30.12.10

A War On Christmas




It's over. The Christmas anticipation has passed into the no-man's land that lies before New Year's Eve. So I'm reading a newspaper and every journalist has his own way of reflecting on the year, on the holiday season and it's materialistic bent towards shopping until you can shop no more. The consumerism extravaganza doesn't end for another few weeks yet, as retailers lure us back in with some juicy boxing week sales. It's not just boxing day any more as when I was a kid, a whole week after the holiday is necessary to purge ourselves of the dissapointment of gifts we didn't need or want and prop us up with the opportunity to purchase ever more things at a discount so we can say earnestly that we deserve to reward ourselves with a good deal.  I am painfully aware I need to save for a much more long term investment – that will not (hopefully) be forgotten in my closet by next year.

I'm about to tell you something that's going to make you uncomfortable, or make me look like a self-righteous soap box-anti-establishment wank, but I hope you'll bear with me. I tried to opt out of Christmas shopping this year, in the most cheesy and self-effacing way possible.


I made my own presents. Lame-ish I know. Like the little kindergarten kid throwing sprinkles on some colored paper, I scooped up some plain wooden boxes from a discount store called appropriately “The Reject Shop” for 2-3$ each, and some cheap acrylic paint and brushes, and I set out to turn my back on the malls this season.

I was very fortunate last year I nearly escaped it altogether.  In the twelve months since however, I have found myself no longer an orphan able to turn my back on the traditional Christmas experience. It seems I have managed to adopt an entire extended family in the blink of an eye. This is where my discomfort with consumerist culture grates against my desire to show my appreciation to those who deserve it most. Some of whom have gone to great lengths to offer their homes and resources to keep my partner and I afloat this year.  As this time of “giving” comes around, I wanted to be able to hand them something to show a token of how their presence in my life has impacted me. I wanted to leave them with something that recognized the depth of what they had contributed to my life.  It's that intangible gratitude that is always so hard to express appropriately, and with the kind of sentiment that won't be misunderstood. There you go, I got all soppy and there's cheese pooling around the Samsung logo at the bottom of my screen. Sorry about that.

Strapped for cash I thought making these little boxes into something unique to each person would be a cost-effective way to use my near forgotten artistic skill as means of expression. Not so. I found myself in need of more art supplies on a bi-weekly basis. My ideas for each present evolved, and though I would not call myself a perfectionist, I didn't want them to be stuck with some wretched, poorly cobbled together knick-knack on Christmas day. I wanted these things to be something beautiful, and functional. On top of that, two of these gifts evolved into actual paintings that required a canvas, so off to the hardware store I went to source out masonite board (the BEST canvas option for acrylics – kudos to my 9th grade art teacher for that golden nugget of a tip), stain, undercoat, better brushes, and some very pricey art pens. (That I have to admit, I could never have achieved what I wanted to without them). I didn't track my purchases over the course of my crafting extravaganza, as the garage became a Santa's workshop gone awry and was off-limits to everyone to keep their gifts nature secret up until the big day. 

I realized near the end of November that I could have bought some reasonably flash presents for the amount I was investing into this venture. Not to mention the time it would take to create these things was much more than I had anticipated. So even though I wasn't wandering the aisles and hallways in the belly of the corporate greed-beast, desperately searching for the perfect brand new trinket as a token of my affection, I hadn't escaped at all had I? It was a sobering thought, and I felt like a phoney, a fake, and was increasingly sweating the idea that the receivers of my well-intentioned gifts would look at them, see what had been invested and be more than a bit dissappointed that the money hadn't been better spent on something new and shiny. Weeks were continuing to pass, and I was locking myself up in the garage night after night to finish the work, at times disheartened and unsure of the value of my task, but in other moments – loving every minute of it.

After I got home from work my time no longer was just about trolling the internet and tuning out to youtube videos to depressurize my mind from the bureaucratic machine I endured during the day. I was actually creating, from nothing, ideas on wood and canvas, going to bed not feeling as though another night had quietly slipped by into nothing more productive than what had been achieved during the day. It became at times a bit of a revelation that I still was able to produce something quite respectable in terms of artistic skill and expression.

Unfortunately, this would in turn cause me to question if this was becoming a self-aggrandizing affair, a showing off of skills and more a project about me after all – and if I was being true to myself, didn't that defeat the whole purpose? This was supposed to be about them NOT me, didn't I feel like a completely selfish, and self-righteous ass to be so up myself for choosing this path to gift giving? Inevitably, if you're coming to the conclusion I think too much, and fret too much – you'd be right.

Then the time came when my clever partner, (in equally unpleasant financial straights) had to begin his Christmas shopping. Which became the great garage sale venture, driving in the heat all over the city.  I have to admit, this would not be a possible option in the cold Canadian winter, we just don't do garage sales past October, but here in the eternal sun, the garage sale lives all year long.  There are plenty of perfectly great presents to be found. Especially toys – parents trying to unload everything they've bought for their kids over many Christmases that are now long grown out of – are still in fine condition and we were able to give them to my boyfriend's nieces and nephews for a pittance of the cost it would have been new.  Recycled and reused, he found a little something for almost everyone without having to cross the threshold of a retail outlet. How novel. How fun, and it was all I needed to see that my own project was not a lost cause, it was the best plan I'd had in years - it was good for the recipients, and ultimately good for me. 

We all try to find out own ways, within our means to make ourselves understood, and the people to whom we were giving to would undoubtedly recognize that. It came to me, that these people I allowed into my life would get what we were doing, precisely for all the reasons I loved them so much. I respect each of them for their understanding, patience, and unconventional approach to life. They would sense my intentions with whatever they received, regardless if it was old, new, finely hand-made or with a few missed brush strokes here and there. I'd been becoming a stressed grinch towards this holiday without noticing it happening and I think unjustly grinchy at that. So it is fitting that this year I got a lesson and a new perspective on how the spirit of the occasion could be achieved without concerning ourselves with the religious entanglements associated with the day's title, or the door-busting black friday mentality of gift giving.

I tend to describe myself as a humanist, and so in my mind this year was a humanist revelation of finding ways to connect each other without drowning in anticipation and angst over the act of giving itself. In essence, at the end of this article I find myself thinking my writing here is nothing more than a very long expose on the cliché that “It is the thought that counts”. So I'm tempted to wind back, delete and propose a re-write, but I won't after all.  Obviously if it has taken this long for me to appreciate the lesson in this one, then there's no harm in wondering if someone else could benefit from a short refresher on the significance of the winter solstice and the fanfare that goes with it.

On to 2011. 

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