…and why I could never judge those who don’t.
I read an article the other day about a lady who last year bought so many Christmas gifts for her family that when they were piled up in her lounge her tree was barely visible. Cue many nasty comments of course and the odd nod of agreement from those who could see the festive season from her perspective.
I wouldn’t presume to know what makes this lady tick. Perhaps she is trying to compensate because of something else that happened that year or 10 years ago. Maybe she just really likes treating her kids and works hard to. It’s possible that the newspaper contributed a fair percentage of the money spent on those gifts in exchange for her popping her story out there and laying herself open to all of this judgement from people who really ought to know better. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s not really my business.
It did make me think about my own version of Christmas though. Of what (if I stop and think about it) the most vivid memories are of the childhood Christmases I shared with my parents and 4 siblings.
I can’t really remember very much about Christmas before my siblings arrived. My Mum was diagnosed with my brother when I was just 4 years old. By the time I was 9 years old there were 7 of us living in our 3 bedroom house. Quiet Christmas was never an option. Noisy, full and fun. That was us.
We didn’t have a lot of money when I was a child but there were certain things that happened every year
We would always go to see Santa. We’d always have an interesting and hilarious buffet at our grandparents house. We would always (ish) be good on Christmas eve lest we were made to stay up! and we would always wake up to a full stocking at the end of our bed. There would always be a lot of gifts waiting for us in our living room. I mean a LOT.
The gifts would be sorted into a pile for each of us. We would all come into the room together and excitedly find our designated spot. Dad would grab the video camera, someone would get the Christmas music playing and Mum would have a piece of paper and a pen at the ready and then the organised chaos would begin!
As far as I recall we would take it in turns to open our gifts yelling out who they were from and what they were so that a list could be made for easy reference when “thank you card time” came.
In no time at all those presents would be opened and the living room floor would become a sea of colourful wrapping paper with all of us too enraptured by our new toys to care.
Of course we took everything for granted – as was our right as children.
But aside from a few exceptions, we really don’t remember what was beneath the wrapping paper. It’s not that we were entitled brats. Not at all. We just remember other things. When I asked my siblings what they could remember they listed
- Big piles of presents
- The dolls house my Dad upcycled for my sisters.
- The year we woke our parents (and possibly the street) up at 3am
- The following year when we slept in – but were woken up by our Aunt and Uncle who arrived at 7am expecting us all to have been up for hours. We found it hilarious. Our parents, not so much
- The dining table looking beautifully dressed because Mum did it before they went to bed on Christmas eve.
- Christmas dinner. Always tasty. Always massive.
- Excitement and happiness
My memories of Christmas are fond ones. I know my parents made that happen and I cannot imagine how difficult that must have been some years. I’m very grateful to them both for those memories – they laid the foundations for the type of Christmas I wanted for my children.
Now that all 5 of us have families of our own, when we come together to exchange Christmas gifts it can be crazy. I love it. Between us we have 14 children now. When our lives allow we rarely are able to be in the same room but I know that even if not all of us are physically there, we are all thinking some of the same thoughts and remembering the same moments.
We enjoy some wonderful moments. We visit our Grandfather and if we can we take some food to try and recreate some of those buffet recollections of our youth – we will never come close. A vital ingredient is missing and she can never be replaced. Nonetheless, we all have a lovely time.
The house that we visited adorned with lights as children is long gone but we have found a new place now and our children love standing in awe.. together.
There is just one thing I am beginning to have second thoughts about
. The big piles of presents. Or more pointedly the pressure to provide the excitement that I felt as a child of walking into a room full of gifts.
I know that the guilt I feel at the same time every year a couple of weeks before Christmas is not logical. We don’t have the money or the space for hundreds of toys, our children are in no way expecting to received a huge number of gifts. So why should I feel like I need them? I do. I want to indulge them and every year I panic that I haven’t done enough, that they won’t love their gifts. That they will feel disappointed. Disappointed with Christmas or disappointed with me. I am not sure which. Maybe it’s both? Or maybe it’s bollocks.
This year I am doing things differently. Sorry kids, I am swallowing that guilt down with a large snowball and I am refusing to play the game.
A thought occurred to me while Christmas shopping with my Mum. I was talking to her about how worried I was about my daughter liking her gifts and I had this vision of Christmas future
What Comes Next?
I had a picture in mind of myself and my daughter in years to come, having the exact same conversation. Of her worrying about the number of gifts under the tree. Not feeling as though she was good enough. Or hadn’t tried enough for her children. Knowing that it was ridiculous but feeling that pressure anyway. I don’t want that for my children. Or for hers.
There is only one way as I see it that can change. There are amazing things that I take from my childhood christmases and feel like I should make a point of saying that my Mum and Dad did not raise us to be materialistic at all. This is not about them. I need to stop. I have to offload that guilt and replace it with something else and I need to remember that we already have everything we will ever need to make those memories our children will hold onto for many Christmases to come.