…mistletoe and wine…
As children we learnt the alternative version of this song, I seem to remember it featured radioactive slime and eating the budgie for tea. We took great delight in singing it in chorus before collapsing into giggles for our bemused parents. An informal tradition from 18 Christmases with a gaggle of siblings.
Inspired by a friend’s ace blog featuring their adventures in the run up to Christmas (which you can find here) I thought I’d write some musings about Christmas traditions and the whole holiday period. I’ll try not to go on too much of a materialistic/consumerist rant though I can’t promise anything!
Obviously as a Christian the reason for the season (I never tire of that little rhyme!) for us is Jesus and his birth. So this year I wanted to really put the emphasis on that during the Advent season. A new addition last year was a hanging nativity advent calendar that my Mum rescued and passed on to us. We had one growing up and loved watching the scene build over 24 days to feature the whole shebang of kings, shepherds, angels and of course Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. Last year Isaac was too young and Sophia did them all but this year they’re both enjoying taking turns putting the characters on though not without a bit of ‘but he gets to put on both the angels and I WANT to put on an angel’ that comes with the sibling territory.
This year we are also doing a Jesse tree. The idea of this is to focus on the genealogy of Jesus so from 1st to 25th December we go through prominent figures in the Bible from Adam to Jesus, each day reading a short passage and exploring it before hanging something on our Jesse tree (this year just a branch in a vase of pebbles) to mark that day and person. At the moment all our ‘ornaments’ save one are just paper discs backed on card but I’m hoping that over the years we can swap them out for little ornaments that match the days. I really like this so far, it’s useful for all of us to remember what we’re actually celebrating at Christmas and it’s a bit deeper than we usually go into the Bible for Sophia which is cool as it reminds me that she is capable of understanding and exploring more than I think she is.
So this is obviously the essence of Christmas for our family. But… I most definitely bulk it out! As a child I think the most exciting part of reaching December 1st for me was that the Christmas books came out. When Sophia was born I vowed to collect a similar assortment of Christmas books for our kids and said I’d buy one or two each year. However, this is Sophia’s 4th Christmas and we already have close to 20 books. Oops. What can I say, I’m a sucker for stories. What’s cool though is how they have both started just getting books out to look at throughout the day, they are most definitely appreciating the box of Christmas books as well.
We’re getting a tree this weekend (real, of course) which we’re all excited about decorating and I need to get some mincemeat so we can get on with making some mince pies. In a way it’s quite a busy season, I’ve lots of cards and presents to make. Historically we both find present choosing and buying incredibly stressful and feel like we never get it right so we decided this year to make all our presents (kids excluded). So I’ve been holed up in the kitchen whenever I’ve had a chance to get on with preserving and waxy experiments and need to get my needles out for some woolly gifts. At times I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed by it but mostly I’m enjoying it. I like actually putting my time and head into presents rather than just clicking a ‘buy’ button on a website somewhere. It feels more personal and I’m hoping the recipients will appreciate the thought and love. Fingers crossed!
This year is the first year that I’ve heard of the Elf on the Shelf tradition and mostly it’s just made me sad. Although there is an element of fun and magic to it (what mischief will they get up to overnight?!) I can’t shake the undertones of the elves monitoring your behaviour and reporting back to Father Christmas. I really resent using the idea of the big man in red as a way of essentially bribing your children to behave. For one thing, it can only really work in December and surely it’s better to be consistent in parenting and behavioural management all year round. Also, I’ve heard numerous parents threaten to take away presents which I assume they wouldn’t follow through on so it’s basically a lie. I realise I might come across quite strongly and I do apologise, I intend no offence and wouldn’t dream to tell people how to parent, we all do the best we can and what we feel is right for our own kids. I guess I just find it so odd. I much prefer the Imagination Tree’s take on the Elves with the Kindness Elves. There are no consequences to them and they gently encourage kind deeds with a suggestion each morning on things for the family to do from baking cookies for a friend to visiting an elderly lonely neighbours. Infusing the advent season with care and love for those around us.
Christmas has become insanely over commercialised. I know the beginning of Christmas appearing early in the shops was apparently during World War Two when American stores starting selling Christmas related items early so relatives could send them to their family serving in Europe in time for Christmas which is quite a lovely sentiment in itself but unfortunately it started a fashion of starting earlier and earlier and we’ve reached the ridiculous state of seeing mince pies in shops in September. This means the advertising starts then as well and two years ago the BBC reported most UK families would spend between £530 and £682 on Christmas with predictions last year of folk in the UK spending £29 million over Christmas. These are incredibly high figures, put stress on families and I would argue, are largely unnecessary.
Children don’t need toys (especially plastic, electronic short lived ones) coming out their ears, friends and family would probably be happy just to spend time together than give each other things we don’t really need or want, it’s nice to share good food but there’s no need to eat and drink to excess and I think it’s time to put the focus on presence, not presents.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to give gifts, especially when a lot of love and thought has been put into them and you know they’ll be well used and appreciated but I just think we end up buying tat for every Dick, Tom and Harry and maybe we just need to take a step back and reevaluate our approach to Christmas. Last year I think I had my best Christmas ever as an adult. We spent it at our friends flat in Brighton and unfortunately, out of 8 of us, 6 were in varying stage of being struck down the flu. However, this meant that we had no expectations for the day and as a result it was incredibly relaxed and enjoyable. We pottered, we opened presents, went to church, gently cooked the dinner and just chilled out. It was a real testament to the power of good company. It’ll be a hard one to top.
This year is mine and Dan’s first Christmas alone with the kids. I’m hoping to embrace the flu soaked atmosphere of last year, not to expect anything in particular, to relax, not to rush or demand anything of anyone but just to celebrate the birth of Jesus and enjoy being around my gorgeous family.
Presence, not presents.