It took me ages to decide what to title this piece because I don’t want to hurt my mother (pictured above). She loves Christmas and to this day is the best mommy and grandma when it comes to the holiday. In fact, some of the times my mom seemed happiest was at Christmas when her granddaughters were little and she would create a winter wonderland for them that was like a fairy tale.
My History With Religion
My parents divorced when I was five. Dad (may he rest in peace) wasn’t at all religious and mom would take us to Baptist church but I don’t believe we were truly religious. Childcare and school fees in southern California were cheaper at church schools so my mom walked a path many single or struggling parents did for a few years when I was younger. And part of the bargain for those reduced school fees is that the family agrees to attend church each Sunday.
So truthfully, what I remember most about Christmas as a little girl has nothing to do with religion. What I remember were the two sets of gifts –one from Christmas with mom and another from Christmas with dad.
Moving into my teens, we stopped going to church full stop. I didn’t believe the teachings of the Baptist church so I never returned as an adult either.
Christmas Mania & Consumerism
When I was 19, I moved with friends from our hometown to Newport Beach. In those days, three of us were sharing a room and were on tight budgets so I remember Christmas as a time to go home for a visit and enjoy some mommy pampering (and free laundry!). At 22, I moved to Spain and couldn’t make it home so at Christmas time I’d miss mom terribly.
It wasn’t until my daughter was born and we moved back to my hometown that I started really celebrating Christmas again.
And this time – with a daughter of my own – I fell deep into the wild consumerism that the U.S. retail industry offers up. I went over-the-top WILD at Christmas!! Gifts, decorations, the whole nine yards … just like my mom. I even had a colour theme for ribbon and wrapping paper each year that I was proud of at the time!!
Gifts or Travel
After 7 years, we moved back to Barcelona and my views on Christmas STARTED to change. Money was tight. We had to make choices and those included either “doing Christmas” or going away on a cheap holiday to a neighbouring country since we couldn’t afford to go back to California to see family. Luckily my daughter had a spirit of adventure that (even to this day) rivals mine so we opted out of “gifts” and instead tucked into the gift of culture and adventure.
From the time she was 8 years old we set out alone on wild journeys to exotic locations. The first year was to North Africa, to Tunisia. We travelled the country in a rental car, getting lost every few hours but having the best time ever. We had a map, an Arabic and French phrasebook, and a suitcase full of my daughters old toys that we had cleaned up and she gave out whenever we saw kids. It was one of the most memorable trips of my life. From there we went on to countries in Europe like England and the Czech Republic. Our last Christmas/NYE trip before we left Barcelona for India was back again to Africa but that time to Morocco.
Those memories are true gifts that I will never forget. As you can see by the pics here we spent quality time eating, exploring, and just being together (it should be easy to tell which was Marrakech and which pics were from Prague by our clothes!).
Then India Happened
Both my daughter and I were forever changed by our time there. We lived in Bangalore, a city where from one kilometre to the next you can see middle-class life then deep poverty in a slum. For so many there, life is stripped back to the base needs for sustaining life, with anything else– including silly things that we consider “essentials” like shampoo or face wash – a complete luxury.
Any residual feelings we had for Christmas consumerism died there. I won’t speak for my daughter but for me I just feel like … I am not religious so why did I feel so much pressure to celebrate a holiday like Christmas in such an over-the-top way? Why can’t it be more like Ramadan and we simply head out to feast with friends from time to time for Iftar? Or like the Chinese Mid Autumn Festival and eating moon cakes?
Now it’s Christmas time again…
I’m single and Kuala Lumpur is currently my home base. And my little angel isn’t my little angel anymore. She’s 23 years old, a scientist, and working in Africa. Not on a volunteer holiday but busting her ass every day on a malaria project.
And I find Christmas annoying.
Christmas music makes me want to implode and stresses me out. I avoid malls during this time of year to escape the decorations. If I were Christian or religious in ANY WAY associated to Christianity I am sure that I would feel differently – of course – but today, to me, it’s the embodiment of commercialism and so much of what’s wrong with the U.S. (or the U.K. for that matter, which also goes on Christmas overload by the end of October).
It’s the time of year with the most suicides, which is heart breaking because it’s impossible those people are depressed for religious reasons. They are depressed because there is an innate voice in us that says we’re supposed to be with family or a partner for Christmas and buy perfect gifts … but why? Who did that to us all?
And why is there so much pressure to buy gifts? I remember the Bible’s story of the 3 wise men but today’s concept of “gift giving” definitely did not come from the Bible! It’s the retail industry that did that to us (just like the pressure on Americans to buy a diamond engagement ring worth two months salary if they want to propose!).
Looking back, I remember Christmas Eve dinner as something special … with my mother’s amazing fresh croissants and home made stuffing topping the list of my favourite things on the planet. And aside from being with family, that’s the only part of my “Christmas” childhood that I carry with me that isn’t tied to consumerism. The rest … again, I don’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings because she loves this holiday … just seems wrong.
So I Asked My Daughter…
And here’s what she said. That for her, she doesn’t really even think about Christmas except that it bugs here when she’s bombarded with it. She believes that people place too much importance on the holiday and she’s happy to be in Tanzania right now where she’s not assaulted with it everywhere she goes. And she rounded out her thoughts by saying, “It’s really unnecessary that Xmas has to be shoved down everyone’s throats for 2 months a year,” and I couldn’t agree more.
From the time she was eight, my daughter and I walked a different path at Christmas and New Year to the rest of our family and friends. We went off on our own adventures and saw the world. We learned about new cultures instead of spending our money on ritual gifts. We explored new sights and were excited to see how other counties brought in the New Year. And those are memories I cherish more than any other gift.
So…Why Do We Do It?
My daughter and I both agree that my mom cares more about family than anything else and that if mom could…she would have us all together as her gift. What she always did wonderfully was pour love into Christmas. From the food to the thoughtful gifts, it is truly a holiday she loves and she always found ways to show it.
Seeming like a Grinch to her right now doesn’t make me happy, especially given that my gifts are currently flying somewhere over the Pacific on their way here. But isn’t it time we think twice about the WHY behind some Christmas traditions. The real WHY. And maybe start giving the middle finger to retailers from now on??!!??!!
MY BEST ADVICE >> head out on an adventure next year instead of putting on the whole Christmas show 🙂 On the back of my business card is printed the saying ‘Collect moments, not things’ and I live by that … and I promise if you do it at Christmas, you won’t regret it!