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Mixed feelings at Christmas time

by canberra boy Sat Dec 24th, 2005 at 04:47:34 PM EST

Merry Christmas, every one!  It's 8.30am on Christmas Day here.

Our two girls have fallen asleep again after waking up at 2.57am and 4.30am respectively to see what Santa had left in their stockings.  Lots of excited unwrapping and exclamations of delight later ("Dad, can you believe that Santa gave me a Barbie `laptop'"), they have snuggled down to sleep on the lounge and in a beanbag.  This is very fortunate, as we have a long day ahead.

I've just made the mixture for the champagne crepes which will later form the basis for a smoked salmon & crepe `cake' (recipe provided on demand).  While it rests, I've checked the news and weather on the net.  It will be fine and 25 degrees Celsius: rather cool for this time of year.


We'll have some of my partner's family here late in the morning and open our gifts to each other before eating lunch.  Perhaps it's a reflection of the age or of our social milieu that the family connections are a little curious.  There's my partner's father and his second wife (the not-so-evil step-mom).  Plus there's the step mother's mother and her brother, who's returned from living in an Indian ashram to spend Christmas in Australia (yes, go figure!).  

We're also hoping for a visit from a woman who lives nearby and who seems to be spending Christmas alone.  Her marriage to a friend of ours ended tragically earlier this year, and it's his turn to have their boys.  We feel pretty badly for her, as most of their friends seem to have opted to stick with him and haven't remained in contact with her.

We'll telephone other family members in different parts of Australia during the day.  And late in the day we'll probably see our family best friends who live 500 meters up the street.

So Christmas for us will involve far too much food and drink, excesses in the gift department, and lots of convivial time with family and friends.

My partner talked yesterday about the fact that she hadn't managed to provide a gift to a local children's home who said that they didn't have enough gifts to go around.  It seems that their teenage boys are not well provided for by donors.  

This, and a discussion about our lonely friend, reminded me that I used to get very sad as a child when I thought about all the people in the world who don't have enough to eat.  Lately I've thought a lot about the suffering of children.  Our own adopted daughter prompts me to think about the baby girls abandoned in China due to the one-child policy, economics and social attitudes.  A staggering 100,000 of them each year have no hope of ever having a family life.

When I was younger I was politically active, hoping to correct the injustices of the world.  These days being a parent, and an employee of the reactionary Australian government, means that there isn't time for political activism, and even if there were it would be detrimental to my employment.  So I mainly just feel powerless and seethe about the problems of the world.  Perhaps my daughters will be able to change it.  Oh, they've both woken again, and Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert (my partner's choice on the CD player to keep the girls asleep) is giving way to Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

What are you doing at Christmas, and how do you feel about the world?

Cross-posted at Booman Tribune.

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but some of you may be interested in how Greenpeace activists are spending Christmas: harassing the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.  Check the Ocean Defenders weblog - the 23 December post by Nathan is particularly interesting reading.
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Sat Dec 24th, 2005 at 04:53:54 PM EST
Well, I guess I feel a lot like you do, caught between the distress of the injustices and the feelings of powerlessness and seething.

However, there is a lot of power in bringing up children who are empowered and might help make change, so that should mitigate your frustration.

I don't have children, so I console myself by trying to do the right things by people and society on a personal level.

Oh, and I write/talk, in places like this. That might not seem like much, but it is something useful (I might diary about this if I have a gap in tomorrow.)

Christmas for me, cooking for and eating with my parents, seems to be the main thing this year. Quiet times, really. I am the child grown up and this year the young nieces and nephews are in other places, so quiet it is.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Dec 24th, 2005 at 06:16:03 PM EST
I hope you're enjoying your quiet time with your parents, Metatone.  And do post a diary to elaborate on your thoughts.

One thing I like about Christmas in Australia is that in the lead-up to Christmas many of us pause during everyday interactions, such as at the supermarket checkout or the greengrocers, to enquire about the personal lives of the people with whom we do business.  

So, while I exchange cash and goods several times a week with people in some of the food shops I frequent, it is only in the last few days that we have permitted each other personal observations and enquiries.

by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 06:48:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can imagine the mile-long queue at the checkout ;)

  • "So, um (looking at nametag), Mandy, what is your favourite colour?"

  • "Well that would be blue, but you know not the kind of blue that you find everywhere, this would be more like a special blue"

  • "That's incredible! Why my favourite colour is purple, isn't that weird?!"

I'm just teasing !!!! I engage in this sort of conversation every day with every grocer, I even come up with really dumb things sometimes, anything really to avoid our interactions being robotic. I wouldn't go as far as asking about a favourite colour, but sometimes I come awfully close to it.
by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 06:58:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about "Mandy, your headscarf is of my favourite colour!"?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:02:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, if it is Toulouse we're speaking about, wouldn't Alex say something like "hey, your headscarf is the colour they painted the first A380 tailfin..." ... but then again, I think it's unlikely her name would be Mandy.
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:11:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Dir Santa Klaus,

I no you ar very bisy. I want to get a geft for crismas. I af bin a good boy. Can I get a hedscaf?

ps: Migeru you got a laugh out of me with your comment. This headscarf thing is not going to leave me any time  soon I guess. So I might as well take as many people down with me! So Migeru, come on, admit it ... those 1950s stars with heascarves, or say the one in Thelma in Louise ... don't they look great?

by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:14:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I should stop with the headscarf jokes, really.

But there is a serious point here... Muslims view headscarves a modest dress. With that in mind, I wonder whether a flirtatious remark to a young muslim woman about the colour of her headscarf could be construed as sexual harassment. On the other hand, a large fraction of the heaadscarves one sees around are very colourful, and sometimes patterned - surely a small measure of rebellion against the imposition of "modest" head dress.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:34:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mixed feelings too. Sharing Christmas greetings on the different open threads, (still!) cooking, getting ready to see our grandkids who'll be tearing open presents, but also thinking that Santa just doesn't exist, and that most children in the world get nothing, or worse.

Have a good Christmas all the same, canberra boy.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 05:02:58 AM EST
A good psychologist friend of my mother explained that the "Santa trauma" is actually quite common in adults with problems. ie. some adults with problems, manage to trace the origin of their problem to the day they learned that Santa didn't exist.

Maybe the best way to go would be to tell kids, early on, that we're only just playing along, that Santa is symbolic or something?

Anyhow, you're right about a lot of kids getting nothing, afew.

by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:01:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are many examples of the political consequences of ignoring the fact that you just can't contradict people's worldview.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:05:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I sure get your point.

Though as of now, we're lying to hundreds of millions of  kids, and they love it (and we love it too). And one day, suddenly, we tell them "it was a lie" or they find out through someone at school. The horror, the horror ...

by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:18:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am not disagreeing with you.

Problems are sown when, for political purposes, people's worldview is constructed on false premises.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:21:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ahh ok, I thought you meant by "you just can't contradict people's worldview" that there would be so many people around the world who'd want to perpetuate the Santa lie, that my idea would provoke shock and anger.
by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:28:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps slightly off the strand of your more intellectual debate, I was reminded by these comments about something I read recently while following up adoption-related sources.  This post talks about dealing with honesty with a child's questions about the tooth fairy.
by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:37:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
These are the harmless lies we tell children to lighten up their lives. My mother tells me that, as a little child, she would get me to stop crying about losing a balloon by telling me that I shouldn't be sad because the balloon was happily flying to "the land of balloons". And I believed it. Sort of like the stories we tell ourselves about an afterlife to soothe the pain of bereavement.

The problem is, how do we (and do we) deal with the poisonous lies we tell children to scare them and control them? The boogie man, the "man with the bag", or "gypsies will come and take you away"... Do we ever bother dispelling the fear, the mistrust, or the prejudices we sow?

There are political lessons to learn from these light topics.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:50:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're right, the scary lies are a real problem. We left a present at our neighbours' door for their little boy, who's three. Later his dad came by with him to thank us. And for some reason started using Santa (le Père Noël) on his son as a bogeyman (which is historically one of Santa's cultural roots, in French le père fouettard, the whipping old man): (finger pointed to sky) "he can see you, he can see you're naughty..."

Here we are, floating around on a sea of past time, with this kind of atavism bobbing up around us. Why should a young man (outwardly very successful, runs a money-making business) of thirty-odd talk like this to his three-year-old? And what do you do, beyond (which I did) look the kid in the eye and say, "no, you're not naughty at all"?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 12:41:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe it was a slip of the mind/tongue, and your neighbour thought he was actually talking to his wife. "You'w wewy wewy naughty, I'm going to spank you". No, I'm just going for a cheap joke, maybe this guy has a particular way of expressing his emotions to his kid (some people for example find it hard to say emotional things, and maybe this guy always resorts to negative metaphors when he's trying to reach for his emotions, who knows). Or maybe you're right and this guy is just not careful about what he's saying. Or maybe the guy is a control freak at home who can't expect that his kid is ever happy. Whatever the cause, you're right to tell the kid he's not naughty!

This paragraph of mine is really about who people really are behind closed doors. Who knows how people really are, in the cosiness of their homes. Who knows what they say to their kids, or do with their partners!

I had this one telecom teacher, a nice, gentle guy, who'd command some authority with his pupils without being scary. And one day, this was maybe ten years ago, for some reason I was watching "Ca se discute" (even back then it was already a cheap debate tv show) with a few friends. The topic was "sex something", the kind of topic you'd expect to see on this show. So here we were with all the mainstream and less mainstream sex fads and habits ... blabla and blabla ... and then we come to "sado-masochism". We get to see this guy in a latex suit, with a mask on, being treated like a dog by this woman in another latex suit. It's kind of silly really, almost funny. She makes him drink and eat off a plate on the floor, tells him he's a bad dog, then pats and scratches him etc. After this short clip, the guy  takes the mask off to give an interview (for the show), and ... it's my teacher!! He then gives this speech on freedom to do what you want at home, to not be judged for what you are at home, and concludes with some citation about men being to society only what society can perceive them as being. Interesting. Me and a few friends who had that teacher (not all did) initially laughed, and then after a short while, we actually thought "wow, that man's got balls, going on TV like that". And we all agreed that we could have never thought/imagined that this soft-spoken but somewhat charismatic (and liked) teacher, had this secret about him.

by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 02:27:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Disclaimer: as I was a pothead in those days, I'd watch a lot of TV. Now, not only do I not watch TV (save for some matches), but I also wouldn't imagine watching "ça se discute", which is, for non-informed people, a bit like the "Oprah Winfrey" show, but in a "disguised to look more intellectual but really being much cheaper" way.
by Alex in Toulouse on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 02:29:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I implied in my response to Metatone, I like the fact that (at least where I live) there is a shared humanity inspired by those of us who share Christmas.

I agree that Santa doesn't exist for the majority of the people on this planet.  It is a struggle to know how to deal with this reality with our children.  I  think that it is important to provide a childhood with optimism, wonder and hope.  At the same time, we talk a bit about the reality for the majority on the planet.

My partner sponsors a girl in Bangladesh, and I assist with the mentoring of a schoolgirl in Australia.  I'd like to think that our daughters can find some understanding about and connection to them.

by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 07:03:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Depriving our children of the pleasures of Christmas would be cruel to them, but I suppose it is right to accompany that evening with at least thoughts for others and an awareness of our privileged position in this world, for now.

In the meantime, I take special note of hot showers.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 06:10:48 AM EST
Jerome, I liked your post about visiting the USSR.  Especially the line "Civilisation is but a giant illusion: basically, it exists because all of us pretend that it does, and act accordingly".

I don't think we should shatter our children's illusions, but on the other hand I think we should give them enough information to realise when they get older that we in the industrialised world are living in a giant illusion.

by canberra boy (canberraboy1 at gmail dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 08:18:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, so I'm not really a practicing pagan (or practicing) anything, but I like to honour the seasons and the rythm of life in this amazing world of ours.

Thank you for telling us about your children, especially your little girl. It warms my heart so much when I come into contact with people like you, who have reached out to children in need and given them love, and a home. Bless you.

I can relate to your mixed feelings, of course, although I have found myself suspecting that I work in a more progressive-leaning department, which provides a small buffer. It gave me the courage to get involved with the Greens, and I have yet to regret the decision, although there are some stomach-churning moments of stress! This way has worked for me, I am sure you will find your own when the time and circumstances are right. Don't be too hard on yourself.

Christmas for me is pretty low-key these days, although that will change over time as my little niece grows up, and no doubt gets a sibling or two. She's 9 months at the moment and lovely, all smiles. We spent Xmas eve with my brother and his wife and little Freya, and had a food-and-dvd-fest, the weather was terrible, so only one small walk - normally we would go for at least an hour's walk or so in local bush.

My mother is in India and that has been worrying me, as everytime I read the news, there's flooding or freezing  or major accidents wherever she is meant to be - I'm not into reverse roles! But she rang and is fine, and coming home early. I am glad.

This year for presents, like you the fate of so many poor, especially children has been so much on my mind, that I made a decision I intend to stick with. All the presents this year, except for a couple of toys for little Freya, were from oxfam unrwapped. So we gave water and veggie gardens, and school books, and emergency relief kits, and farmer and animal training, and chooks, and soap. It felt wonderful, and it's tax deductible, so we were able to gleefully spend double what we normally would, knowing we would get half back in 6 months or so.

Also for Freya, I donated enough money to Australian Bush Heritage Fund for there to be a plaque put up on their latest reserve in her name. Giving her a piece of this wonderful country of ours seemed very appropriate.

Now I know I probably sound all holier-than-thou here, and I don't mean to at all. I still found it hard not to give loved ones something personal, and probably will still. But nothing has come close to giving things to needy people at Christmas time for me. A new tradition is born.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 06:03:55 PM EST
I think the best way I can handle Christmas is to be thankful for what I have, love my family and friends, and the rest of the year do as much as I can in my little ways to address social injustice. It takes the edge off of Christmas, which hasn't always been the easiest day for me...and glad this one was lighter!

Cheers to all!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Sun Dec 25th, 2005 at 06:10:29 PM EST


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