When I was very young and very stupid, I had an intense love/hate relationship with a guy.
The highs were fabulous and the lows, of course, devastating. But I kept coming back, I kept hoping the lows would fade and the highs would take over. I kept hoping the highs would be everything.
For the last ten years I’ve had the same relationship with Christmas. One minute I’m flying on a cloud imagining the fun and joy around the tree Christmas morning, the next someone is shoving a Wish List my way where the cheapest gift is $169 and is more of the same technology I am actively trying to reduce in the house.
Watch Penny give Sheldon his dream gift from The Big Bang Theory below:
Last weekend I went to do some Christmas shopping. Teachers, friends, relatives. I deliberately didn’t try to achieve too much. I had a plan. I sat on a couch at the shopping centre and had a strategic think. I was not going to let this get the better of me. I was not going to let this become a low. Intricate and pretty snowflake decorations dangled above my head, Christmas jingles played and I secretly enjoyed those songs. They made me feel something that must be close to child-like. They took me back to a time when things weren’t so complicated. Where there was space.
I was determined to not get “caught up” in the shopping madness. I was going to remember what Christmas was really all about. I swear I saw light shoot out the nose of a dangling Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and strike me in the heart.
Then a woman carrying three throw pillows got angry at me. I made a Christmas shopping mistake. I tried to return items.
I stood at the counter and the paperwork was much bigger than anticipated for two European pillow covers that ended up not being the right grey. The woman next to me had four beach towels and three tasteful throw pillows and she was not happy. She huffed and puffed. She rearranged the throw pillows on the counter and I was glad they were inanimate objects. She slapped at the towels. She exhaled, sighed and, if those throw pillows had heads, that’s where she punched them.
I asked if she would like to go in front of me.
She sighed heavily, again, and said yes. The sales assistant stopped serving me and I stood back as though Katniss from the Hunger Games needed to be served homewares. Fast. She was buying gifts and hating every moment of it and I thought, “What are we doing?”.
Christmas can bring out the worst, and the best, in people. It’s the ultimate love/hate relationship. I really want it to bring out the best in me, but I fear we’re that kind of couple now that bring out the worst in each other.
That’s why I’m writing a list. Not a Wish List, but a pros and cons list. I want to be clear about my Christmas contradiction. Does hope, love and togetherness win out, or will frustration, exhaustion, hypocrisy and stress claim victory?
Let’s go. Jingle Bells
Why Christmas can be brilliant.
1. At some stage through the Christmas break you go home or your home becomes a home to other people.
Family, friends, neighbours, colleagues. You open up your house, or someone invites you into theirs and you share a meal, talk, laugh, overeat and be together.
2. You are forced to think about other people.
That teacher you’ve been hearing about all year? Now is the time you have to ask your child a few questions about them to narrow down gift ideas. The neighbours four doors down hold afternoon drinks. There are work Christmas parties where you even mingle with IT. People who are usually on your periphery, come into your centre and you find out the most surprising things.
3. After Christmas day, life slows down.
Traffic thins, emails dry up, days are long, you might even take a holiday. It takes ages to eat an iceblock.
4. Strange family traditions on Christmas day.
Every year since I was little my mum has served a warmish rice dish wisely called Orange and Pine Nut Rice. I think it came from a very old Belle magazine cookbook. My first Christmas away from home, I made her send me the recipe and I sat around with new London friends eating Orange and Pine Nut Rice with an overcooked ham. Every year I talk to mum and we say we won’t do it again. It’s a silly dish. It’s dated. We have plenty of beautiful salads. Every year, at the last minute, we do it again and smile at each other as we put it on the table.
Parents give their kids terrible gifts to test their reactions. Priceless:
Why you never want to see Christmas again.
1. The PRESENTS. Duty presents.
Presents for everyone you ever had a conversation with. Presents for the person who has everything. How many candles and handcreams can one person buy?
2. The to-do list in your head before Christmas Day.
The presents. The food. The decorations. The holiday. The school camps because you have to work. The negotiations with family members over really tiny things like appropriate movie viewing for kids and what mum and dad would like for Christmas. The negotiations with family members over big things. The end of year concerts and speech days and presentation days that are always scheduled to start in the middle of a working day.
3. The Christmas get-togethers.
They roll down the month of December like a snowball and you’re standing at the bottom of the hill about to be completely squashed. And, worse, being squashed by an uncle that still talks to you as though you were six years old and it was 1952.
4. The expense.
Everything costs more than it should and you’re standing at counters handing over your card and turning into your dad thinking, “How can these tiny gift tags cost $18.99? They’re made from brown paper. I should buy shares in brown paper.”
5. The loved ones missing at the Christmas table.
You can’t help but be winded by the first Christmas without your mother, father, brother, sister, friend, partner or God forbid, child.
I’m not sure what emotion comes out on top.
I want to say the love wins out at Christmas, of course it does. It’s Christmas.
But I keep seeing that woman next to a trio of fig scented candles punching those tasteful throw pillows as she waited to be served and I know that hate is a part of Christmas too.
Perhaps you have to choose.
This post originally appeared on Debrief Daily.