November 16, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker
We've just spent the most wonderful day decorating for Christmas. I know it's early–I couldn't wait any longer. In celebration, a post from a few years ago–the first year we decided to do Christmas On Our Terms…
In a creative writing class, I once heard a story that wasn't about oranges at all. I have no idea what it was about–it was written by a woman who'd lived through the great depression, and wartime, and who remembered the "simple life" (that mythical land that is much more alluring to those of us who've never been there). Those "ancient" times when there was only one (usually handmade) gift under the tree–and the children were delighted with it.
In the (autobiographical) story, the little girl gets an orange. She didn't know what it was–she describes it's bright colour and smooth skin, and the weight of it in her hand. She runs her fingers along it, then holds it close to her face and smells it–examining it's tiny pores. When her aunt shows her how to peel it, she describes the mist that shoots into the air, covering her hands with an intoxicating scent. She saves the peel, then lines up all of the sections and counts them, before eating even one–and describes the sweet, exotic flavour in detail.
I imagine giving one of my own kids such a gift–and having them hold it up, frown at me, and declare "they make these out of chocolate, you know". My teenagers and I, like heroin addicts, have created bigger and bigger Christmases each year, in an effort to capture that magical high described in the story that wasn't actually about oranges.
This year, I'm going cold turkey. I've always read longingly about "Consumption Free Christmas" and thought how deeply in line it would be with my values. Around December 2oth or so–when I'm up to my ears in lists and wrapping paper and piles of boxes and wishing more than anything to have time to sit by the fire with the kids… That's when I think longingly of how a Consumption Free Christmas would be perfect and bemoan the fact that my now teenage stepkids were "spoiled" for the idea before I ever met them. If I'd parented them from day one, of course, they'd spend all their time holding hands, singing, and offering to help empty the dishwasher. In a sudden rush, I realized that there really isn't anything in the way–the teens are old enough to be "paid off", I haven't yet had time to spoil the youngest ones. No time like the present.
This year, we've warned friends and family that we're doing "Consumption Free Christmas". We're not buying gifts for anyone.We'll make some simple things to put in baskets–we've always loved making miniature gingerbread houses, truffles, and a Christmas Newsletter–but everyone's getting the same thing. No lists, no mall, no big budget. The few people who need to be "bought off" (the teenagers, employees) will get bonuses and a couple of the same handmade gifts everyone else gets. December 1st, we'll put up family stockings, and all month we'll make and wrap stuff to put in them. I have no idea how this will work out.
So far, it's been remarkably smooth–extended families on both sides have responded mostly with relief and support. Everyone feels Christmas has gone crazy. Even the little boys have been enthusiastic. We've done a lot of talking, and they're particularly excited about delivering the truffles. The littlest one (three years old) declared proudly one day"I get to be Santa!". For now, at least, they're very excited about giving–the "less presents" part hasn't occurred to either of them. I even have "buy in" from the hyper-organized super-systematic five year old with the memory of an elephant (who remembers Christmas past–and has been counting down to that special day since he found a Calendar in January's junk mail).
He came across me crocheting a little soap bag. A soap bag is where you put all the little bits of soap that are "leftover" if you happen to have a husband who feels that anything less than half a bar is just "bits" and inherently unusable . You put the bits in the bag and then it lathers up and you use it to wash with. I explain all this to Eric, who is a passionate devotee of Not Wasting and also of Putting Things Into Their Proper Bags Where They Belong.
"Can I have it?" he asks, with the direct approach common to five year olds.
"I'm making it as a Christmas present." I answer, hamming it up a little. "It's taking me a very long time as you can see, so I'm going to give it to someone who is very, very special to me."
"Mom!" Eric grins excitedly, "That's me! I'm very very special to you. Can I have the bag?"
"We'll have to see–and I don't tell people what their Christmas presents are going to be." I answer. Eric watches me crochet for a long time. He asks about all the details of how I make the bag, we talk about how long it takes, and we talk about the lucky person who gets it. After a while, he leans in, puts his head on my lap, and grins up at me.
"Mom," he says happily, in a hushed, excited whisper "I think I know what I'm getting for Christmas."