It is 2am Christmas Eve and I am woken from a deep sleep by the overpowering smell of burning plastic. It takes a few seconds for my brain to clear before I give my snoring husband a shove and shout,
“STEVE, I THINK THE REINDEER IS ON FIRE!”
I leap out of bed and make for the door. As I skid sideways out of the hallway into the kitchen I take in the smoke billowing from my oven and a blue haze hovering above the kitchen bench.
Yep, there is no doubting it – the reindeer is a goner.
This was not a good start.
This was supposed to be our first Christmas embracing simpler, more meaningful traditions.
But there is nothing simple or meaningful about a char-grilled reindeer. Only an overpowering burnt rubber smell.
But we best back track.
You see, as a family we had begun to question the consumer focus that had slowly, but surely, hi-jacked our Christmas. I couldn’t pinpoint when Christmas had become more about acquiring stuff rather than being grateful for what we already had. But the mad dash to the shopping mall Christmas Eve was a dead give away.
My siblings and I also acknowledged that if we really wanted or needed extra stuff in our lives (a new watch, perfume, dust-buster, spanner set…) we lived a privileged enough existence to go and get it. Then and there. When we want it.
So a few years ago it was agreed the focus of our Christmas gift giving should change.
We had already been doing Kris Kringle (KK) for a few years. It worked well, so we retained this part of the tradition – and changed the rest.
From that point on, gifts had to be handmade, personal and inexpensive.
Doesn’t this sound lovely?
A word of warning – it is much MUCH easier to go to a shop and buy stuff.
So back to that first Christmas Eve. My hubby will tell you he is not particularly creative. The closer it got to Christmas the higher his gift anxiety became. To make matters worse, he had drawn my sister-in-law in the KK. She has the brains of a doctor and creativity of Martha Stewart. The pressure was intense.
It was the day before Christmas and he still hadn’t come up with a gift idea. We were doing some last-minute shopping when he spied a DIY snow globe kit. It came with all materials required – including plasticine to sculpt a masterpiece to display in the snow globe.
He had found his get out of jail free card. I could see the relief on his face.
So, it was midnight, Christmas eve, the gifts were wrapped, the food prepared, and my big, manly husband was sitting at the dining table rolling pink plasticine between his fingers, over and over and over again.
“What are you going to make?” I ask, trying to hurry the process up.
“Shhhh,” he says, “I’m thinking.”
I wait, longing for my bed.
“I’ve got it!” he exclaims. “I’ll make a reindeer!”
“Good for you,” I tell him, all the while thinking….I’d like to see that.
About fifteen minutes later the man proved me wrong. He nailed that reindeer. It was the cutest looking pink plasticine reindeer I’ve ever seen.
He proudly inspected his masterpiece and placed it on a baking tray. The instructions said to bake it at 250 degrees for 20 minutes or until it becomes hard. He popped it in the oven and suggested we lay down for a few minutes to wait for it to cook.
You know where this story is going don’t you?
So there I am, staring at my smoke-filled kitchen, when Steve strides across the room, yanks open the oven, removes the oven tray, opens the back door and flings his reindeer (tray and all) into the middle of the driveway.
“F@#K the reindeer,” he says, and slams the door.
He then goes back to bed.
The next morning, as the first rays of dawn were stretching over our paddocks, I snuck out to the driveway and rescued the reindeer (and my oven tray). However, it no longer looked like a reindeer. It looked like a shriveled up huge black dog poop.
As the guests began to arrive I reminded my hubby that our sister-in-law is not only intelligent and creative, she also has a wicked sense of humor, maybe she would see the funny side of the dog poop snow globe?
He looked at me doubtfully. But given he was out of options he wrapped up the snow globe and sat it under the tree.
My sister-in-laws response?
Well, lets just say the char-grilled reindeer has gone down in history.
We recently helped my brother and sister-in-law move and she still had the hideously ugly thing sitting on her dresser. The dog poop snow globe is often fondly reminisced about at family events and never fails to deliver a belly laugh.
We all claim we hate the homemade present. The grumbling about whom you have drawn or what you are going to make starts about June. If you get an early start on your homemade present it elevates you to a superior status that allows you to send all sorts of obscene text messages to your siblings announcing your greatness.
The competition is fierce. Last year one of my sisters-in-law super-glued her hand to the dining table. There have also been allegations of cheating, cleverly rebadged as ‘outsourcing’ by my husband.
To date we have had homemade chook lifters, robber stoppers, ginger bread house replicas (to scale mind you), rum balls as big as your head, animated cartoons, and of course – dog poop snow globes, to name a few.
As you can see, some of my family members can rely on their humor to pull out a good homemade pressie. I’m not that funny. So I have to resort to time-consuming constructions of thoughtfulness – like this floor cushion made out of my brother’s favorite old T-shirts and other memorabilia.
The truth is, the homemade gift has become the not-to-miss Christmas event. Adults and kids alike crowd around to laugh and point at the epic fails and ooh and ah at the masterpieces.
The moral of my story is – we have reclaimed Christmas. But more importantly, our kids have also eagerly embraced the idea. For the past two years my children and their cousins have chosen to do their own homemade KK – with some, er, um, interesting results!
The shift away from giving stuff has worked so well we have applied it to birthdays and other special occasions. We have found a great way to do this is to invest in experiences rather than stuff.
For example, I have just returned from spending the weekend in Melbourne with my eldest son. His passion is music, so his birthday present was tickets to see Ed Sheeran and a night in the city.
I have had the most memorable few days with my son – ever. I took him on a tram for the first time, dined at a beautiful water front restaurant and after the concert we walked home along south bank under the twinkling fairy lights. It was a magical experience (although ‘epic’ was the 12 year-old term used). But it would never have occurred had we have given him stuff (like the requested iPad).
Last Christmas, my brother and his fiancé gave my kids a ‘parent-free’ weekend and trip to the zoo. For my dad’s birthday, the kids organised him a ‘Booken style’ gold class cinema evening where they played his favorite movie and waited on him with his favorite foods. In May I am taking my nieces and nephews to see the musical Lion King – it is their Christmas present.
All of these experiences are moments in time we will never forget. They are about us being together. They are about us experiencing new things.
They are about giving the ultimate gift – our time.
So I will leave you with this thought…
If a reindeer snow globe resembling a burnt dog poop is one of the most memorable Christmas gifts I have ever known….do we really need all the stuff in our lives?
Blend it your way,
PS If you enjoyed this post you might like to have a read of Five lessons everyone should learn from my pop. Oh, and don’t forget to leave a comment or come chat over on the Facebook page.