I have been experimenting with felt circles and embroidery for the past two days. I was trying to make flowers but—and I blame the Morphic field for this—everything I have made so far looks like an elaborately decorated cookie. Better than actually baking trays of cookies, at least. Me and sugar, we don’t like each other much.
At a time of the year when everyone in the Christianized world is baking pretty things, or is preoccupied with eating and decorating, with buying yet more things, and with social get-togethers of one kind or another, my lover and I are settling in for a couple of quiet weeks at home, to read some books, draw and paint, to make things, and ride out the Christmas storm on our boat…with the pelicans and the crocodiles, who don’t give a damn about it either.
We don’t make a big deal out of Christmas in my home. I long ago decided that, as far as my life was concerned, the cons of Christianity far outweighed the pros. And if I can’t get excited about the substance behind the holiday, then I can’t really work up much enthusiasm for the empty shell of overeating, enforced heartiness, compulsory family reunions and frantic shopping that’s left. Furthermore, my belovéd and husband, Kris, was raised by atheist parents in communist Russia; when he did espouse a religion, he chose Islam, for its sobriety, circumspection, and austerity.
I, on the other hand, was raised in the Philippines, where the holiday that commemorates the birth of a boy to a Jewish-Aramaic couple takes the form of a nationwide hysteria that brings forth, among other delights, 13-hour gridlock traffic jams in the cities, a sharp incline in crime, and a plague of street-hardened-urchins-turned-’carolers’ who descend upon people’s homes as soon as night falls, banging on large tin cans as viciously as they are able, shouting—
shouting, not singing (in their whole lives have these rough little imps heard a single word that was gently sung and not shrieked threateningly at them?)
—their carols in words so far removed from the language they were originally written in that they could not be more meaningless if they had been taken from the Ket language of Central Siberia (these kids don’t have a clue as to what they’re bellowing, it’s just a tradition of the season, god help us, and a lucrative one, and so it thrives.)
Quiet folk, who work for miserable wages all year so they can spend it at this time, escape their own homes (and the thirty groups of carolers that nightly beleaguer them) by going to the malls, where the Christmas decorations have been sparkling, and the Christmas music has been on shuffle-repeat, since October. It is also a tradition to squeeze, with thousands of others like them, into the parking lots, onto the escalators, into the food courts, down the shop aisles, and past the deft hands of the pickpockets of whom—along with traffic cops, urchins, beggars and muggers—it can honestly be said, love and value this time of the year more than anyone else.
To my adopted country, Australia,
You cannot imagine how refreshing it was to arrive in a city where “the Christmas Spirit” didn’t follow you home, caterwaul outside your front door in a pack, prowl around the back of your house nicking any small thing that was foolishly left in the garden (like the stepladder at my mom’s house, last year), and then run a roofing nail along the side of your car as it left. Thank you for leaving us in peace. I love you.
Christmas dinner at home, when the last of the carolers had rattled noisily away at 10 p.m., was an emotionally fraught affair. The combined stresses of having to endure your family and possibly other relatives for long stretches of time (maybe even having gone shopping and then sat in 4 hours of traffic with them), Mum’s brittle exhaustion from having done “all the work”, Dad’s peevish, infantile insistence that nobody touch the food on the table until he had taken a dozen blah photographs of it (like we would never eat again? it’s just food. get over it. we’re starving. it’s late.), the bickering that would break out among us while we were eating, and then more fights after dinner as paterfamilias tried to drag everyone to church for the midnight service, despite our feeling quite the opposite of loving, peaceful, joyful…
Oh, Christmas! Your every little scrap of prescribed, fabricated festivity, the comic wretchedness of the Christian, suburban, middle-class family bound by tradition to punish itself this way, year after year, is lodged in my memory like the splintered bones of roast bird. I consider myself lucky to have escaped your rosy red claws, at last.
If you are crazy about your family, you don’t need a time like Christmas to remind yourself or to display that affection. If you’re not all that crazy about your family, not even Christmas with The Puppini Sisters in Dolby Sound can make it better.