It’s that time of year again in Britain… TV adverts for toys and perfume, shops full of chocolate, shiny things and ‘gift packs’, people getting harassed and the implied pressure that we should all be having ‘fun’. Yes, Christmas is coming.
Christmas is coming for most of the UK, but not for us snails! And why not? Well, here chez Snail we do not celebrate it… really, we don’t. We don’t give presents; we try, as far as possible, not to receive presents; we don’t have a decorated tree; and we don’t eat turkey. It may sound like a gloomy way to spend mid-winter but really, it’s not – you should try it one year.
It all started one Christmas morning about 10 years ago. We had got up and had breakfast before settling down to open the array of presents that we had received. By this stage we had pretty much given up on giving each other many presents, opting instead for choosing some things together that we would enjoy – some films on dvd, for example, or a few cds. Most of the gifts that we had received were addressed to both of us, so we took it in turn to unwrap the parcels. I can’t remember now exactly what they contained, except they did include three jars of chutney (neither of us like chutney) and that amongst all the other things there was nothing that I really wanted.
It was at this moment that the penny dropped with me that Christmas was simply a big disappointment… it was never going to be that magical event I remembered from my childhood. We used to put the Christmas tree up and decorate it soon before Christmas day, and then on Christmas eve, we disappeared into our rooms to wrap presents before placing them under the tree. I never believed in Father Christmas – I knew that presents came from my parents, family and friends; I knew that they were special because someone had chosen them for me (and spent money on me). I also knew the joy of giving… in my younger days I loved buying gifts for other people; in fact, I still do.
But suddenly on that morning 10 years ago I realised that present-giving had become an obligation… that at Christmas it had become essential to give gifts simply because it was Christmas. And so we stopped. The following September, we wrote to all our friends and family telling them that, henceforth, we would not be sending them a gift at Christmas and asking them not to send us anything. We explained that we would be giving a donation to charity from now on, and if they wanted to reciprocate, they could do the same. We suggested that, alternatively, they could use any money they would have spent on us on themselves – to a buy something they would really enjoy and that they really wanted. And, everybody entered into the spirit of it… we gave money to Practical Action and our friends gave to Help the Aged, Oxfam and various other good causes.
Subsequent Christmases have been very peaceful – no mad rush to ‘prepare’, no stress, just a quiet time at home enjoying mid-winter, ordering next year’s seeds and being thankful that the shortest day is past. A couple of Christmas days we went to a local dog rescue and walked the poor unwanted dogs… enjoying sandwiches and hot coffee for Christmas lunch, before returning home to watch Doctor Who on the TV. In recent years the weather has kept us at home, but either way we have had good days.
Gift-giving has not ceased, it’s just that these days we buy gifts when we see something we think our friends might like… this means that sometimes someone gets several gifts in quick succession, then nothing for ages. We always, however, send any gifts immediately, so that they arrive at random times throughout the year. And this too is reciprocated by some… my sister is especially enthusiastic about the idea and will often send something lovely through the post because she thought one of us might like it.
I am delighted to have removed myself from the current commercialism and greed that seems to have pervaded this time of year; to contribute no longer to the heaps of plastic paraphernalia that seem to have become an essential feature; to buy simply for the sake of it.
All that said, I do have a lovely day with my sweetie!