The run-up to Christmas has never been so gentle.
In past years, there was usually a certain amount of international travel, which is stressful in winter. There were presents to buy or make and wrap, cakes and mince pies to bake and puddings to make, cards to buy and write (which involved frantic searching for lists from previous years to make sure nobody was overlooked, and the frustration of failing to find the correct address), shopping for the “right” turkey and accompanying vegetables, and general exhaustion by Christmas Eve.
This year, I bought Christmas cards way back in September while I was in England, where you can get a box of thirty cards for the price of one card in Switzerland. When I started to look at my address book, I realised how many names have been crossed out since last year: we are all getting older, and Death has claimed so many in the past twelve months. So my list was shorter anyway.
Then of course since almost everyone I know now has e-mail or is on Facebook, I was able to save time and postage by sending electronic greetings, reducing my card list even more. In the end, I only had to post about fifteen cards compared to a hundred or more ten years ago. In the past, I dutifully wrote a kind of annual report on our family’s doings; this year, again thanks to e-mail, Facebook and my blog, almost everyone is updated and as for those who are in the pre-digital age, I’ve met and chatted with most of them during my vagaries this year. So no need for a lengthy round robin either, saving time, paper, ink, and postage.
During our family get-together in October it was decided that we would each give one small gift only, and we drew lots for our Secret Santa (Wichteln in German). Much more sensible, there being fourteen of us gathered round the tree on Christmas Day and in past years it has sometimes been tricky finding suitable gifts for everyone. Of course, ever since then I keep seeing things that would have made perfect presents for people no longer on my gift-list!
For several years recently I celebrated Christmas in England with my mother. It was her custom to bake several rich fruit cakes which she iced and decorated, and gave as presents, so when I arrived there in 2011 and found she was no longer physically up to that task, I had to take over. Hard work, though appreciated! In a way, I admit, it was a relief when the oven gave up the ghost a couple of years later and baking was no longer possible.
Sometimes a generous cousin invited us to join her family on Christmas Day, and fed us till we couldn’t move. Once we went to a classy restaurant with other cousins, and then in Mom’s final years, when going out was no longer fun for her, I cooked our Christmas dinner. Last year, with my mother in the nursing home, I had my first Swiss family Christmas for over a decade. We missed Mom, of course, and will feel her absence all the more keenly this year, though her spirit will no doubt be overseeing the preparations.
My life has been hectic these last two years, and so I am genuinely enjoying the peace and calm of this Advent. No dashing around the shops racking my brains for presents, no hauling shopping bags full of food through slush and ice, no slaving in the kitchen, no aching fingers from hours of writing cards and letters, no hanging around in airports.
We had our Christmas potluck meal in church last Sunday, sang carols with the children dressed up as angels, shepherds and wise men, and I intend to go to the service on Christmas Eve, too, unless the snow prevents me. Oh yes, we have snow, and very pretty it all looks: happily, I don’t have to drive any more! I shall make some more mince pies and on Christmas Day in the morning I shall take the train to my granddaughter’s house, and relax amid the jollity of the gathered clan as the privileged matriarch of my family, letting the younger generations do all the work. What a blessed peaceful Christmas!
May all of you experience the true spirit of Christmas, and may 2018 be the best year of your life so far. God bless us, every one!