Christmas has always been my favourite holiday and time of year. I remember crossing off the days on the calendar when I was a kid, as the scorching temperatures rose each day and we looked forward to the six weeks of summer holidays. The end of the school year and the promise of long evenings playing cricket on the street until the street lights went on and we all had to come inside.
The Christmas tree made of silver tinsel, and lots of family and friends over on Christmas Day. My mother cooking traditional roast in heatwave conditions but with the air conditioning up high, serving and drinking two or so glasses of wine which, combined with exhaustion and many hours of laughter, ended in a snoozy evening.
Then I had children of my own, and Christmas was ramped up. I loved our plastic green tree – but when I married Jed, he insisted we have a ‘real tree’, so I begrudgingly relented and began to buy a real tree each year.
The year of excess
One year topped it all off. I went overboard and got the ‘too big’ tree which not only kissed the ceiling, but bent over at the top and took up half of the loungeroom. That monster tree needed an enormous bucket of bricks to help hold it upright, and thank goodness there are no squirrels in Australia because there would certainly have been an angry one living in there a la Christmas Vacation.
Santa brought the kids quite a number of toys that year – nothing is more exciting to me than seeing a fully decorated tree go from a tiny number of gifts to a blaze of gift glory overnight, you would be surprise to see a 9-year-old girls wishlist of toys underneath a tree. That year I’d done so much preparation through the year with laybys at Kmart and Target, I went way overboard and Max got sick of opening gifts on Christmas Day. He just stopped after opening four or five. It really was excessive and by the end of the season, when we pulled the dead monster tree out of the house (nearly taking the front door with it), we all breathed a sigh of relief. Even the kids.
After we got through that year, I calmed down a little bit.
Santa has not gone overboard since (though Jed every year has been worried as the parcels are stacked under the tree on Christmas Eve). Strategies of ensuring every child is evenly balanced when you have four children is no easy feat. But it is easier if you keep control. I liked it when Santa brought gifts of basketballs and other large but not expensive items that took up lots of space, and looked great wrapped under the tree.
But now they’re older. My youngest is 12. They’re not wanting skateboards or basketballs or anything from the toy sections.
And the thrill for me is gone as I ‘know’ less and less of what they’d really love for Christmas, and instead discover that the new video game that costs a fortune and fits in an envelope is really all they want. Nothing else. They don’t want shoes or clothes. Everything is downloadable, so not even books or board games are much fun anymore.
So now not only do I have to get used to them not really wanting much for Christmas (and believe me, I know how blessed I am to have children who want for very little, and though we are not flush with money, the kids are clothed, fed and happy), but I no longer need to stay up all night Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa to finish his work with all the eclectic range of stocking stuffers collected through the year. I am no longer forced to watch Christmas specials with Spot the dog or Rankin Bass; or the late night ones of Are You Being Served and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em. There is no more wrapping paper all over the house. No more need to spend hours on Christmas morning trying to open impossible plastic packaging or to put together complicated larger toys or bikes.
Christmas has changed. The kids don’t expect a tree with lots of stuff underneath it – just the simple, small (but pricey) things they want. I suppose it’s a blessing, but Santa is still a little sad. I wish I had received a memo saying how long it would all last before suddenly it’s gone. But I don’t think I would have appreciated it more – I loved every second of it.
So this year I won’t be running from store to store for the last must-have gift. I won’t be making final payments on laybys and hiding gifts. I won’t even be spending Christmas Eve wrapping.
When we came to America our Christmas celebrations changed. Now, four years after that, as circumstances and loss have thrown curve balls at us, they continue to change. But even as we reduce the size of the tree and the number of gifts, our love and joy of being our family remains strong. We will miss my mum this year, but her absence reminds us of all we have, and she would want us to remember that too.