A Lipstick Christmas Tree and Paper Angels

 ‘Tis the season to be jolly, but in fact I don’t feel like that at all. My kids get very excited about the Herbstmesse (Basel Autumn Fair) and all the money they can spend on the rides. Then there are all of those sweets calling to them from row after row of stands – it’s like they’re getting you all hyped up and sugar-rushed for the onslaught of festivities: all those dinners, drinks, school and work parties, which lead up to the climax of sugar consumption at Christmas.

Every year it gets me thinking: Wouldn’t it be grand to hibernate? (You should see the look of total incomprehension my kids give me when I say this; it’s so beyond them that they simply don’t respond, but rather ignore me and pretend that I haven’t just uttered a sacrilege.) But just think of it – no more organising Santa (whether Dutch, Swiss or English) or presents. No discussions about sweets or the latest iPhone, or endless wish lists featuring Playmobil figures (that make me break out in fits) and Play Station games. Just me in a lovely warm cottage by the sea and my laptop; or, in fact, I’d even be okay with a pen and paper.

Now I’m not sure how this fits into the topic of my column as this sort of transcends culture. Let’s say I’d like to start a new tradition. (As I tell myself every year when I’m running around the toy shops at the last minute in order to get that battery-operated horse that neighs and poops for my youngest, and a – useful? – technical gadget that could potentially be educational, a drone, perhaps? – to tickle any photographic talent? – for my teenaged boy; and then, quickly, I need a financially equivalent “something” for my middle daughter who really, really likes “a surprise”). I would like to start a tradition of non-consumer festivities. How about just getting back to the basic Little House on the Prairie style where it’s all about the baking and being together and not about Mami running around organising a perfect world for the kids. I’d like to celebrate life and love and enjoy a big family meal that we either all cook together or go out to the restaurant for.

It’s then that I often think back to one of my most amazing Christmases as a young adult, when we visited my parents in Peru. They had organised a fantastic trip, where we were to spend Christmas on the road. For Christmas proper we stayed at a lovely hotel, which was practically empty. In fact, we soon found out that the hotel restaurant was closed for the length of our stay, as were most of the restaurants in the small town we were in. We did find some food eventually, but we weren’t going to spend all night in an empty bar. Back at the hotel our mood was a bit low. What sort of celebration was this? Is this what being a grown-up was about? No presents, no good food – no presents? Our sister decided to take matters into her own hands. She surprised us with a hand-drawn painting of a red Christmas tree that she scrawled all over the large mirror in our bedroom using all she had with her – namely, lipstick. We just stood there and laughed, told each other stories and even sang, and we had the best Christmas ever.

I have been trying really hard over the past few years to reduce the cash flow (out) and concentrate on the important things. To help to slowly build down the hype, we tried spending Christmas in a REKA holiday village, where I bought a small, portable white Christmas tree and we only had two presents each. The kids loved it. I had a book of paper cut-outs for making your own decorations, so after skiing they decorated the flat with paper chains and paper stars and angels, and it was so relaxing and fun. Indeed, the most interesting thing for me was how happy they all were with this low-key Christmas get together where my father joined us with his guitar and we sang songs, kneeled around the little tree and had some plain, old-fashioned fun together with a simple but gorgeous meal.

This year, though, we’ll be at home, and I wonder whether I can pull it off. Being at home, their expectations are bound to be higher, but then again, I think back to last Christmas when they insisted on a real Christmas tree and I agreed on the condition that we all went for it together. We had so much fun and the kids were excited just by the prospect of the tree. So maybe it’s not the kids’ fault. Maybe the problem lies outside and all those expectations that are thrown at us at every shop window, advertisements that tell us we are only good parents if we strive for perfection in an I-want-everything-I-see kind of way. If that’s the case, then it’s our job as parents to gently show them that actually we’re all happiest when we’re together.

By Karin Mohler

Karin Mohler is a former expat having settled down in her native Switzerland after a childhood abroad. She is challenged daily with balancing the peculiarities she picked up on her travels and integrating them in daily life in what is supposed to be her homeland. Her three children aged 15, 13 and 9 help her bridge the gap in understanding the culture she is now living in. Failing that, she gains insight and inspiration from the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by D. C. Pollock and R. v. Reken (2009).

Illustration by Bvisual.

Beth works as special educational needs teacher. She graduated from university after studying visual communication, specialising in illustration, and then went on to do post graduate studies in education. Beth’s been working as a freelance creative alongside her teaching, and has undertaken projects involving portraits and editorial illustrations under her artist’s name BVisual.

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