All I want for Christmas
December 4, 2013 § 3 Comments
Both of my grandfathers died before I was born, and my maternal grandmother died when I was about six, so for most of my life I had just one grandparent.
My gran died a number of years ago, and I was heartbroken when she did, but I remember being impressed at the same time, because she left so little for my dad, her only child, to sort out after her death: the few clothes in her cupboard, a box of costume jewellery, and some personal items in her nightstand, as she had been in frail care for some time. She truly understood that you can’t take anything with you when you die.
Now it’s true that my gran didn’t have much to leave in the first place – she was far from wealthy, but she was frugal with the money she had and never went into debt. She always bought the best quality she could afford, and I never saw her waste anything, ever. But she was never stingy or mean. And before she moved into frail care she began giving away her few treasured possessions, preferring to experience the pleasure of giving while she was still alive.
As we head into Christmas, my gran has been on my mind. When I was growing up, Christmas wasn’t the conspicuously commercial shopping fest it’s become. Yes, we got presents, but they were far simpler. A bar of Vinolia soap was considered a huge luxury. Bubble bath was highly prized. My gran was delighted if you bought her a bottle of Oil of Olay or a pack of stockings. (She always wore real stockings, not pantyhose, and as a little girl I loved to help her clip them into the garter clasps.)
She would have been horrified by what Christmas has come to represent, I think. In so many ways, we’ve completely lost the plot. There’s a crassness that’s crept into Christmas that leaves me reeling sometimes, even though it’s my favourite celebration.
For me, Christmas is about the familiar rites and rituals, the sounds and smells. It’s about the Christmas cake that I bake in October, and the aroma of cinnamon, ginger and cloves that fills my house as it bakes – that quintessential fragrance that tells me the end of the year is on its way.
It’s about singing the old familiar carols, preferably by candlelight, and giggling with my children as we decorate the tree and untangle the lights that have somehow crocheted themselves into a bad macramé creation while they languished in the cupboard for a year. It’s about the salt dough and cardboard decorations my children made in junior school that are as beautiful to me as the magnificent ornaments I bought at a specialist shop in Athens. It’s about driving the family mad as I insist on driving all over Johannesburg to find beautiful Christmas lights up in the streets, just because I remember how I loved to drive down Main Street in Port Elizabeth as a child and view the lights the municipality used to string up in town.
I love to gather my friends and family for relaxed meals, some well thought through, others more haphazard and impromptu, but with the emphasis on quality time spent with people I love, not some imagined Masterchef competition where I show off my culinary skills with a parade of dishes that would have the Roux brothers swooning with delight.
And on Christmas Day, I like to have a minimum of 12 people over for lunch, so that it feels like a celebration, like a feast. That’s my very favourite thing. I cook a hot meal in the heat of a Johannesburg summer, slaving proverbially over the stove, and I love every minute of it.
And the presents? Well, yes, there are presents, but quite honestly, I get more joy out of giving presents than receiving them. I would enjoy Christmas just as much if I didn’t get a single thing. Because it’s not about the things. Things are temporary. Things don’t make us happy.
So if you really want to give your loved ones something special this Christmas, don’t give them things, don’t max out your credit card to buy them more stuff that they probably don’t need. Because what they really need is you. They need your time, your attention, your love. They need your eyes to light up when they walk into the room. They need you to put down the book, the phone, the tablet, the TV remote, and really listen to them. (And I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone here.) They need a spontaneous hug, a phone call out of the blue, a love note in their school or work lunch box, a kind word when they’ve had a bad day.
Christmas is about giving, yes, but it’s about so much more than giving things. It’s not about shopping, or food or decorations. It’s about people: the people you love and who love you. So this Christmas, do something different. Give them the gift that costs nothing, but is worth everything – you.