December 22nd - just any other wednesday
But today I can bring you tidings of great comfort and joy. And hope, if you’re someone who wants to avoid Christmas. Here are some observations I’ve gleaned over a couple of decades of trying to avoid ‘the big day.’
Come the 20th December most people will leave you alone because they’re busy with their own Christmas. And once they know you’re a Scrooge about it they’ll pretty much leave you alone lest you dampen their ardour for ‘the big day.’ Up till about the 20th they all moan and groan and talk about how expensive, difficult, unpleasant it all is, but by the 20th they’ve bought into it big-style and you can, if you’re lucky, ride the slipstream and just keep under the radar. Apart from family phone-calls on Christmas Day. Looking back over the past couple of decades there were quite a few years when I achieved my goal of avoiding Christmas virtually wholesale – and these were years I just stayed at home, battened down the hatches and got on with life.
The only sacrifice that has to be made is to keep away from television, radio and the internet. These days that has to include social media. If you go on social media any time during the twelve days of Christmas you’re asking for it. I can’t imagine what FaceBook and Twitter are like on Christmas Day, but if this year’s Halloween is anything to go by, your ‘stream’ or ‘page’ are likely to be filled with greetings and pictures of everyone you know (and on social media a lot of people you really don’t know) having a jolly time. That’s definitely one for me to avoid. I have issues with social media in general. It seems to be living life one step removed from any kind of reality. And I suppose if I’ve anything to thank Christmas for in my adult life, it’s a yearly reminder to ‘keep it real. Because the best tip I’ve got for a good un-festive period is: sign out for a week. Get your food in early and avoid the shops. Stay home with a load of good books and get on with whatever it is you do to amuse or entertain yourself in the best of times. Just stop the world and get off. Take a break.
If you want to be an avoider ‘light’ and like to go shopping for bargains then avoiding the shops and the internet can be hard I suppose. For me, I remind myself that bargains are always there, that shopping is a created vice, that the best bargain is learning to live without. And believe me, there’s a lot of things we take for granted as essentials that are pretty easy to live without. As for luxuries? Treats? For goodness sake. Well, I suppose if you want or need those things you’re not going to be looking for tips on how to avoid Christmas are you?
If you actually like the idea of Christmas but don’t like the commercialism then there is plenty you can do. Volunteer to go and give someone else a better Christmas. Which is another way of getting back to the ‘real’ spirit of the day. Whether it’s from religious or pagan perspective, if you get warm feelings towards other people at this time of year, or enjoy giving more than you enjoy receiving, then getting down to a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or if you’re not that brave just seeking out an elderly person, or someone on their own, or someone who may be struggling, and give them a good time. Be with them, take them out, cook for them, buy presents for their kids. I’d just add the caveat that you should make sure in advance if they want this kind of interaction.
I’ve never volunteered at Christmas simply because I don’t want anything to do with it. But there must be people who do want to but haven’t the means. People who actually want or need help to enjoy this time of year. I’d have thought the help would be more about company, but it might be that giving a gift is more appropriate. My point is, with a couple of days left, you could still put a bit of thought into this and do something different this year. If you like Christmas, why not connect with the true spirit of it and do something for someone else, without looking for something in return. It shouldn’t be rocket science, or a strange notion, to do something nice for someone who isn’t in your family at least once a year! If you buy into Santa then be Santa. But make sure you pick someone who will appreciate it. And don’t expect that everyone does appreciate being reminded of Christmas.
For me, the best Christmases are the ones that just don’t happen. I’m sure I’m not alone in having a lot of very unhappy memories stirred up at this time of year and whatever I can do to avoid them, I do. And it has worked well for me various times, when I’ve just been having a Tuesday, or a Thursday, or such – doing some reading, writing, even domestic chores (perhaps not hoovering.) I remember possibly the best non-Christmas day was the one where I was in the kitchen at about eleven o’clock in the morning struggling with the clothes dryer which hung from the ceiling and which had a rather recalcitrant pulley system. It had broken just as I was pulling the washing up, so I was perched on a kitchen chair, trying to work out the ropes and pulleys and struggling against the weight of it, balancing it as I recall on my head – all so that I wouldn’t have to take the clothes off and put them on again – and the phone rang. That was in the days I answered my phone. I tend not to these days. But I jumped down, got the phone and it was my mum wishing me happy Christmas. I’d completely forgotten about it.
‘What are you doing,’ she asked.
‘Trying to fix the clothes dryer,’ I replied, honestly.
That obviously didn’t compute with her and I was left alone. Christmas interaction lasted less than five minutes and I quickly forgot about it again as I went to complete my task.
Believe it or not, that’s my idea of the perfect Christmas!
Total avoidance is, of course, rarely possible, but another tip to give you maximum festive free time is that you ring the people who you know will ring you to wish you Happy Christmas. Get in there early. I’ve learned it doesn’t hurt to wish other people Happy Christmas. Fundamentally (despite pointers to the contrary) I’m not a Scrooge. If people genuinely enjoy all the Christmas stuff, that’s their right and privilege. It’s not my way, but I’m not there to spoil their party. And phoning a few people in the morning to wish them Happy Christmas is a good way to get the rest of the day free. Of course you do have to remember it’s Christmas Day to employ that strategy, and I don’t always remember. When I do, I just put on my best smile and think of it like a chore that has to be accomplished. I wish them well with as genuine an emotion as I can and get on with my day.
Getting Christmas presents can be another problem of course. It took me a decade to train my own family not to buy me presents. It’s not as easy as the Christmas card deal. Family do tend to expect presents themselves and will keep buying for you even when you say you don’t want a present, simply to get one themselves. I’ve still not trained my new ‘in-laws’ not to buy. They are serious fun Christmas people. The tip, which worked on my family but not (yet) with the in-laws, was to give charity donations on their behalf as Christmas presents. They pretty soon stop wanting that as a gift, I can tell you. Strangely, none of them has turned the tables on me and sent me charity donations as Christmas gifts – which I would really appreciate! The ‘in law’ family are stocking-filler type people and they fall into the category of people who just love Christmas shopping, so I’m not hopeful that they will ever get to grips with the idea that some people just don’t want Christmas presents.
I am deeply uneasy with presents bought by people who just love Christmas retail therapy. So I developed a way of dealing with my unease. When bought such a present I then go out and give a charity donation for the same amount. I’ve got something I didn’t want, maybe, but I turn it into something useful. I’ve sponsored guide dogs and gifted toilets and goats and all sorts this way. At least it makes me feel something good comes out of the whole thing. But I’d really rather not have to engage with the spurious practice of keeping the Chinese workers on sweat-shop wages while the earth’s precious resources are ravaged for more useless plastic crap. It’s just me, but I don’t see that as ‘fun’ or ‘festive’ or positive in any way. Other views not only exist – but are dominant – so I hope I don’t offend, but surely I’m entitled to my opinions too? I think, after all, I’ve given quite a few decent reasons why I don’t want to be part of the whole experience.
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An advent calendar of memories that are not for the faint-hearted.