Last Christmas I made the mistake of going along to a celebration with my son, his mother and their family. Now my ex’s family are nice people, and I have no complaint against them. But Jesus Christ on a bicycle, nothing can stress me out like the Swedish Christmas. I would prefer to bury myself up to my neck in week-old pizza, or chop off my least-used fingers, rather than do another “traditional” Swedish Christmas.
Everything is meticulously plotted in advance – what time things will happen, what food should be eaten, what room we sit in for various activities…and the presents – oh good Lord, the presents. The Swedes have come up with a masochistic activity whereby everybody sits in a circle and opens their presents one by one while everybody else looks on. And all the people gathered feel compelled to buy one present for everybody else. Now this means if there are X people, then there will be X*X presents, all of which must be opened one at a time, while everybody nods and looks on with a forced grin.
It is agony. Not just the waiting and smiling, which is bad enough, but the brainless consumption. How are we seriously supposed to find gifts for 15 people, most of whom we never see except at Christmas? My son got more presents than anybody, being the only grandchild on his mother’s side, and at this stage I started to feel ill. Dozens of packages were presented, each bigger than the last, and as the pile of gifts grew – and the pile of waste paper and boxes grew along with it – I could see him entering a daze of confusion and consumption, looking at everything once and then tossing it aside.
Give a six-year-old so many presents that he has no time to play with them, and you will teach him an important lesson: if I get more stuff, I should pretend to be happier than if I got less stuff. Stuff = happiness, and there was not a single piece of information presented that afternoon that went against that.
I usually buy presents for my son, my girlfriend, my sisters’ kids, my parents and myself. Usually books, and now I’m moving over to buying services and experiences (massage, dinner vouchers) instead of more stuff. We all have enough stuff, people – all of us. If you can read this, and have your own computer to read it on, then you probably also have enough stuff. In fact, I have started giving stuff away – un-used clothes and books and furniture – because the more stuff I have, the less of me there is in my life.
I suggest that Christmas goes like this – instead of giving things to people we like, we take things away from them. And so one at time all our “valued” possessions, which we have no time to use, will disappear and perhaps go to somebody else who needs them. And we will realise that, without the need to buy more stuff to fill the hole, we will need less money and so work less, and sleep more, and spend more time with our family and friends, and wander about town in the afternoon drinking coffee, staring at the trees with a daft smile.
I have already decided not to ever work 100% again if I can help it. Right now I work 60%, and I get by. I don’t have much money to save, but I survive and can entertain myself. So really whats the point of working more, if I don’t need to?
Just give me enough sleep and lots of free time and a warm somebody to hug when I wake up, and then there’s not much else required.
(Song of the day: Right Where it Belongs – Nine Inch Nails)