I know, it's all about the spirit of togetherness and love and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ but can't we do that without spending countless hundreds or thousands of dollars on stuff that is fashionable for a day or a week then relegated to the bottom of the toy basket or the linen closet or stored in the shed?

I am not for a moment suggesting that you should not get into the so called silly season in any way you see fit, but I am suggesting that perhaps it is worth thinking about why you do, and whether it is worth spending so much of your hard-earned cash on it. I'm just asking you to have a think about what it is that drives you to work so hard and stress so much over one day (or two) when we get our families together or make an effort to comfort and include the lonely. Wouldn't it be better to spread that energy and expense out over the year, and actually have a few more family days, or invite the lonely neighbour over for a meal a bit more often? Just a thought. If you make a lot of effort to be kind and jolly and giving and generous just for Christmas, then perhaps you could ask yourself why? Should it be an effort to open your heart and your home to others in your family and community? Should it be saved for special occasions? Perhaps I'm just an old cynic, but we all get together with smiles and loaded with gifts for people we hardly notice the rest of the year. We make out that we are some kind of fairy tale Christmas movie family and then at the end of the day off we go and don't really take much notice of each other until Christmas comes around again. Weird. Maybe that happens with Christmas movies too. 

Anyway, I do see a lot of stress and worry going into getting it all right and I honestly think it's a bit of a waste. I watched my mum every year as a kid...or so I remember...working full time, shopping and hiding wrapped gifts in the top of the wardrobe, shopping and preparing, shelling the peas and having a sherry on Christmas morning while we opened gifts, then collapsing into bed with a migraine leaving Dad and we kids to dish up the roast and eat without her. It spoiled every Christmas, not having her there with us to enjoy it. Being hushed because she had a headache. Poor mum. She worked so hard to make everything beautiful for us all. How many other women (and men) are worrying themselves silly trying to make a perfect day? Not just for Christmas, but other celebrations too...weddings, engagements...birthdays. We make fancy cakes and spend countless hours looking for the perfect gift. We spend more hours and dollars finding the perfect outfit and getting perfect nails and hair for the occasion...whatever it is. You know what? In the end it only matters that you are together with other people. It matters that you have enough food to wear and clothes to be warm. It matters that you care about each other and are willing to listen to each others' stories. It matters that you do it more than once a year if you can. 

Gifts. Gifts are lovely. They are lovely to give and they are lovely to receive. Somehow gifts have become a measure of caring in our society; a measure of love. Have we lost the plot a bit? I think maybe we have. One of my most precious gifts sits her on my desk. It's a pottery horse. It has a smooth brown body and rough feathers around its clumpy feet, and a mane that looks like it was made with a garlic press...maybe it was. None of that makes it precious; it's that my dad saw it someplace when he was out with mum, years and years ago, and he thought I'd like it so he bought it for me. It was not my birthday or Christmas or anything else. It was just love. Thanks dad. Gifts are nice because they can let us know we are loved and cared for. We all know that not all gifts convey that, and sometimes the ones bought just because it is Christmas and it has to happen...or a birthday...sometimes they are bought more as an obligation than as an expression of love. They are still nice to receive, especially if they are a thing that's been dreamed of or yearned for. But somehow the little out of the blue gifts carry much more weight, even if they are smaller or less valuable. You can't measure love in dollars and cents. No you can't. 

Christmas is very good at bringing to light the inequities in family finances, and I'm sure many families across the world struggle when everyone is together and some are able to give lavish and expensive gifts and others are not. Some of us handle it better than others. Some of us feel like we have failed somehow when we can't provide the same level of material wealth for our kids. It's awkward sometimes if you have a lot and others have only little. It can feel a bit embarrassing. Gosh, so much potential for worry and stress and upset! In the end I'm pretty sure that the thing that matters most is love. 

Love, love, love. Isn't that what we really want? We want bear hugs that say I'm so glad you're in my life (I got one like that from my brother the other day...he'd had a few beers, but still I'm counting it!). We want smiles and hand holds. We want stories and cricket games, we want walks on the beach or to the park, we want laughter and the joy of being together. We want to enjoy some nice food and perhaps a couple of bottles of wine or a few beers. Can we try to do that this year without busting the limit on the credit cards? Can we manage to make do with little gifts that don't cost the earth? Can we do something to show that we care instead of buying a gift then going on our merry way thinking we've done our duty? Can we make some phone calls or send some letters that say I love you or I forgive you?

Can I suggest that you keep it simple this year? Keep the gifts simple, the meal simple...nice but that you are calm and happy and able to relax and enjoy the time sitting with the kids or playing Mr Potato Head or whatever is required? I'm hoping to reinstate my own personal tradition of starting a jigsaw puzzle. I like to do that as anyone who is around can add a few bits here and there and it's kind of low pressure, or no pressure. You can come and go around a jigsaw puzzle. I'm going to go easy on the food and drink and just drink in the sight of my loved ones, whichever ones happen to be around. I'm just going to love them. I'm like everyone else I guess, or perhaps like my mum because I guess I learned how to do Christmas from her...I usually make a bit of fuss and like to try and make it a good day...that's been kind of difficult since divorce and then the death of loved ones along the kind of makes it all a bit less wonderful somehow. 

I don't know...if I should even publish this. Am I being a sad sack? I've never gone into debt for Christmas. I shudder when I think of all the people out there who do. Why is there so much pressure for people to do that? How can you feel happy and joyous if there is a huge debt to pay afterwards? Is it really necessary? I know the answer to that one. No it's not necessary. It's a choice. I hope you can see that. How long will it take you to clear the debt? Eek!

Well, I know it's not Christmas yet, and writing this was really an attempt to help you choose to do it all with a little less stress this year. Maybe I could give a few hints to help?

1. Decide on a budget (how much can you reasonably spend without going into debt?)
2. Decide what are essentials for your day to be a success.
3. If they don't fit in your budget, think about how you might be able to scale it down a bit.
4. Decide how much you can spend on each gift.
5. Write it down and stick to it.
6. Delegate - share the work with others. 
7. Ask others to bring something towards the meal.
8. Pretend Christmas Day is the 22nd and have everything bought, wrapped and ready to go in plenty of time.
9. Choose simple, fun, generic gifts that can be recycled if people don't like or need them.
10. Save some energy for loving and laughing your way through the day.
11. Know that you are enough. 
12. You and Christmas Day don't have to be perfect to be good, to be great, to be enough. 
13. Count your blessings.
14. Breathe, relax and enjoy getting's on it's way!!

There are lots of great ideas on the net for saving money with DIY gift projects. You still have time if you start now!! Have fun!

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