Sunday, 28 December 2014

What did you get?

This is a question that we all ask family and friends at Christmas. But in Grenada not one person asked us this question!! It was like a weight was lifted from me by not having to list this thing and that thing, people were interested in how I was, not what I got.

Big smiles but no big presents! Amazing.
Christmas morning in Grenada had us getting up and lighting our stove (I got it on the first match whoo-hoo) to make tea and coffee. There was no tree and no presents strewn about. There is also no wrapping paper here - well there is but you buy it by the sheet at a specialty store, same thing goes for the Christmas bags. So presents were given by just presenting them to people. Each boy got one present from us and my mom brought some gifts from back home.

It was so different however from our "normal" Christmases, where I am doing last minute wrapping until 11 or 12 p.m., ensuring the house is perfect so that when the boys come down it looks magical. The house here looked no different than it did on December 15 than it did on December 25th- maybe a titch tidier but there was no big transformation to scream "Christmas Day".

Back home once the boys are up I am frantically trying to keep track of who got what from whom, so I can attempt to make sure the proper people are thanked for the proper things. Then those people phone and you feel like shit when you forget one little thing, or someone asks about a gift they gave and you can't for the life of you think that you saw that particular thing.

I also have to hold gifts back because this person wants to see that person open a gift or we have to take these gifts somewhere else to be open. It is like coordinating an orchestra with musicians who just want to play their own tune!

Simple decorations- great friends
So this year it was amazing to have so little and then to be thankful for the things that you did get. Brent got two jars of crunchy peanut butter, I got a tube of goop for de-frizzing my hair, Owen got a puppy stuffie and Aiden got a wooden car. Of course there were other gifts but they weren't extravagant and for the first time in forever I did not feel like $50 was simply being moved around from person to person. (In fact I see this sometimes where A gives B a $50 gift card for wherever and then B gives A a $50 gift card to somewhere else.) It just all seems a little crazy and unnecessary.

As I was contemplating how wonderful and stress free this was Christmas was I started thinking about why it was so stressful in Canada. This is my "Grown Up Christmas List" of why Christmas is stressful back home:
  1. We spend months (some people start right after Christmas) looking for the "perfect" gifts for people who we love, but in reality we are trying to impress others with our cleverness at how well we know them. The gift then becomes a reflection of the giver and deep feelings are held about how good a job they have done, which can then lead to hurt feelings or a sense of rejection when the gift isn't deemed as perfect by the receiver.
  2. We over spend- a lot. I remember when the boys were 2 and 4 a woman at work telling me she spent $500 per child. I thought she was off her rocker. We have never spent that much. But if you adding in time looking, and all the filler gifts, trying to balance gifts so that Aiden didn't get more or less than Owen, it starts to add up. I usually have a gift budget that I start in January $100 a month get put away for $1200 in December. I am quite sure no one remembers what I got them last year for Christmas or for birthdays therefore in essence I have thrown away $1200 to make someone happy for a day or two and prove that I care for them through consumption.
  3. We spend hours decorating our homes inside and out. I believe I have no less than six Rubbermaid buckets of decorations that get dragged out and heaved up stairs. Then I have to find places for all these nick knacks (many of which I absolutely hate but must keep out of obligation) and yet somehow make it all feel like Martha Stewart has blessed my house. Instead I always feel I have pulled up short of the magical look my house should have for Christmas.
  4. We spend hours baking and cooking and fussing in kitchens so that we can present to our family and friends dinners and teas that look like they came out of Home and Garden magazine. We need runners and placemats and name cards all to make things look just so, as we fall into sofas exhausted from the effort. Only to tell people "it was nothing".
  5. We send cards to friends and it sometimes feels like a competition as to who has the most cards displayed- see people really do like us they sent us cards! And again if you don't get your cards out in time you feel guilty about your inability to manage your time and your contact lists.
  6. We have not only taken Christ out of Christmas we have definitely put the "I am" in it.
    • I am a good parent because my child got everything they wanted
    • I am a good hostess because my home looks like a Victorian Christmas card
    • I am a good friend because I got my cards out
    • I am a good cook or baker
    • I am a good family member because I drive all over the place rather than take time to just relax and reflect showing what a dutiful son/daughter, niece/nephew I am
For me a Grenadian Christmas is way more normal than what we are doing. $20 in decorations thrown up the night before and a meal that doesn't take hours in the kitchen. Although I will note that most Grenadians will make a ham that they cook for hours usually over an outdoor fire- but this is a very social time and there is no cook to compliment it is a group effort with no fancy serving platters or dishes, just good food served with good friends and family.

So if you are like me and find the "holidays" a little overwhelming, see what you can do less of instead of trying to do more. Set limits and stick to them (I knew everyone needed to be gone by three to get a good swim in on Christmas day and out the door the guests went!). Appreciate friends and family throughout the year and realize that the Little Drummer Boy had it right; no one needs more gifts and it is not a competition, just bring yourself. If people aren't happy because there is nothing in it for them, then maybe your time should be spent elsewhere.

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