I can tell this because there is only one day left to go on our Advent Calendar. Otherwise, the days with a three-month old baby pretty much all blend into one. It’s as if time stood still when she was born and we are living in a bubble suspended in it, while everything else carries on around us: more Groundhog Day than Christmas Day.
So, ‘tis the season and all that. The season might not mean much to the three-month old, but the three-year old is rapidly turning into a Christmas-obsessive. Which leads me to the question of how to frame the narrative of Christmas for her.
I’m what’s best described as a lapsed Catholic, so the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas is one obvious narrative that has been pushing itself forward for my attention. ‘What’s the harm?’ I initially thought. The Nativity is a nice story and talks about a special baby being born; babies are something to which the three-year old can relate.
And, there’s no denying that this ‘true’ Christmas story is a counter to the mindless consumerism of presents, presents, pudding, and more presents that Christmas can also mean.
But, here’s the thing.
If you find it hard to believe that Christmas commemorates the birth of a uniquely special baby - the son of God made flesh who grows up to save us all from our sins - then it’s hard to think of a reason for all the fuss on this particular day. There were no angels, shepherds or adoring magi around when my babies were born and I think they’re pretty special. How to explain the lack of lowing cattle and angelic hosts in their post-natal photo-calls?
Perhaps the answer is to reach back even further, to the ‘original’ pre-Christian origins of Christmas, as a festival to mark the winter solstice on 21 December and break up the long gloom of winter. Yep, no problem with that. Except ... we live in the southern hemisphere and the winter solstice occurs in ... June. Those crazy imperialists not only imported a colonising ethos but also an upside down festival calendar, which sees the the winter festival of Christmas take place in summer, the spring festival of Easter take place in autumn and the autumn festival of Hallowe’en take place in spring. Turns out that religion - i.e. that these are Christian festivals not nature-based festivals - is the best way to make sense of these topsy-turvy traditions. Back to the drawing board (with a mental note to put a special emphasis on Matariki as a festival that makes sense in this part of the world come winter-time).
Perhaps the answer then is in the gift-giving and pudding-eating. Stay with me on this one: I’m not about to put in a plug for rampant consumerism as a stimulant to the economy or anything. Regardless of the price-tag, or even if they have a price-tag at all, giving gifts reinforces familial and social bonds and obligations. Think about who you give gifts to: family, friends, workmates, neighbours, communities. Think about who you share food with: pretty much ditto.
I’ve not been called on to explain the ‘why’ of Christmas just yet - we’re living ‘what’ at the moment - but I think this will be my take: Christmas is a time for family (in the very broadest sense of the word), for taking care of others, for showing others how much we appreciate them (that’s where the gifts come in, big or small), for nourishing the body and the soul (eat, drink, be merry ... and have a snooze after Christmas dinner).
And to remind ourselves that all families are holy families.