In the wake of my most recent birthday I wish to ponder celebrations. Why do we do it? What is it in us that likes a party, a cake, a present? It’s probably timely to think about Christmas too. Given the feel of the times – the austerity Christmas is upon us – to consider the point of Christmas.
In my family birthdays are special. Each person gets their turn in the sunshine, their special day with most desires granted. The birthday wish-list goes onto the fridge just after as the strains of the last birthday fade away. Presents and celebration event are written up and then discussed. Just because something is on the list doesn’t mean you’ll get it, but it certainly increases your chances if it’s written down. Long ago we gave up the ESP wishes for birthdays – left everyone unhappy.
Christmas is about family. Sadly we gave God away a few years ago and no longer find a church to go and sing caroles in. The tree goes up the moment school is finished. We decorate together and share the first of the Xmas drinks and nibbles. Presents come out slowly, so the child amongst us can keep count of the mounting loot and have a good poke about.
This year we will be pared back too. Not all of us can be together and like many families we feel the Global Financial Crisis in our own ways, so the present count will be less. Which I have been aiming for over the last couple of years anyway, horrified by the amount of ‘nothing’ that we seem to give each other. Even with the best intentions.
This year it’s about the giving, about the thought. One nice present and perhaps a couple of smaller things: some chocolates, a trinket from Tescos. This year I want my family to think about giving, about being together, not about getting. I want a pretty Christmas tree but with fewer pretty boxes beneath.
I’m put in mind of the wonderful O Henry story, The Gift of the Magi, which I shared with my baby girl as we talked about birthdays and giving. In the story a young recently married but poor couple want to give something special to each other. She has beautiful long hair and he buys her tortoise shell combs. He has a beautiful gold fob watch and she buys him a gold chain for it. But he has to sell his watch to buy her combs and she has to sell her hair to buy his chain.
One of the best presents I’ve received was from my baby girl when she was about 8. She sat up all night before my birthday making me a penguin from paper, cotton wool and glue. It was magical, warmed my heart like nothing else and yes, I still have it.
How did I celebrate my birthday? We had a family bucket of KFC, some champagne and lemonade and watched Avatar together. It was companionable, cheap and made me as happy as I can be.