Sunday, December 22, 2013

A slower, simpler Christmas

We are getting stuck into preparations for our first Christmas at our home. This will be a break from all previous years for a number of reasons. It’s the first time we have hosted a Christmas in our own home; it’s certainly my first Christmas in Belgium; and also my first Christmas without either my family or my boyfriends’.

It is therefore a chance to explore what ‘our’ Christmas looks like. My family is very big on tradition and reluctant to change anything about the family Christmas. To an extreme degree. To give you an idea, one year we suggested playing a board game on Christmas day, after dinner. My younger cousins were horrified at the suggestion: ‘We don’t play board games on Christmas day, we play them on Boxing day!’

This year gives us a chance to bring together our favourite traditions from different cultures and give some new ones a try as well. There will be turkey and cranberry sauce and mince pies and port and mulled wine. And pan dulce, candied fruits, turron, stollen, fernet, mate and dulce de leche.

Rather than one Christmas Day, we're going for something closer to the traditional twelve days of Christmas - we're doing a private Christmas dinner on the 24, one with friends on 25 and more friends over on 26. Then family over 27-29, and a day to breathe before more friends over for New Years. Rather than putting the whole focus on one day or one meal, I'm really looking forward to slowing down and savouring this time, and having some Christmas joy every day.

 The biggest change, though, will be the presents. Normally, the family Christmas tree is swamped by presents and you can’t stand next to it because the presents spread out across the floor so far. I’ve also observed a form of gift inflation, where each year there seem to be more. This kind of large-scale gift-giving is very alien to my boyfriend, who grew up with more moderate presents, and feels increasingly empty to me.

I get the impression from some of my family that they feel they need to spend money on a gift. I really don't want things - I've had a tough enough time with the little decluttering I've done in the last months without adding more stuff into the mix. I've asked several family members not to spend much, to just get consumables like bubble bath or a bottle of wine, or even better, to come visit or otherwise plan something together. Somehow I feel that many of them are sceptical about the idea of not giving me things, and ask for more substantial suggestions.

It’s taken me a long time but I have finally thought of something I want. A colander. That’s going to be my suggestion next time someone asks.

This year, my boyfriend and I have set a limit on the value of Christmas gifts, and even though the base of the tree seems rather sparse, I’m much happier with it than I would be with a sea of wrapping paper.

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