I always get very grumpy around this time of year. It’s unbearably humid, I get flashbacks of my glandular fever symptoms which make me feel as if I were moving through mud, and I think most people are just generally struggling to keep up with working and all the events and shopping and housework and keeping everyone happy and so on and so forth. In my perfect world. I would eliminate Christmas and its rampant commercialisation and feverish gimme-gimme mentality, but this isn’t a perfect world and no matter how many times I try to opt out, I always get roped back in.
Because I’ve never had a whole lot of money, and also because I’m an atheist, Christmas sits uncomfortably with me. I feel a lot of guilt for these things, but also because I am not the world’s greatest present buyer. In fact, sometimes I think I go out of the way to make really uncool presents for people that take a week to make and a second to trash. I hope that my family don’t think of these gifts as disposable, because I do have a subversive kind of motivation for putting myself through hell by giving small and (I think!) thoughtful gifts.
When I was growing up I first noticed it… after all the wrapping paper had been torn from the presents, there ended up being more paper than present. We shoved these screwed up bits of jetsam into deep plastic bags – it took several just to accomodate the debris of the day and as every year passed it alarmed me to think how much paper was wasted on this one day of the year. The presents were mostly very practical (from my parents) but other people tended to exchange trinket gifts: things that aren’t really useful, except to collect deposits of dust and guilt as you chastise yourself for wanting to throw them out every year.
So I started to hand make presents for my family, because I wanted to create a real present that I could give to them instead of some useless piece of junk from the shops. I’ve painted portraits, made jewellery, sewn books, and created other things but last year I got really into creating elaborately crafted packagings for my presents. I don’t know if anyone kept any of the boxes the presents were housed in, but they took the longest time to make – far longer than it took to make or buy what was inside. Somehow, I felt like it was a kind of art project for me to investigate.
This year I have created presents for my family that consist of lots of little moments. I’ve still incorporated the hand drawn element, but I wanted to give something more than a thing. So, we bought Chinese takeaway style boxes which I nicknamed “Use your noodle boxes” and they contain little items that prompt the recipient to do things for themselves, or with other people. Games, pampering, self reflection and problem solving – activities that I feel are really important. I hope that the recipients of these gifts find them useful!
People have called me a Grinch and a Scrooge, but it’s not that I think Christmas is stupid – I have fun catching up with my family and having discussions and laughs about things. I wish it was more about making memories like that instead of about “who got who what”, and “someone didn’t give that person a present”, and “I’m exchanging this for something better”. I still feel guilty that I’m not getting people “kick arse awesome” presents from a retail chain, but I think I’m giving something much nicer, something from my love – a gift that can be shared, swapped, used, and remembered.