The holidays are almost here, and myself, Buff and the kids are driving down to South Carolina for a few days away. We’ll be posting a little less frequently over the holidays – but don’t worry we’ll still be around if you need to escape the Christmas insanity!
Speaking of the madness of the holidays here’s a great piece from our regular columnist Nikki Newman, just in time for Christmas. As always there’s some real wisdom from Nikki – so sneak away from the relatives, grab that glass of wine – and enjoy!
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I heard the other day – on a reality show of all things – that you have to immerse yourself in another culture to truly understand your own. This year, I’ve had the chance to get a different perspective on the run up to Christmas and I’ve got to tell you, I’ve liked it!
Over the past few weeks, Christmas here in Qatar has been evident but low-key, just what you’d expect in a largely Muslim country. But I was surprised by my own reaction when the traditional Christmas signs started to appear: it all started with a few greetings cards in the card shop; next, tickets on sale at school to see Santa at the upcoming Festive Fair; after that, a few plastic trees on sale in one store, then a wreath on the neighbour’s front door. Then finally, in one of the larger supermarkets, I came upon a whole aisle dripping with Christmas paraphernalia. What was most revealing to me was that when I first saw the display what I felt was not joy or excitement, but disappointment, tinged with panic. I couldn’t resist walking along and having a look of course, and I momentarily started to wonder if I did in fact need the Santa-shaped coffee mugs on sale. But I couldn’t help feeling like my calm, gentle, whatever-I-want-it-to-be Christmas had just been stomped over by a herd of reindeer; big, jingly, noisy, all-singing-all-dancing reindeer at that!
Okay, you can call me a grumpy old scrooge if you like. It’s not that I don’t love the fun and frivolity of the festive season. I always eat and drink too much and this year will be no different. It’s always a delight to watch my loved ones opening their presents. I love the school nativity. I love the family time. And I hold out hope that one day Santa will see how good I’ve been and bring me my red-soled Louboutins. It’s just that up to this point, I had been feeling relieved at the lack of tackiness around. Not because I don’t want to celebrate Christmas, but it has been such a huge relief not to be, well, bombarded for three months.
I have bought into the craziness enough over the years: racking up credit card bills that still sit there with only the interest being paid off each month (never again!); spending hours writing cards to people I haven’t heard from for years; worrying that our decorative displays didn’t live up to those of our neighbours; trudging around shops at 4pm on a dreary Christmas Eve desperately trying to find that last, perfect gift. And I know I wasn’t alone, because the shops and streets were full of people just like me.
I once – during my student days – withdrew every last pound in my account (which wasn’t a lot) to go shopping on Christmas Eve.. Trouble was, I was so busy scribbling on my shopping list, I didn’t realise the beeping from the ATM meant that if I didn’t take the cash NOW, it would slowly, and with an iron grip, suck the money back in, unable to be retrieved until after Christmas Day, leaving me standing in the cold and damp, virtually penniless and without Christmas presents. Okay, I make it sound more like a scene from a Dickens novel, but the sheer panic left me wondering whether to fall to my knees and sob at the feet of some weary stranger or just howl with laughter like a crazy woman. I went and had a beer instead.
I will say now, having witnessed Ramadan during August, no religious festival is spared commercialism – there were plenty of sales in the stores and eateries jumping on the evening fast-breaking bandwagon, with glitz and sparkle in every mall. Nothing it seems is sacred, unless we choose to make it so.
So the absence of the traditional got me thinking and wondering what DO I like about Christmas? You see, it’s not just the commercial stuff that’s been low-key out here, it’s the nice stuff too – like the school nativity. For the past 3 years we’ve got to see our son, Oliver, in a Christmas play, not always traditional – in fact last year the nativity was told through the eyes of aliens visiting planet Earth – but always some sort of re-telling of the story. How strange it’s been not to have that this year.
Perhaps it comes down to tradition, and which traditions, for whatever reason, are meaningful to each individual or family. Some of our friends will be going camping in the desert over Christmas because that’s how they want to spend it. Great! We’ve got our plastic evergreen up in the lounge, will be sharing gifts and then heading out for lunch with friends. I’m trying to explain as we go along the significance of various Christmas rituals to Oliver – the tree, the star, the candy canes, Saint Nicholas dropping coins down chimneys for the poor – because I think that’s important.
One tradition I now know I can do without though is the one that is forced on us for a quarter of the year – the crazy circus of the commercial Christmas. I won’t be able to avoid it for life – I know that – and I do want to go home to England some day! But I will try, I mean really try, not to get completely lost in it all again.
I’d love to hear the ways you make Christmas different, or relevant, or meaningful? How do you step away from the crowds, the shops, the mayhem, the pressure, and make it what you want it to be? Or do you thrive on having a Crazy Christmas?
Merry Christmas to you all and see you on the other side!
Nikki Newman, 36, from England, currently lives in Qatar, where she moved this year due to her husband’s work. A former teacher and proud mother of 7-year-old Oliver, she’s currently focusing on settling her family into their new lives, while also pursuing her passion for painting. To see Nikki’s work please go to: www.nikkinewmanart.com