Right at the end of the telephone conversation my son, who clearly had not been relishing telling me, announced:
‘N’s father has decided not to give presents this year, so we’ve decided the same. Are you OK with this?’
‘No presents?’ I heard myself repeat in a voice choked with disbelief, ‘What? No Christmas presents? Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents….’
‘Well,’ he struggled to find something with which to mollify his spoilt mother, ‘maybe think about it and talk it over with M? We’re all skint anyway, so it’s a great help.’ He added little more in this vein other than to leave it to me to break the idea to his grandmother and uncle.
Much to my amazement, the other members of my very small family were in agreement. Well, at least the male members were. At eighty six the matriarch of us is very frail now, and it was felt that we must of course give presents to her. At this point I should explain that we have no children in our family and the youngest of us is thirty five, so Christmas has become a much less exciting time of year than it might be for larger families. Its religious significance is also rather lost on us, and we are simply left with days in which good food is planned around odd medical conditions and shortage of funds, the hope that none of us falls ill and the exchange of… well… presents.
I am sorry to say, none of us is keen to give the money we might save to good causes. This has already been done for us by a rather sanctimonious aunt, who when she died left hundreds of thousands of pounds to good causes. We were all slightly miffed by this, and as a result whilst we do what we can for charity shops and poppy sellers, it ends there.
But this article is not about the virtues or failings of our attitudes to charity. I am relating the story because of an unexpected side effect, and this is the relief we have all felt at having the burden of Christmas-present-buying removed from us. It is quite extraordinary how much more enjoyable these weeks before Christmas become when life is so much simpler. There is time to stand around and listen to Christmas carols, brass bands and general merry-making in the town. Time to talk to shopkeepers about how they are doing, to sympathise and agree with what is happening to them. I have time to make (knit) some presents for well-deserving people, and to write letters which contain more news and opinions, and less ‘annual tripe’ than usual. I’m not dreading writing out my Christmas cards, and the planning of meals is a far more relaxed and agreeable task.
In a way, this Christmas-without-presents is an experiment. If we hate it, we can revert to a ‘normal’ Christmas next time. I am not sure we will, because I’m feeling a great deal more ‘Christmas Spirit’ by concentrating on the things which really matter at this time: taking time to talk, to listen and to love one’s family and friends. They won’t be with us forever.