When I was young, I used to ask my granny what she wanted for Christmas, or her birthday, and she would always give the same reply, “your kind regards”, which I disregarded and bought her a present anyway. I didn’t get it then. Somehow she could never bring herself to spell it out to me emphatically that she really didn’t want a present, that just my company was enough. She tolerated my fumbling attempts to find a suitable and useful present for an old person who didn’t really need anything but people around her. The pantomime continued amongst herself and her cousins and friends, as each year they bought each other presents they didn’t really want or need. It came to a head the year she was given a gift that was the exact same present she had given a different friend a few years before and it turned out they had been passing it on unused and it had come full circle.
For me, at the close of 2015, a year of refugees being turned away, children drowning and floods at christmas where there used to be snow, this story represents what christmas has become; a pantomine, a farce, a dangerous game that epitomises the consumerism that is destroying the planet. The meaning has become distorted. It has been appropriated and manipulated by those who like to profit.
Now before you think me a Scrooge, let me elaborate. I’m not suggesting we give up on giving, on the contrary. I’m proposing we focus on a better way of giving and sharing, of entering into the “Christmas spirit”. The frenzy of buying manufactured goods, often made in poor working conditions, creating pollution and waste, and sometimes unwanted or unneeded, in many cases having worked overtime or taken out a loan to pay for it, is not the only way to show our loved ones we care. We can make a start by shopping local and/or fair trade, rather than profiting giant, unethical corporations. Let’s support small businesses and local makers, or where we can, make our own gifts. One of my favourite presents was an apple cake my brother made for me. Hand made gifts are personal and thoughtfully made with effort. It’s not about the money, it’s about the love and care. As I discussed above, a lot of older people don’t always want a present. Alternatives could include donating to their favourite charity, or taking them for a day out. That time not spent in overcrowded shopping malls could be spent sharing the gift of good company. For me Christmas is about brightening the dark days, spending time together, sharing good food, and appreciating what we have.
Let’s just slow down, take the pressure off, and enjoy our time together.
I didn’t get it then. I do now.
© Janey Colbourne 2016