Yesterday David and I were hand-delivering Christmas cards to friends in the small market town where we live – as we always do a day or two before Christmas.
A couple of friends spotted us dropping-off their card and opened their front door and said, ‘hey, guys – come in for a cuppa.’ We did! We hadn’t seen them for a while and the woman told me that she had been made redundant earlier in the year and had gone through a difficult time, since she’d been in her job for several years.
Now however, she was in good spirits and she told me her secret. “I’ve been making things,” she said, smiling. ‘What have you been making?’ I replied enthusiastically.
She reeled-off a list of things that she had made including; clothes for the doll of a friend’s four year old daughter, scented bags with lavender from her garden, chutney, sloe gin and Christmas cakes! She’d kept herself busy being creative.
When we got home we found ourselves watching a re-run of a Christmas episode of a 1970’s British sitcom called The Good Life. It features Tom and Barbara who live a minimalist natural lifestyle while in contrast their well-to-do neighbours Gerry and Margo live a life that is the complete antithesis.
In the Christmas episode, Tom and Barbara create their festivities by making crackers from old toilet rolls and such like while Margo has Christmas delivered from an exclusive department store. Margo’s order is delivered just before Christmas with slight discrepancies from what she’d ordered and so she refuses to accept any of it. She demands instead that the whole order be redelivered perfectly.
On Christmas morning Gerry finds Margo ringing all of their posh friends to tell them that Gerry is unwell and that they are out of circulation for Christmas. Gerry is surprised to hear that he’s unwell since he feels fine and then Margo tells him that she has cancelled Christmas because it hasn’t been delivered! The exclusive department store – surprise, surprise – doesn’t deliver on Christmas Day!
It got me thinking about how we made Christmas in Ireland, when I was growing up, a story I tell in my book The Tao of Storytelling. We spent months preparing – making Christmas cakes and puddings from early November and Christmas decorations in the run-up to the big day.
Now in contrast, David and I, like most folk, buy Christmas. We’re too busy in the run-up to Christmas to make cakes or puddings or Christmas decorations or cards. We don’t need to make things – everything is so accessible to us in the shops. We work hard for our money, we invest the majority of our time doing so and we appreciate the convenience of being able to buy Christmas. It doesn’t make economic sense either – we can buy Christmas for far less money than it would take us to make it – at our hourly rates. After all, most of the products we buy have been made either by machines or by people who live in countries where a few pence goes a long way and who live much more simply than we do in the affluent West.
But here’s a thing – we are depriving ourselves of a rewarding gift when we simply buy Christmas. Making things is nourishing for our souls. When our kids or our partner makes something, that’s not the same – we need to engage ourselves in the creative act of making something to get the benefit if it.
As someone who buys Christmas too, I ‘get’ the whole time and economic argument. Recently however, I rediscovered the pleasure of creating something new, since I started making yoghurt at home so that I can ferment it long enough for it to be lactose free. Every time I put a newly fermented batch into my yoghurt jar and transfer it to the fridge I feel a warm glow of pride that another litre of delicious yoghurt has turned-out out well. That same glow is what I noticed on my friend’s face yesterday when she told me that she’d been making beautiful things and was inspired as a result.
So, most of us have some time-off over Christmas and while it’s not practical to make Christmas from start to finish due to time constraints – we can decide if the only thing we’ll make is our way around the shops to buy more stuff or if instead we’ll also invest some of our precious time indulging our spirits in making something that is fun or beautiful or useful or all three.
Wishing you a wonderful holiday and here’s hoping that you allow yourself to indulge your creative spirit and feel the soul-smiling glow of pride that comes from making Christmas or New Year. If you’re not inspired to begin – start anyway and you may well find that inspiration is your reward when you have finished!