Thursday, 10 November 2011

A less commercial Christmas

Do you remember watching Christmas Specials on TV as a child? I adored Pee Wee's Christmas Special and A Mom For Christmas, but I always kept a special piece of my Christmastime heart for A Charlie Brown Christmas. 

I understood at the time that Charlie was searching for the true meaning of Christmas, but missed the high level of lament he had for the commercialization of Christmas. The sad thing is, Christmas had been 'commercialised' long before Charlie was even a sparkle in his mammas eye - and I'm not just talking about shops putting up Christmas trees in September.

Do you know Haddon Sundblom? Perhaps not, but I am confident that you are more than familiar with his work. Perhaps you have seen a picture of Santa Claus: You know, that tall gaunt man wearing a bishop's robe? Or that gnarly dude in a Norse huntsman's animal skin? Perhaps you have even seen him looking like a nasty old elf carrying a flag for the American Union? "Sandi" you say, an air of concern about your voice. "Sandi, are you alright love? Did you sustain a bump on the head? Santa is a jolly fat man in a red suit. Everyone knows that." To which I smile knowingly and sigh "Ahhhhh Haddon, Haddon, Haddon. That man really knew how to harness the power of advertising- he got you and me real good."

Let me tell you a story… You see in the 1930's Coca Cola had an image problem- people thought of the drink as a summer beverage only. To counteract this, Coca Cola hired a pin up artist to envisage their Christmas season slogan "Thirst Knows No Season". That artist was Haddon Sundblom, a man often referred to as the greatest 20th Century Advertising Artist.

"Thank you Sandi", you say "Perhaps you need to take off your tinfoil hat and lie down. Soft drink has nothing to do with Santa." Hear me out. Who better to represent winter in the northern hemisphere than a man who only comes out in the snow? Haddon constructed an image of Santa (that trademarked glass bottle of soda in hand) taking the friendliest aspects of each of the previous incarnations of Saint Nicolas (for instance, Scandinavia gave us Santa's reindeer and sleigh, and Holland provided his pipe and chimney) and these images ran in popular magazines and newspapers for the next 33 years. The Coca Cola website states "Sundblom painted portraits of Santa that helped to create the modern image of Santa -- an interpretation that today lives on in the minds of people of all ages, all over the world."

So you see, after 33 years of widely printed Sundblom Santa fantasies, and a further fifty years of copy and paste hollow Hallmark imagery reinforcing the Soda Santa image, any other interpretation of the gift bringer seems… well, wrong.
And this brings me neatly to my point- how much are you buying your baby for Christmas? The more I look the more advertising I see directly targeting mothers. Whole reams of paper being devoted to brightly coloured pictures of stuff your child needs to be a better human. Hours of TV time set aside for making good parents feel a little less worthy unless they purchase this product… I've seen lots of baby toys being pushed as excellent gifts, but honestly, what one year old would remember what they were given? Surely, on the one day of the year when all your friends and family are off work, December 25 should be about maximising people time?

I think Tom Waits once sung a song about this phenomenon…

Thats right, everyone is a winner- when you put family and friends first. So this year, instead of buying the life I want, I'm going to create it. Because I believe I can create a life less ordinary- a life of significance. And so in my household, this Silly Season our focus is on putting in place traditions for the future that have lasting impact on our quality of life. Meaningful encounters that bring lots of lovely memories, rather than simply spending money to prove I love my family. A less "commercialised" festive season, if you will. I'm not claiming to be some no gift guru, I will buy my little one one or two thoughtful gifts, but the focus will be on loving people- not things.

Let me put it another way. At my fathers funeral I realised just how rarely I saw my Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents. I listened to them eulogise my Dad and heard, for the first time, stories of his youth. I imagined a alternate childhood, one where I would have had opportunity to hear these tales growing up, one where these shared memories could have helped me understand my Dad better, and one where I would have had many arms to lean against instead of struggling to stand on my own two feet when times were rough for me.

So our tradition goes like this. Every year we have a family lunch at our place with my Husband Lee's Mother, Step Father and his Sisters, and my Mother and little Brother. I hope in the future for Lee's Father and Defacto Stepmother to join us (but that is another story), and any other partners and kiddlywinks that enter our lives. Everyone brings a dish, and we share the day- hopefully leaving knowing each other a little better and creating real and lasting bonds that make Hunter feel like he is part of a cohesive family unit. There is a blanket ban on gift giving on the day, but I'm thinking that that might change as Hunter grows up- maybe gifts for kids only. Perhaps there should be a blanket ban on Coca Cola too…

We also play a game between lunch and dessert- I hope to be playing Absolute Balderdash this year. Last year I made my own trivia game and that was a pretty good icebreaker but it was hard to pick questions that suited the group- ranging from a 17 year old boy to a 60 year old woman. I also make champagne cocktails and on a hot summers day these go down a treat- and help all these strangers relax into the day a bit too.

Do you have any suggestions for ways to bring seperate families together? Or any cool Christmas time traditions to share? I'd love to hear them.

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