Not an Odalisque

May I Be Excused From Christmas, Please?

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This year I’ve decided to opt out of Christmas with family, but I don’t get out of buying presents or receiving them. I find the two equally dispiriting. It’s not that there isn’t anything I want, on the contrary, when your income exceeds your rent by only £20 a week, it’s easy to come up with a long list very quickly. This is what I thought of in the shower this morning: an electric blanket, Microsoft Word, an apple corer, woolly Wolford hold ups, a gymslip, a pair of winter boots, a warm winter dress, books about Bluebeard and books from Persephone press, a yarn swift, a haircut, fabric for new living room curtains, silk for French knickers and fur for stoles, a winter coat and five new sets of lingerie. If you’re looking for a theme, it’s cold. No one has seen my list, dear readers, except you, and much as you light up my life, I don’t think we’re at the stage where we exchange presents.

I will get presents, and I won’t be able to help mourning each unwanted gift. Last year my father spent forty pounds on a wooden box of tea bags for me. His girlfriend’s packages contained more tea bags (in cardboard boxes), film-themed bread mix and jewellery of purest green. Each expensive item seems like a gigantic missed opportunity to make a significant difference to my life. Yes, I know I’m being ungrateful and that a well brought up young lady would be happy to have been remembered at all, but every time a guest picks a teabag from the chest (such special teabags can’t be frittered on everyday consumption, after all), I’m reminded of the chasm of misunderstanding between my father and me, and wish at least for the lesser warmth of an electric blanket.

It goes both ways, of course, as friends and family open their presents from me this Christmas they’ll be wondering where in the house they can store them until enough time has elapsed for it to be acceptable to throw them out. In my family no points are given for effort: the year I learned that my father’s girlfriend needed new gloves and suggested knitting some, I was told in no uncertain terms that she wanted the branded ones with science woven into the fabric. The year before, when I spent all day making a gingerbread house to present to my hosts on Christmas Eve, it ended up in their bin by New Year. Since they’ve already moved from bemusement to derision of my making things, I don’t want to see what comes next. Fortunately, my friends are a little more forgiving, so I think they’re likely to be polite about my efforts, even if they don’t exactly understand why I thought they needed a jar of lemon curd for Christmas.

A lot of people tell me that Christmas is about materialism. Reading my list, and guiltily considering my ungratefulness about unwanted presents, I feel that’s true. I want of those things, not as an idle fancy, but in many cases a daily wish. That, however, is to overlook the way I’m touched when a friend buys me something I didn’t even know I wanted, because they know me better than I know myself. One friend still chides me for looking so downhearted as I thanked her for a grater which turned out to be one of the most useful items in my kitchen. I only wish I could pull of such a feat myself; I’m a rotten present-buyer.

To make it worse, the people I most need to buy for this year are the ones I hardly know. They’re the people who did my shopping, cooked me meals, cleaned my kitchen and told me repeatedly to get back into bed after I broke my collar bone. One of them was a friend’s boyfriend, a man I haven’t met before or since. And the lover, of course—how do you reconcile a low income with expressing appreciation to the person who slept on your floor and fed you painkillers when you weren’t even able to wash yourself? What present would ever manage that?

So, dearest readers, since I suspect we’re all spending the month going over and over the same dilemmas, I’m asking if you’ve come to any better conclusions than I have. Do I gaily distribute jars of lemon curd around my acquaintance, or aim to divine their true desires, as I wish others would do with me? Is it reasonable to aim for a fuller opt-out from Christmas, perhaps by moving to a hermitage by next year? Or do I need to find inner peace and come to terms with the colossal wastage of money and effort that present giving entails? Ideas on the back of a Christmas card. Meanwhile, I’ll be making curd, and adding ‘heat proof bowl’ to my secret Christmas wish list.


Written by Not an Odalisque

December 10, 2011 at 12:56 am

One Response

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  1. Homemade lemon curd is a wonderful present! Who are these people?!


    December 11, 2011 at 10:28 pm

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