Well, that’s another Christmas successfully negotiated. Phew.
Christmas is one of the times of year when the differing cultural expectations in our mixed family come to the fore. I have decades of developed society cultural and consumerist baggage – tinsel, Santa, expensive gifts, hollywood films, roast pork and Walker’s shortbread; whereas DadaK & Obaapa have – well – Christ. In Ghana – or so DadaK tells me – there would be a special meal and visiting, but none of all the other stuff we obsess about in Australia. Of course, it’s a long time since he spent Christmas in Ghana, so that may have changed a bit but still, at the core – Christ.
The thing is, I’m not a christian. I was raised that way, went to Sunday school and all, but rejected any faith I ever had many years ago and now consider myself an atheist. Well, maybe an agnostic, I guess it’s possible something’s out there – but I certainly don’t believe it’s an omnipotent patriarchal god with a special interest in my personal circumstances.
I have tried not to let this interfere with celebrating christmas – after all, it has some great traditions and symbolism associated with it that I always felt it was fun to pass on to your kids. Both the pagan-heritage christmas tree and the birth of a baby represent life and hope and promise for the future, and I reckon making a special day for family is a good thing. I love christmas carols and fairy lights, mince pies and plum pudding. I have fond childhood memories of making presents, decorating the house and tree, and having lots of special things to eat and drink on christmas day, with all the family gathered around.
But I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with the whole affair. This is partly because I seem to have failed in passing on to AM my love of the traditions. Decorating? Great idea – you do it Mum. Christmas carols? Get me outta here. Making presents – you gotta be kidding! To be fair, he has at times shown an interest in all of these things but the only things that have really stuck that he likes about Christmas are receiving presents – of course! – and Christmas pudding, which he would eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I wasn’t around to restrain him.
I’m also a bit disaffected because DadaK and Obapaa don’t buy into all the trimmings much either. They like it if I do it – but aren’t that interested in participating. They admire the xmas tree but don’t want to sit around it for a couple of hours sipping fruit punch, nibbling on mince pies and opening presents in a leisurely fashion (which is what I’d really like to do). They prefer to cut to the chase – i.e. Xmas lunch – and the present opening is just a quick pit-stop en route to the main event. So what’s the point, really, of decorating the halls for five minutes of chaos? Better save my energies for something else.
Finding suitable gifts is another thing that gets to me. Raised in a culture where children had a whole village to play with, and toys were mostly not available unless the kids made them out of bits of wood and tin, DadaK and Obaapa don’t have the ‘play with your kids’ ethic that I grew up with. This means you can’t give their children toys that require any adult involvement or supervision, or transport to a park. Until recently, small parts were also off limits because there was always someone under the age of three. This year DadaK has placed a ban on electronic games – which I sympathise with but they were always welcomed by the children. Taking them off the shopping list made gift shopping a bit of a headache that was further complicated by my questioning of the whole materialistic concept. Not to mention the madness in the shops, the expensive crappy gifts that line every toy aisle, and the high expectations of the kids that I could spend hundred of dollars on them. For something I don’t even belive in?! But then I figured out to get Abrantie some guitar lessons from one of AM’s friends, and extra swimming classes for 50 Cedis so he can catch up to his mates, and it all started to look a whole lot easier.
If I was a practising christian, I know I’d have something to celebrate regardless of the horrible consumerism that’s grown up around Christmas in this society, and I’d be able to prioritise the spirit of the occasion rather than all the excessive trimmings. It wouldn’t be a frenzy of worrying about presents and creating that ‘perfect’ christmas day experience that the media promotes.
Actually, I am getting better at taking the frenzy out of christmas, and at shaking off my childhood nostalgia about it. We have created some new traditions in our family and this year for perhaps the first time in years I was able to just relax about it – at least on the day.
Our Christmas is a BBQ in a local park. DadaK brings bread, plates, and crates of malt drink. I bring salads (that no-one much eats), gourmet sausages, prawns, fruit and apple cider (cos I don’t like malt). A family friend who works in a meat packing factory brings kilos and kilos of marinated meat which she and Obaapa barbecue. We unwrap (low-budget) presents at the park before we eat. The kids all drink litres of malt and play assorted outdoor games. This year AM even roused from his teenage torpor for a couple of hours and played handball with his brothers a chasing with his sister. It was fun. It’s what we’ve done every Christmas for about 8 years.
DadaK and family have made a big compromise in not going to church – unless Christmas falls on a Sunday. They have instead prioritsed spending the day with the atheists in their family – AM, me, and my brother – because we are family. That is so gracious and generous and maybe truly is the spirit of Christmas. It fits with what I most value about the day – celebrating family. The least I can do on my side is let go of Christmas anxiety and keep it simple. Cherish the love.