Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Every Yuletide, I do Wonder

All over town, in every town, Christmas trees are coming down and Christmas lights are twinkling less and less as the days go by. In our home, we took down the tree today as we have always done traditionally in my family on Epiphany, on the twelfth day after Christmas. As we packed the decorations back into their boxes for another year, I realised that if I was going to write a Christmas-themed post, I had better do so today before everyone well and truly moves on from Christmas and plunges into whatever 2015 has in store.

I had actually intended to write this several days before Christmas. I won't bore you with the details of why that didn't happen, suffice to say that I got swept up in the silly season and before I knew it the twelve days of Christmas had disappeared.

Today the Orthodox churches make their yuletide celebrations and I must confess that every year, as I'm running around the shops like a mad woman in the week before Christmas, I find myself wondering why the rest of the western world doesn't do the same. It has always struck me as rather cruelly ironic that the very same gifts that I buy the day before Christmas at full price go on sale the day after Christmas for about half the price. Ditto all the Christmas paraphernalia.

Each year, I mention to the matriarchs in my family that it would make considerably more sense to do our gift giving on 6th January rather than 25th December because we could all do all of our shopping at the sales. Each year they nod and murmur in agreement, but we go on year after year, spending like drunken sailors prior to the 25th and then lamenting that we have no money left to spend at the post-Christmas sales. Oh well, I suppose if we did all postpone our present opening until Epiphany then the shops would soon catch on and shift the start of the sales until 7th January, wouldn't they? In the meantime, I suppose all this goes to show why gift vouchers have become such popular presents!

Long before I associated Christmas with financial predicaments, I was still never short of things to ponder when each time that tinseled time of year rolled round. As a child who loved the atlas just as much as I loved the anticipation of Father Christmas' annual visitation, I would often ask my Mother how it was possible that one man could possible visit the house of every child in the entire world in just one night. Mum, always quick off the mark, explained that different countries have different time zones from each other and therefore his task was not quite as momentous as it seemed.

That satisfied my curiosity for a while - until I became aware of just how many people there actually were in the world and that time differences or not, Saint Nick could not possible get around to all of them in twenty-four hours. But Mum didn't miss a beat. "He manages to do it", she told me, "because not every child in the world has been good and he only has to visit the children who've been good". (This was followed by something along the lines of  "So you'd better be extra-specially good, hadn't you?"!)

My other main childhood Christmas contemplation was also related to geography. I loved the carol We Three Kings of Orient Are but was greatly frustrated that none of the atlases in the house listed Orientare in the index. When I eventually asked my Mother where it was located and she set me straight on the matter, I remember feeling seriously displeased with the creator of the carol for having fooled me for so long.

Now speaking of being displeased, according to an article I read in The West Australian newspaper just after Christmas, a recent survey conducted by Gumtree found that somewhere in the vicinity of 20 million unwanted Christmas presents were received in Australia last year (valued at an estimated $520 million). Apparently the listings on Gumtree increased by 25% in the days after Christmas as people put their undesired pressies on the second hand market. Reading this article only reinforced my resolve to move our family's present-swapping day to Epiphany, as sites like Gumtree and Ebay are swarming with bargains in the days after Christmas. However, the thing that struck me most about this article was the paragraph that read: "About 70 per cent of those quizzed in the poll said they knowingly bought 'undesirable' gifts".

Who would knowingly buy someone an unwanted gift?? I asked myself. And then I read on. "Work colleagues and in-laws are the worst offenders for unwanted presents under the Christmas tree", the article stated. Ah yes, I can relate to that. Two years ago, I received a bottle of wine from my Kris Kringle at work. It looked like a very nice bottle of wine indeed. I just happened to be seven months pregnant at the time. And as for the in-laws part? I'm not even going to go there (but hey, if you've ever received a used, useless, hideous or down-right insulting gift from an in-law, I'd love to know about it!)

I'd venture to say that chocolate is one of those gifts you can't go wrong with (except for that aforementioned Kris Kringle of mine, who also gave me a packet of Tim Tams, even though everyone in the workplace filled out a form before our KKs were allocated stating if we were allergic to anything. I wrote that I was allergic to gluten, but I suppose my KK either didn't know what that meant or else was trying to poison me). But chocolate, on the whole, gets two thumbs up from me. It's the perfect gift for people you don't know very well. It says I'm thinking of you, without assuming to know someone better than you actually do. It's also perfect for re-gifting. I secretly find myself wondering every year how many boxes of chocolates are passed around the neighbourhood before they are actually eaten. When a friend or a neighbour pops in with an unexpected box of choccies, you can just go to the pantry where you've stored all the other boxes of choccies you've been given and whip it out with a flourish and say "I've got something for you too!"

I also wonder if some of those boxes ever make it back to their original buyer. You know, if my neighbour buys me a box and I re-gift it to the school secretary and she re-gifts it to her neighbour who re-gifts it to her son's basketball coach who re-gifts it to her ironing lady who also happens to be the neighbour who bought it for me. I guess as long as the chocolate gets eaten in the end and everyone feels loved, it's all good. More re-gifting equates to less consumerism too of course, so keep passing those chocolates round - it's win-win.

One of my most profound Christmas ponderings would definitely have to be about my own personal consumption of chocolate. Every year, as I inevitably find myself eating my own weight in chocolate over the course of a single week, I ask myself if it is better or worse for my health to eat my annual supply of the stuff in just one week or to ration it out throughout the year. Unfortunately for my waistline, I have never come to a finite conclusion on that matter and continue to steadily consume it throughout the year as well as devouring it in frightening quantities at the year's end.

In all seriousness though, I do wonder every year, when I'm wrapping presents at the last minute and rushing out in sweltering summer heat to get that present for that person I accidentally forgot to buy for (there's always one) why I don't get myself more organised. Ever since I officially became an 'adult' and started buying gifts myself, I have promised myself every year without fail that the following year I will be more organised. I will start the present hunt early. I will be so organised that I will get all of my shopping out of the way during the July sales. Well actually, I did that one year. I bought all the presents months in advance, hid them cunningly in all sorts of improbable hiding spots where no-one was ever going to find them and then, the week before Christmas when I went to dig them all out to wrap them, discovered that I had forgotten where most of them were. I turned the house upside-down, but still didn't manage to find them all and ended up running to the shops, as per usual, at the last minute to re-buy presents for nieces and nephews I had already bought for (If you ever want anything hidden good and proper, I'm your woman).

I suppose it's time to wrap up this Christmas post and forget about anything and everything to do with Christmas until the very last minute next year because there really is no point kidding myself that I'm going to be organised next time either. I'd just like to say though, that I don't leave Christmas to the last minute because I dislike the season. I love Christmas. I know not everyone does though. I know a few people who wish they could skip the whole day altogether.

So here's the funny thing. It's actually possible. My parents had a friend who moved from Australia to the United States for work. One year, he boarded a plane in California in the late afternoon of 24th December to fly home to Sydney for Christmas. The flight took fifteen hours, so in theory he should have landed in Australia on Christmas Day. But there is a 19 hour time difference between his point of departure and arrival and so when he touched down in Sydney it was actually the early hours of 26th December and he had missed Christmas altogether!

I suppose if you really really loved Christmas you could always do that flight back the other way. If you timed your departure right, you could end up having two Christmases in one year.

Regardless of whether you'd rather two Christmases or none at all, I hope you had a wonderful end to 2014 and that 2015 is your best year yet.

Loads of belated Christmas cheer,

What do you wonder about at Christmastime? Do you re-gift? Have you ever received a Christmas present that you hated? Are you brave enough to tell me you have deliberated bought an 'undesirable' gift??