Most of us are familiar with the 19th Century English lyrics to the start of the 16th Century Welsh yuletide carol, ‘Deck the Halls’…
Deck the hall with boughs of holly, Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
‘Tis the season to be jolly, Fa, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
But I wonder how many of us in the 21st Century actually find the Christmas season does make us jolly?
It can be a very stressful time for a variety of reasons and we can often put a lot of undue and sometimes unnecessary pressure on ourselves.
Tensions can habitually flare up when the extended family comes together to celebrate and you might have a story or three you could easily recount. As my parents and eldest brother came to Australia as refugees and all of Dad’s family, except his brother and himself, were wiped out during WWII, we had no relatives here in Australia.
Christmas was very simple in the Elelman household.
Dad was Jewish so we adopted Mum’s German Catholic traditions and Christmas Eve was when our very small family always came together.
Mum made the best kartoffelsalat (potato salad) in the world and we couldn’t wait to tuck into it with frankfurters and ever since I can remember that was our traditional Christmas Eve dinner.
Although I do remember there was one occasion when Mum was talked into hosting a full Christmas day lunch with all the trimmings which included a goose instead of a turkey. I was in my 20s and after all the weeks of lead-up planning, it still took Mum and I about five hours on Christmas morning to prepare, cook and serve it all, then after only taking about half an hour for our family, including our partners, to devour it and we then spent the next couple of hours cleaning up. To make matters worse it was one of those scorching hot summer days so that was an Aussie tradition we never adopted again.
Another ritual was to open our presents on Christmas Eve. I was too young to recall the only exception to that but apparently it happened when my brother Eddie was about 3 or 4, Mum and Dad thought we should maybe start to adopt some Aussie customs and one of them was to wait until Christmas morning to open our gifts.
That idea only lasted one year as well because they hadn’t expected Eddie would wake them up, what seemed like every 5 minutes, from around 3am onwards to ask if it was morning yet. Eddie wasn’t the only one in the family happy that we went back to our original Christmas Eve traditions.
Gift-giving can be one of the biggest Christmas stress-inducers.
It been estimated that Aussies will spend a whopping $48 billion dollars on gifts during this ‘silly-season’. That’s $2,000 for every man, woman and child. I know I won’t be spending that much…what about you?
If dollars are thin on the ground and especially if you have a big family, here are a few ways you might want to consider changing the gift giving process that might help to take the pressure off.
- Make the gift yourself. There is nothing nicer than getting something that’s been hand-made with love and it doesn’t need to cost you a lot of money. A good mate of mine makes the best toffee brittle I’ve ever eaten and he makes a huge batch and bags it up with some Christmas ribbon and he never gets any complaints.
- Set an agreed dollar limit with family, friends and workmates on how much each can spend and DON’T exceed it. You’ll be amazed at how much fun you can have buying a present on a budget. I know workmates who set a $20 limit and others a $5 limit.
- Secret Santa can work really well with family, friends and workmates.If you get something you don’t like, please try to be grateful, it’s the thought that counts.
- If you can’t exchange it then think about either re-gifting or donating it to your local Op Shop.
- That’s where you select a name and buy a gift for just that person and wrap it up. The recipient is surprised by your choice and doesn’t know who bought it.
- You can play ‘Not-so-secret Santa’, where your family or workmates know who’s buying their present. A close female friend does that with all the adults in her very big family and if she doesn’t already know what to buy them then she’ll enlist their help to find out what they want.
- You can make it even easier on everyone and just play ‘Santa’, by buying yourself something and wrapping it up and putting it under the tree. It takes out the spontaneity and bonding that goes with gift-giving but if the gift is important to you, then you’ll always be guaranteed to get what you want.
- Re-gifting. I know some people who find this offensive but I’m all for it. Although if you’re going to re-gift then here’s a couple of important tips;Another couple I know got caught out because they re-gifted a wedding present. They’d only opened one corner and could see it was something they already had and there was no card attached so they weren’t even sure who’d given it to them.
- Tips #2 – If you’re re-gifting make sure you re-wrap it as the original card could and in this case was inside.
- Tip #1 – Be sure you remember who gave it to you in the first place. Years ago I gave a good mate a gift and she re-gifted it to me the following Christmas. I didn’t say anything but I did re-gift it back to her the following year.
- Gift vouchers – Some people find them impersonal but I love them. It’s great if you’re not sure of their size or their taste and they’ll get the pleasure of going shopping to choose what they like.
- Ring or send a card. Christmas is the time of year when you can pick up the phone or send a lovely note, even if it’s been a while since you’ve been in touch or you’ve had a falling out with someone. More often than not hearing or seeing you is far more important to them than you spending any money on gifts.
- Children as a rule get far too many presents, especially at Christmas time. I heard a great Gift-giving Philosophy many years ago that I feel is well worth sharing. It suggests we only give children 4 presents at Christmas time or on their birthday;
- something they want,
- something they need,
- something to wear,
- something to read.
Give your time
Sadly all of the families, whose loved ones have become part of our ever increasing Christmas road toll, don’t look forward to celebrating as they see this time of year as an annual reminder of their loss.
Others like me, know what it feels like to experience your 1st Christmas after someone extremely close has passed away that year. It was hard enough for me to cope with after my Dad’s premature death at the hands of a doctor in 1993 but my grief plunged into new depths when my Mum passed away just over two years later in 1995. My sorrow was so deep I couldn’t face seeing anyone let alone celebrating at Christmas time but I didn’t want to be alone.
That was the first year I volunteered my services at Our Lady of the Snows, a soup kitchen set up by the amazing George & Nola Mezher. These dynamic Haberfield hairdressing siblings won Lotto and in the early 1980s, instead of resting on their laurels and enjoying their winnings, they set up a soup kitchen, which was actually a sit down restaurant with table service, under Eddy Avenue near Central Railway Station in Sydney.
Brother Terry worked tirelessly to help them run it 365 days of the year to feed and find housing for Sydney’s homeless.
My measly one day a year, paled by comparison but it was certainly an eye-opener and an honour to work alongside these extraordinary Australians.
For the next 7 years I spent most of my time out the back in the kitchen helping to prep and plate up the hundreds of Christmas lunch trays and occasionally I’d serve or clear the tables.
Most of the homeless were middle-aged men but I noticed the number of youths was increasing each year. It hurt my heart to think that a soup kitchen, no matter how much it was jazzed up and decorated, was possibly those children’s only choice of a place to be on Christmas day.
We all had a giggle one year when two Japanese tourists, barely able to speak English, with the ubiquitous cameras hanging from their necks, on finding everything closed or booked out, had wandered in after seeing the FREE Christmas lunch sign on the sandwich board outside the soup kitchen.
I’m sure they went back home and told everyone of the generosity they’d received from Aussies down under and no doubt boastfully showed off the pictures they took of their trays filled with a delicious Christmas lunch and dessert and treats in a bag for later.
I can’t help wondering if they’ve ever realise the other diners they posed with were some of Sydney’s finest homeless.
After Nola and George passed away their Soup Kitchen closed and was turned into a Fire Station. When I returned to Sydney in 2010 and went back to work at 2GB, I again volunteered to work on Christmas day and then spent the next 7 years doing the 5 hour outside broadcast 0900-14:00 from the Exodus Foundation. With no family of my own, it was my Christmas present to all the other 2GB on-air announcers so they could have Christmas lunch with their families.
Not only did the Rev. Bill Crews’ team serve up two thousand plus Christmas lunch meals, they then took the food van out that night to feed those living on the street, who couldn’t get to Rev. Bill’s Uniting Church at Ashfield. This service isn’t just restricted to one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ; The Exodus Foundation’s Loaves and Fishes restaurant is open for lunch 365 days a year and the food van goes out each and every evening.
That’s not the only place in Sydney serving thousands of Christmas lunches to the homeless and under-privileged. Every year for over 20 years a great mate of mine David Lazarus, who has a heart of gold and runs the fabulous Rhythmboat on Sydney Harbour, has been donating his time along with all his audio equipment to entertain the crowds who flock to the Rev. Ted Knoffs’ Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross each Christmas day.
I know David, like me, finds it extremely rewarding to be able to help those who need it most and at the same time it certainly gives me a much more grounded perspective on the whole festive season.
I went to my first Thanksgiving dinner this year and after a most delicious meal and just before dessert, we went around the table and every one of the 17 guests, including three primary school aged children, all stated what they had to be thankful for this year.
It was heart-warming and inspirational as everyone focussed on the positive side of their lives and not on the negative. It’s something I’d thoroughly recommend doing this year after your Christmas meal just before you serve up the yummy Christmas pudding and custard or the trifle or pavlova.
I’ll finish up with this sage quote that I think we can all learn from, it’s from comedian Bob Hope, who lived to be 100;
My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?
Hope the ‘fat man in the red suit’ is good to you and may 2018 be your best year yet…cheers susie
Author, TV & Radio broadcaster