Decking the halls and more this season, it’s almost as if we blinked and the decades just flew by. Friends and family have moved on, priorities have changed, and all of a sudden, Christmas traditions that seemed guaranteed to remain forever are now just memories of an incredible past.
The magical thing about the Christmas season, when we were younger, used to be about the consistency of our expectations. We revelled in the stability of home, of predictable meals, of friends and family who would sit around that dinner table, and of things that would happen no matter what else the world faced.
Good tidings and great joy have always been associated with this time of the year in centuries gone by. However, as with all things, there’s nothing more constant than change. Gone are the days of the Advent week bringing with it Christmas cards that could be strung up over the fireplace. If you do get a text message on Christmas day wishing you and your family, that could be about as much as you’ll get all season. So, the usual Christmas season sales begin in stores across the city, give or take a couple of percentages on selling prices, and you’ve got people rushing to stock up on things they need, and things they don’t.
Looking back at holidays gone by, however, it’s been more about how we felt over the season than particular gifts or events that took place. Therefore, if what the world dictates the holiday season to be is what we all go by, we’re going to begin 2019 unnecessarily overwhelmed and exhausted by the looks of it. Today, in a world that’s beginning to become all about minimalism, Christmas lists are shorter, and the things we really want for the holiday cannot be bought. The times, they are a-changing, and we’d just better-adapt or get left behind.
Dating back to Deus Sol Invictus on December 25, the Kalends between January 1 and 5, and Saturnalia between December 17 and 23, Christmas was declared by the Christian Church as December 25 in honour of the birth of Jesus. Traditions from mistletoe to evergreen trees seem to have caught up with everyone around the world and there’s no part of the planet exempt from that huge ‘Christmas sale’ rush. From Ethiopia’s annual game of ‘genna’ hockey played on Christmas afternoon to Peru’s ‘La Noche Buene’ (the good night) where families go home after mass to open gifts and toast each other at midnight, and the Marshall Islands’ piñata-like ‘wojke’ with gifts for God, traditions are varied and fun across the world this time of the year. Personally, however, I’d stick to Iceland. Part of its fantastic ‘Jolabokaflod’, the original Christmas book flood, means Christmas Eve is all about exchanging books and spending the rest of the night reading them with chocolate for company. Needless to say, this is the season Iceland publishes and sells more books per capita than any other country.
The world over, Christmas has the ability to unite people, irrespective of language and borders. Often “the most wonderful time of the year”, Christmas brings with it memories of large decorated trees, good food, and lots of carol singing. Whether it’s going to church on Christmas Eve or opening gifts at breakfast, the way each of us sees Christmas is completely different from how the rest of the world does.
Shana S talks of how her holidays have literally changed with every year. “Back when I was a student, it was all about going home and having the family visit over the holidays. Cousins made their annual India trip around now, so our house was packed with weddings to attend and people to feed. Over the ensuing years, the number of cousins flying into the country decreased, and the family got smaller. I got a job and ended up never getting enough leave around the right time to be home long enough. Getting married meant we scheduled holidays around in-laws and family with barely enough time to enjoy what Christmas actually meant to anyone. Now, with school-going children, it’s all about leaving right after the exams are over, visiting both sets of grandparents, and getting back in time for school to begin on January 2. Yet, somehow along the way, getting the whole shindig sorted about how Christmas ought to be has got lost in the hustle of when, where and why.” Like Shana says, “Maybe it’s time we sorted out a new family holiday tradition that’s more logical in terms of schedules, and easier to follow.”
Perhaps it’s time we all rescheduled and remodelled our traditions. If sourcing that turkey in time for Christmas Eve dinner is worse than actually roasting it, it could make sense to have everyone eat out or change the menu instead. As we get older, things do change, from the number of people around for Christmas Eve dinner to the kind of dessert that needs to be made. The inevitability of changing traditions is easiest handled with grace and patience than resistance at this point. This is just life, and this is the way we evolve as the earth keeps turning.
Modern age Xmas
If you are ready to retire old traditions or are looking to fill in the space where one might be changing, here are some suggestions to get started:
* Write letters. Have the children draw cards, buy one if you’re too lazy to spend time on it, but make sure you personally sign and send them off. There’s nothing that brings on a smile faster than some good old snail mail.
* Contrary to popular belief, technology is a good thing. Family across the planet can still stay close with those FaceTime or Skype calls; video chat while you’re at dinner so they feel as close to you over Christmas Eve as they would have been if they lived closer.
* If getting everyone together on Christmas Eve is a huge task, why not have everyone over in the middle of the week instead? There’s no steadfast rule that says celebrations ought to be limited to just one day in the season. Besides, there’s nothing more heartwarming than a home filled with loved ones, good food, and laughter.
* Play board games. Some of the best memories are made over seriously played, fought, and won board games. Whether Ludo or Cluedo, family and friends have always had fond memories of unique takes on Pictionary or Anthakshari. Get that little paper, pen and a little bit of imagination out for some healthy family fun.
* Make memories. Lost loved ones or people who aren’t around are always missed, often unbearably, during holiday gatherings. Spend time talking about fond memories and “remember when’s”. Photographs are best brought out only if everyone around is absolutely okay with looking at them all the same, but revisiting past memories are healing and comforting.
* Whether it’s the local carol service, concert, or even a movie, get everyone to come along for a fun day out. Organise a family picnic out of town, or better still, head out for a meal where nobody has to do the dishes after. There’s nothing like the great outdoors for some family fun.
* If doing good is your thing, the best way to wholeheartedly go out and embrace the ensuing Christmas spirit is to volunteer. Find a local NGO that needs help, and you’ll find the day suddenly getting brighter, and the world, larger. Problems and disappointments that seemed to surround your world fall away all on their own.
* Put away those gadgets. Email and social media are fantastic for updating the rest of the world on how lovely your holiday season is, but the time you spend with family and friends is invaluable and aren’t moments that you can replace, ever.
* Shop. As daunting as the task may seem, there are some seriously good deals on offer, and making it a huge family affair is not for the strongest, but take that risk. Go shopping. Hit the stores later in the day to avoid the big rush, but watch the family get happier with loaded bags and unnecessary junk food.
* Let go of past regrets and the year’s disappointments. Having a ‘holly, jolly’ Christmas is all about moving on; about enjoying the moment for what it is, and hope for what the future could bring with it.
However, no matter the occasion, remember that changing traditions or creating new ones take time. If things don’t work out like you planned them to, try not to get too disheartened. There’s always another season to plan, and there’s more you could change than you couldn’t. Besides, its’ all about the feeling of warmth and happiness you get from the season, irrespective of people or things. The ultimate objective of this season is harmony, love, and laughter — and maybe a piece of some of your cousin’s over-soaked Christmas Cake that makes the world all rosy and happy with just one bite!