Because here comes Christmas. I hate Christmas. I hate the shrieking signs in the shop windows and the fake snow spray paint when it's 35C. I hate the tinny Christmas carols that begin in October, and the urge to buy buy buy. I hate the plastic toys and the wrapping that bowls down the street when the northerly blows. I hate not having a big extended family or cousins with children and thereby an automatic Christmas crowd. I hate not knowing quite what we'll do on Christmas Day, or who we will spend it with. I hate Christmas trees in a hot climate, and roast meats in summer, and the obligatory Christmas pudding. And, probably, I hate that I had a minister for a parent. Christmas Day was always a work day, and the weeks leading up to it were unbelievably busy and stressful. Thinking about those days can make me still feel a little sick.
For the last few years, we've done everything we can to ignore it. We go to church on Christmas Eve (and I do like that); have lunch with family and friends (organised last minute so I don't stress too much about it); and give each child a book, another gift and a few hair ties and chocolates. That's about it.
But the holiday season still looms. And, really, it's not Christmas that I hate but all the gross consumerism around it. It's loud, powerful, insistent. And I'm beginning to realise that ignoring it isn't working; it just makes me depressed. Instead, my family needs some rituals which will help us challenge the dominant ethos.
Going to church is one ritual. Our church is thoughtful about how it approaches Christmas or, indeed, any church season, and has given us the language and opportunity to think and talk about Christmas in ways that aren't absolutely mindless fake joy.
But since we are pretending momentarily that this is a craft blog, I want to tell you about another ritual. I was thinking about Advent calendars, and how I loathe them too - at least, the ones with gifts or chocolate in every pocket. How much junk do my kids need?, I wonder.
But it occurred to me that we could have a different type of Advent calendar. We could make our own and, in each pocket, slip a suggestion for an activity which will help us anticipate Christmas. Some ideas I have are: read a story; write a letter together; choose a gift from the TEAR gift catalogue; set up a Christmas tableau; make cookies (because hey! we have kids and we can't be too earnest); shop for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre; and so on and so forth.
I had a look online and found a suggestion for a gorgeous Advent calendar here. It's right up my alley: easy peasy, and 100% recycled. The backing is a paper grocery bag, and the pockets (with gussets!) are decorated from our scrap paper tub. I will write the activities on little luggage style tags and slip them in the pockets; and my kids can take one out each day and act on it.
Heading up this post is a photo of my very own creation. I feel like a little kid with a painting on the fridge: inordinately proud, tugging at the adults' legs to come take a look. I particularly like pocket 21, decorated with a square from a road map which includes our street, my sister's street, and our favourite park. And my kids love the idea. They recognise the provenance of most of the pictures: paper which enclosed a gift from a friend; the tag from our favourite muslin baby wrap; a special card; strips from a torn paper lantern. They gently touch the calendar, and beg me to fill the pockets with activities right now. My children are joyfully anticipating Advent, and so, for once, am I. And for that, I am grateful.
PS Click here for some creative ways to consume less at Christmas.