December is a special month. It’s the last month of the year, a time where we reflect upon events past, a time where we are often filled with childlike optimism (and perhaps a little naivety) about the future. There is no one telling us to be more realistic. We’re allowed to dream. We’re allowed to build our castles in the air. We speak to our friends, family, loved ones, and even strangers, with a kind of wistfulness. We express our disbelief over how quickly the year passed by. And we muse over the things we had hoped to but failed to achieve, the times we said ‘no’ instead of ‘YES’, the times we let opportunities slip from our fingers and the little (or not so little) regrets of the year.
And of course, December is also a festive season for many. However, as my family never really celebrated Christmas, I’ve never felt super excited about Christmas.
One of my earliest Christmas memories is actually from my pre-school years. The pre-school had organised a little Christmas party in December, and had hired a Santa (or I should say, a man in a Santa costume) to give us our Christmas presents. I remember all of us sitting cross-legged on the ground, looking up at Santa in his vibrant red clothing, white hair and long white beard, with a sense of anticipation and excitement. Santa then called out our names, one by one, to give us our presents. I was ecstatic when I ripped open the wrapping paper to find that it was what I wanted. To be honest, despite this memory being a vivid one, I have little recollection of the present itself. I do remember that it was a toy of some sort, something with lots of small pieces – I’m pretty sure it was a ‘playing grown-up’ kind of toy. I was puzzled: I didn’t quite understand how Santa could have known what I wanted for Christmas. When I asked my parents, I was told the truth – they had bought the presents, wrapped it up, and given it to the pre-school teachers – so Santa could in turn, give it to me. I couldn’t quite comprehend any of this at the time. It was too complicated for my four-year-old brain to wrap around. I guess part of me believed that Santa and his telepathic powers were real.
My other childhood Christmas memories are not so vivid. Primary school was very festive around December – we would sing carols in the school choir, decorate the classroom with stars and tinsel, make paper mache wreaths, learn about the Nativity and share Christmas cards and gifts.
Now when I think of Christmas, I think of a season of giving and sharing, and love and joy. But I can’t help but think of the ways consumerism has become intertwined with these elements of the holiday season – it’s become almost a vehicle for expressing these feelings and emotions. And how popular culture and the media continues to perpetuate ‘ideal’ Christmas traditions. There are ads everywhere of smiling and incredibly photogenic families, couples and friends, gathered around a designer-decorated Christmas trees and surrounded by beautifully wrapped presents. Long dining tables laden with all sorts of festive meats, fruits and desserts. Ads telling us that material objects are the only way we can show our love and gratitude to those we care about. And their message to you, the slightly vulnerable and sentimental consumer, conflicted over what to buy for a loved one: it’s not really just the thought that counts. Your kind thoughts are really lovely, but they really ought to be expressed in a brand new electronic gadget, some nice jewellery or a flashy watch. It’s really quite amazing (and at the same time, terrifying) how companies/ad agencies can really tap into our psyche…
I’m not really that cynical about Christmas and consumerism though. At the end of the day, we need to put our cynicism aside, and simply enjoy Christmas. Or the holiday season, if you don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s a joyous time, a special time of the year where we can embrace old traditions, or create new traditions. You can be celebrating by putting up and decorating the Christmas tree with fairy lights. Playing Secret Santa. Holding a ‘traditional’ Christmas lunch. Listening to Christmas albums from your favourite artists. (I must admit that Michael Buble, Josh Groban and Il Divo’s Christmas albums have been on my playlist this month…) You can be re-watching a few romcoms set in Christmas. (Love Actually, Bridget Jones Diary and The Holiday are some of my guilty favourites…) Create your own traditions! It’s a time to wind down, catch up with family and friends, indulge in some food and drink and enjoy the small things in life.
Season’s greetings everyone! 🙂