It was white, plastic and shaped like a witch’s hat with a slit down the side. We examined it sideways, backwards, upside down and on top of the dog’s head. After the Queen’s speech, beaten, we gave up and rang Aunty Bon.
“It’s an egg separator” she informed me, her welsh accent failing to disguise her astonishment at my ignorance. “Oh... how useful!” I replied. As you do. I thanked her profusely, making a mental addition to my list for the Wednesday Group’s forthcoming “Unwanted Christmas Gifts”evening.
And so the festivities continued…
Like many elderly people who are strapped for cash, my dear Aunty Bon feels that at Christmas she must give us something. The famed egg separator was her gift to us last Christmas. To my shame I am the last person who would ever wish to separate an egg. I suspect the process of egg separation is the kind of thing you’d find Paul Hollywood doing as a master baker - my family will testify that baking isn’t in my culinary skillset.
There must be many thousands of pounds worth of unwanted, never used, UFOs (Unidentified Festive Offerings) given and received every year. I suspect – no - let’s be honest here - I know that I distribute much ET (Extraordinary Trash) myself. With a family and a business to run and over 60 presents to buy each Christmas (my husband’s side of the family is imprudently prolific), I become distinctly manic by December the 22nd, rushing into John Lewis and trying to buy door chains in the misguided belief that they are some sort of modern jewellery which will be perfect for one of my teenage nieces.
For this particular year I was determined to resolve the mania of Christmas early. So I called a family conference.
“Right,” I said, eyeing them with steely determination, “what do you all want for Christmas?”
“A computer and a car” replied my daughter without hesitation.
“An IPOD or just a couple of hundred quid” sang my eldest son.
“Programmable LED lights please mum” pleaded my youngest son.
I blinked and swallowed. The eldest two were joking - just. “You asked what we wanted – we always end up getting things we don’t really want or need”, shrugged my daughter. “Yes, but I really really need programmable LED lights” insisted the youngest. Who knew? I really must dig out “Maslows Hierarchy of Needs” and explain it to him. He’ll sleep well on it too.
I tried a different tack. “OK – what does Christmas mean to you all?” Everyone looked slightly blank.
“Weeeell… it’s a bit lost really isn’t it? I mean I don’t see the point, other than that we see people we haven’t seen for a while.”.
“Decorations,and yummy food, and having to go to church and distant relatives we never usually see”,
“Father Christmas and lots of toys”.
“It’s magical when you’re a child,” put in my husband “but it seems a bit hollow now... I enjoy meeting up with everyone – oh and the carol singing.”
Then it was MY turn.
“I enjoy the carols and the services and Yes, I like getting together with people I haven’t seen for awhile too.”
“So…” summarised my husband, “Are we saying that for us, it’s about expressions of love, personal contact and the re-establishment of relationships?” Much general nodding followed. “Great. Can we go now?”
The next day a friend I had not seen for ages dropped in for a coffee. Like two grumpy old women we began to moan and groan about the coming festive season. It was huge fun! When she later left, we hugged and acknowledged how much we had enjoyed each others company and regretted the busy schedules which rarely allow us to see each other. At that point I had an epiphany. “Let’s not buy each other anything this year– lets give ourselves each other for an evening!” A wary eyebrow shot up. An explanation was called for.
“Let’s make time to go out together for a meal or drink!”
After she had gone I re-visited my husband’s summary of our family meeting.
“For us, Christmas seems to be about expressions of love, personal contact and re-establishing relationships”. It’s not so far off the original Christian values is it? Whatever people choose to believe – or otherwise - maybe making time for one another and enjoying the company of people we don’t see often IS what Christmas is really about.
It’s all about presence – not the presents.