Get what you give
Christmas is an odd time of year.
It is a time that, all too often, feels like it should feel of other things. Of togetherness and festivity, of light and joy, of snow and mulled wine. Some of these are simply incompatible with Christmas in the Australian summer but the others, and their absence, make me think.
Christmas in Australia occurs not at the sweltering height of summer but at a point where the weather is, typically various; 35 degrees in the shade one day, 19 and rain the next.
Bar a Christmas or two in Auckland (which actually goes through four seasons in a day) I’ve spent every Christmas in Sydney, so I’m not best placed to adjudicate on whether the shifting weather is, at least in part, to blame for the unsettled feelings and precarious emotions that surface at the festive climax to the year.
Thinking it through though, it seems there may be a thread of desperation running through the 40-watt LED twinkle lights. In this I don’t mean the long-held desperation of Mary and Joseph many millennia ago but a more modern strand, stemming directly out of the present-heavy candy cane & carols extravaganza we’ve created.
The feeling I get, both observing and participating through this merry month, is that we’ve forgotten what Christmas should feel like but know that this isn’t it.
So we’re all madly searching, looking under every bushel for some holiday feeling; through work drinks and boozy brunches, through secret santas and long lunches. Looking in all the adult conventions for what used to make the Christmases of yesteryear so magical.
My theory is that a lot of this indulgence comes from a remembrance of what we loved about Christmas – the getting.
The glossy gleaming paper & meticulous bows waiting to be torn off, the way your name was written on nearly every present, the way it just never ended but stretched into a heady blur of sugar and new.
Christmas as an adult is, at least in part, driven by a desire to recreate that. Through cocktails and canapés, new friends and new fucks, more sparkle and more swag, culminating in the most curious of newly-birthed traditions: the self present. The self-present is the holy grail of hedonistic indulgence divorced from any religious overtones; it is a pantheon of yuletide gorging. As though, even if you have an entire extended family who will buy you gifts - as though, even if you consume as desire and/or necessity arise throughout the rest of the year, you still need more.
More gloss. More gleam. More greed.
The second part to my theory (and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, its just something that came to me on the toilet yesterday) is that this is a collective mis-remembrance. That, although we easily recall the satisfying tearing of wrapping paper, it wasn’t actually what mattered most. Then or now.
Even then, it was the giving that mattered. The handmade cards and pasta shell necklaces. The tie-dye fabric Christmas ornaments (or was that last one just my hippy dippy primary school?) That these, homespun and haphazard, were not just things our poor parents had to endure, but were things we loved to give (and gave in love) - in part, perhaps, out of a misguided idea that a stylish mother would wish to incorporate a rigatoni necklace into her daily wear.
But still. Less shiny and harder to reach though these moments now are, I can’t help thinking they are the ones that matter. I’ve been testing my hypothesis these last couple of Christmases. Not with pasta necklaces but with comparable adult offerings. And although gradually, gradually, I’m getting closer, it seems to me that this childhood magic of gift giving is something that could easily take a lifetime to recapture.