The Holiday Tree

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This might look like a Christmas tree and most people who call to us would say that’s what it is but if they look closely they will see that it really isn’t.

Ok, we have lights, a few baubles and the odd Santa but almost all of the decorations on our tree have been brought home by us from holidays. We have for instance a koala from Australia, elephants from India, a Tibetan bell from Nepal, an orangutan from Borneo, palm fish from Cambodia, figures in national costume from Bhutan, a hummingbird from Costa Rica and most recently a maple leaf from Canada.

I love that this is how the tree is for every year when we unpack the box to decorate the tree we revive memories of the places we have visited through remembering where each decoration came from.

Our tree is always up before Winter Solstice which has far more meaning for me than Christmas does so the fact that it is more a holiday tree than anything else is absolutely perfect 🙂

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Is this progress?

The very first Christmas I spent in Ireland was about 19 or 20 years ago now. We were at the time living in the UK and on Boxing Day as we then knew it we would often wander up to Reading or into Basingstoke for a little post Christmas browsing. Sometimes this would be the ‘returning of presents’, at others ‘spending Christmas money’ or sometimes it really was just for something to do. Anyway, on arriving in Ireland that very first Christmas here we set out, on what living here we now call not Boxing Day but St Stephen’s Day, for a drive into the city. We did think the roads were very quiet on the drive in and when we got there we discovered why. Not a single thing was open! Not a shop, nor a cafe, nothing!!!!! And the day after, the 27th was exactly the same. Everything closed from late on Christmas Eve through to around December 28th.

Fast forward that 19 or 20 years and the sales began today St Stephen’s Day. From the ads on the radio I think just about everywhere is open, a big difference from when we first came here.

I’m not sure when this change occurred really but I think it has been a gradual thing, a slow slide into open all hours as it were. A shift from most people having a few days off, time to spend away from the work environment, time to celebrate, to be with friends and family, to reflect, to plan or even to just recharge, to, if you are unlucky, just having one day off to do everything in.

Sitting here in the kitchen, the rain hammering on the window I’m wondering if this change is in fact progress or if in the name of progress we have actually lost something important.

Me, I’m not going near the sales. Having got used to not going shopping over the holiday period it’s one tradition I’m holding on to. After a couple of days with friends, eating, drinking, laughing, sharing, I’m going to spend this one just being.

Celebrating without consumerism

I’m sitting here having listened to yet another radio ad urging us to go out and spend money we don’t have before Christmas and it’s left me wondering just why it is people buy into consumerism so much. Recently we have had Black Friday, Cyber Monday and because I live in Ireland, the 8th December which as it was on a Monday this year, also seemed to spread out to include the 6th and 7th as well.

For those of you who don’t know about 8th December, in Ireland it’s the national shopping day, the day where historically ‘culchies’ those of us from the countryside, would travel into town and do our Christmas shopping tempted in by 10% off just about everything. Of course the days of only being able to travel to the city one day of the year are long gone, but the 10% tradition still remains. Town apparently was packed on that day which is good for local traders and people’s pockets of course.

But do we need to be spending so much at any time of the year, let alone this one? The answer is of course we don’t. For many the whole idea of a consumer driven lifestyle is an anomaly. The rush to spend money on things we don’t need and can’t afford just doesn’t make sense.

As a fairly low key pagan who has drifted towards paganism gradually, one who is living in a very Catholic country, I celebrate pagan festivals and will be celebrating Winter Solstice but I also take part in Christmas festivities for this means I get to spend time with friends. For Solstice any presents are hand made, or small things that I hope will have meaning for the person receiving them, at Christmas any presents are also small, tokens rather than anything more. In our family we don’t do Christmas presents at all now, nor do we stock our cupboards full of food that never gets eaten. This is not us being miserly but is about keeping it all in perspective.

I don’t usually talk about this with anyone but the other day, out with friends for lunch the subject of Christmas arose and out of the ten of us present most of us hadn’t made any preparations at all. In fact when someone said ‘You don’t still do the present thing do you?’ most of us there said no, only something small and then only for children.

This heartened me for as a country creeping out of recession, one where the poorest in our society have been hardest hit, one where the numbers of homeless have increased dramatically I believe it is what we need to be doing as opposed to borrowing money needlessly. It doesn’t mean we cannot celebrate whether it be Solstice or Christmas, but hopefully it means we can do so while thinking about why we are celebrating rather than what we have gained materially at this time of year.