On kids, chaos and Kringles …

December 13, 2009

I’m ambivalent about Christmas.

On the one hand there’s all the madness and revolting consumer hideousness. We just had our house painted, including letterbox, which involved removing my texta ‘no junk mail‘ sign and have not yet put a new one on. The mountains of crap hurtling through that letterbox every day has been a shock, let me tell you.  New sign required asap.

Then there’s the various levels of stress rising in almost everyone I know – about family gatherings, rules or lack thereof about gifts, the costs of everything, the waste and looming landfill, arguments over venues or traditional & nostalgic versus modern but unfestive menus, old family battles about who can’t stand who and the annual effort of having to hide it, and so on, ad infinitum. One friend’s family had an early Christmas lunch together last week as they’ll be apart later, and he said the change in the vibe was incredible – simply that the day, complete with presents and decorations and special food and so on, was a thousand times more enjoyable than usual simply because it wasn’t The Day.

But on the other hand, I’m also a bit of a sucker for the whole shebang. Another friend and I confessed to each other that actually, despite everything, we do like a bit of Hubbub on The Day. Kids, tree, special food, hoopla. I think I have never gotten over the childhood Christmas thrill. Maybe that’s what sends everyone round the twist. We all revert to the children we were, and still remain.

Lucky for me, I have two large and lovable families, and look forward to the day every year, despite the odd hyperventilating minor meltdown in the lead-up. This year it’s Senor’s family turn, and it will be a big affair full of kids and chaos and – given the family is full of excellent cooks and even better eaters – good food.

Presents and scary expense are kept under fine control on both sides of our family, on Senor’s with the name-from-a-hat draw thing (I just can’t say that ridiculous Kris Kringle expression without thinking of various tortuous office KKs over the years, which may just reduce me to tears).

Anyhoo, I supervised this hat-name-draw thing with two of the kids, M and H, a few weeks ago. Explaining and performing the intricacies of this procedure with them was like Who’s on First.

‘We have to pull the names out of a hat,’  I said. ‘So just write everybody down.’

‘Okay, I’ll go get the computer,’  said one, while the other, nodding solemnly, said, ‘Hmm. So we need a hat.’

Their Luddite mother declared to the first that a piece of paper and a pen would do. I agreed with the second that a hat might be nice, but then the discussion of what kind of hat was required began to do my head in. ‘Let’s just use a bowl,’  I said. This was the first time I saw the dubious look on both kids’ faces.

Next challenge was trying to remember all 22 names in the family. We all forgot the kids’ mother and Senor, and the one with the pen forgot her brother. All of this entailed a lot of counting and recounting, trying to figure out who was missing. Once we got through that, M was looking rather tired. H had long since snuck off to watch a movie.

‘Okay, now we need to do it again,’ I said, sipping my wine.

M looked at me as if I were insane – or one of those teachers who like to make you repeat a difficult but patently pointless task for their own enjoyment.

‘We need two lists,’ I said. She closed her eyes, and I think cursed inwardly, and began again. I was on to my second glass before I noticed she’d started the second list on the reverse side of the paper.

‘Oh, sorry darling, this list needs to be on a different bit of paper. We need to cut them up.’

Again with the closing eyes and the inward cursing. But being a well bred child she almost managed to hide it.

I was now onto my third glass. M’s father was cooking something magnificent but burning himself a few times en route across the bench, and the level of hubbub had increased somewhat. \

M sat back and shook her writing hand. ‘Done,’ she said.

‘Okay. Now we need some scissors,’ I said. ‘And another bowl.’

By now M had resigned herself to doing whatever old Aunt Lush decreed – the other adults were all chatting in a sane and happy fashion in the kitchen, so she was on her own here. She appeared to decide this was a new game of I Find The Ways of Your People Fascinating. Her face took on the kind of patient, just-go-with-the-flow expression I’ve seen on diligent, Zen-leaning travellers in strange lands.

I’ll try not to draw this out, but suffice to say that cutting up two lists of 22 names and putting them in two separate bowls, without mixing them up, is easier said than done when the eleven-year-old cutter and separator has absolutely no fricking idea why any of this is going on and just wants to get to the bit about the presents.

‘Okay – now we do the draw,’ I said, calling H from the next room. Now was his moment.

He pulled out a name and read it. ‘Great!’ he said, and began to walk off.

‘Come back!’  I said.

‘Why? I’ve got my name.’

‘No, you have to pull out a name from that hat – sorry, bowl – and from that bowl, and match them up. Twenty-two times.’

H and his sister looked at one another, all but making drinky-drinky motions with their thumbs and pinkies at each other above my head.

(I think Senor and I, as we approach nursing home age, will be witness to this furtive glance many times over – if any of the nieces and nephews are still speaking to us, that is. To this end we have decided to cultivate an elaborate and complicated myth about Wills and Inheritances, and plan very shortly to start using this falsehood to play off  the Ns & Ns against each other for the rest of our lives.)

Anyhoo. I eventually managed to explain the point of all this, and the list was made, and emailed, and we all have our victims.

My giftee is the Shanghai Surprise himself, chefbro Hamish who, sadly, owing to the Chinese government’s what-the-hell-is-freedom-of-speech policy, has been unable to comment or I think even read this blog for months and months now. But I know exactly what I’m giving him. It’s food-related. I can’t wait.

And what of your Christmas nonsenses? Reports? Recommendations? Do tell. All names can be changed to protect the guilty…

PS: Oh, and from now till Christmas, all posts here will be accompanied by a Christmas Excess Antidote Alert. We all know how frankly obscene is the consumption that goes on among those of us lucky enough to enjoy any degree of ordinary Western wealth at this time of year. So I reckon it’s beholden on all of us to sling a few bucks (five will do, or twenty, or a hunnerd – whatever you can manage), every time we can, to a good cause. Call it karma, that great Christian concept …

Today’s antidote is a donation to the Exodus Foundation, a very cool and efficient program run by the Rev Bill Crews in Ashfield, inner Sydney. I was introduced to the work of Rev Crews by a friend years ago when we used to do an easy dash up the road to hand over a few bucks or some food for their Christmas hampers. They run a huge Christmas lunch for folks who are doing it hard – homeless people and struggling families doing it tough – but as well as that, their continuous work is now more wide-ranging than ever. They have a very efficient website where you can start with as little as a one-off  donation of $19, which will feed a homeless person for a week. And you can do it by clicking a couple of buttons, right now.

Go on. It’ll make Christmas feel like Christmas, for real.

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