Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas Ambivalence

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. ~ Garrison Keillor

Every year, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I'm ambivalent about Christmas. At one moment, I will totally be in the holiday mood, all chirpy and excited and happy; and the next, I'm getting desolate, bored and melancholy. Over the past few years, the latter has ruled the scoreboard.

In Nigeria, Christmas is referred to as the little season. It is a holiday, but not a big event like New Year's. The coolest thing about Christmas growing up wasn't the presents, it was the fact that we got to drive down to my dad's hometown and spend the whole week with my grandma and cousins at the family home. We were allowed free rein to play all over the town, in the hills, at the market place, at the palace, at my cousin's house...wherever we wanted to go. We had lots of delicious and spicy indigenous dishes to eat and we got to live a simple life, with no TVs and lots of nights spent by the gas stove listening to my grandma and dad tell us stories and folk lore. It was mainly a time of familial bonding and traditions. It was wonderful.

With presents it was never a big deal, we got stuff from our parents after New Year, mostly tangible items like new school shoes or church clothes. Never in my wildest dreams would my parents have gifted us an XBox 360, and we never did expect anything. From my aunts and uncles, family friends and other relatives, we got lots of money, cold hard cash to spend as we see fit. How cool was that?

In contrast, over here it's been totally different. The consumerism of the holidays annoys me, and irritates me to a point that I'm almost invariably end up feeling like Scrooge. The whole issue of buying gifts for people because it's expected, or because they got you something seems very redundant. Do I really want to blast 20 bucks on the your nasty coworker that hates my guts because I managed to draw her name for secret santa? Do I really have to rack up my credit cards to ply into the hype? The ads on TV are super annoying, with commercials flaunting super expensive toys and gadgets that you can't even afford under normal circumstances.

I love my family and friends and they know that I adore them. The validation of said love shouldn't have to come with an affixed price tag. It's a cool thing that my family is made up of very thrifty individuals, who do go Christmas shopping...after the holidays. We end up getting so much more stuff for less money because after New Year's everything goes on sale. So we wait a week, a few extra days and save a whole lot.

And because New Years in the Big Season, the one that really counts, our holiday traditions then have managed to stay true even though we have been transplanted in another country. I don't think I could ever be ambivalent to New Years...fresh start, fresh year, a clean slate. How cool is that?


Aunty Kathy said...

I used to get really depressed after Christmas. I had too many expectations. I rearranged my attitude so that now I have very few expectations and I am happily surprised by everything that happens that's wonderful.

And since it's my favorite time of the year, magical wonderful things always happen. I know, that sounds corny in this predominately objective too-cool age. But I'm not predominately objective OR too-cool.

I like being me. I love loving Christmas, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas presents. The little child is alive and well within.

However, I can relate so well to what you wrote, my dear Vixen. I too grew up in Nigeria, where there WAS no commercialism. Christmas was about the Christmas play our school performed each year in the church, the Christmas carols we sang door to door, the weather we had at Christmas, which I loved; Ramadan weather. Dry and a little cool in the evenings and mornings and misty then too.

I still remember the simple little gifts I got for Christmas growing up: a doll, a stuffed animal, a Lite-Brite, toy was good. It took so little. It can still be that way. We don't have to buy (ah hem) into commercialism just because it's all around us.

Vixen, I'm so glad you wrote about those Holidays in Otun. I always knew how much the whole family looked forward to those visits and now I have a clearer picture of why. Sounds heavenly to me.

Mad Munkey said...

Try doing all your gift shopping for under a dollar and see how creative you can get.

NML said...

This was a great post. You write your opinions so eloquently and a number of your points struck home, particularly being forced to buy for co-workers that you don't even like! I don't think people really get what Christmas is about anymore. For me though, it is the one time of year when I get to spend lots of time with my family. Have a good one though and merry Christmas. Thanks for all of the hard work and next year we'll have a blast again xx

Chris said...

Excellent post!

Our family has backed away from buying more and more things. We've limited gifts to one small item. Of course, kids always get a lot more.

I find Christmas is more enjoyable if it is about spending time with the family, rather than battling for the latest gift at the mall or big-box store.

Once again, great post. Love for family and friends is the most important Christmas gift that we can give.