Serina Huang writes on food and personal finance for the RiotACT, so it’s not surprising that she prefers to give simple homemade edible presents made with love over mass-produced shopping mall fodder.
What I love about Christmas is the sense of expectation, the glittering lights and the many colours, and the fact that it marks the beginning of the Aussie summer holidays. I love baking cookies and Christmas treats with my boys, decorating our (small) tree together, eating cherries and catching up with friends at parties.
What I love least about Christmas is the overt consumerism. As a frugalista committed to reducing waste and achieving financial security, I find it very disturbing that so many people, especially young families, plunge into debt in order to have a happy Christmas – or to impress relatives they don’t see for the rest of the year. It is only really one day. Do we really need to be bombarded by Christmas things in October? As a parent of young kids, I am conflicted about how to navigate the Christmas season. Last week my four-year old posted a letter to Santa with his childcare centre that included a list of toys he wants. Oh how I cringed at this! Yet I didn’t want him to be the only kid in his class who didn’t get a letter from Santa. The reality is, he and his brother have hardly played with the toys they got last year and it they are mostly poorly made clutter produced under doubtful labour conditions. My sister used to moan that perpetuating the Santa myth was cruel for children, as it is one big lie that adults go to a lot of trouble to fabricate. But she couldn’t go through with popping the Santa belief, and neither can I. My boys are genuinely looking forward to Christmas. I don’t especially want to be a big, frugal killjoy who doesn’t let them have any fun. I try to tread a middle line, staying away from shopping malls and giving simpler presents that involve time with me like books and craft activities.
My best ever Christmas was experiencing a traditional European Christmas on a high school student exchange to a German village in 1989. It was just after the Berlin wall came down – exciting time historically with lots of changes happening. I got to enjoy a romantic and stereotypical Germanic Christmas with a traditional pine Christmas tree decked with simple straw decorations and real candles. I have great memories of an Aussie Christmas last year, too. I caught up with family down near Sorrento. We all went swimming at the beach on Christmas Eve, and then afterwards ate pizza under an impossible pink sunset sky and (almost) full Sorrento moon as my kids and their cousins ran around pretending to be superman. Back at my aunt’s place, she put out special LED lights to guide Santa’s sleigh to land.
My favourite Christmas song is Handel’s Messiah. Well, this isn’t really a song- it is quite a long oratorio. But I think there is something deep and contemplative about it. I like to listen to it every year in advent as I write Christmas cards. (Who am I kidding, it has been years since I wrote Christmas cards. Not since I had children in fact.) In terms of (relatively) more contemporary music, I am tragically attracted to Last Christmas by Wham!. Knitted jumpers and all. I get quite misty eyed and sentimental.
My favourite Christmas film is Miracle on 34th Street, which my Uncle introduced us to last year.
I celebrate on Christmas Eve by going to a Christmas service at Kippax Uniting Church, and then coming home to watch the Vision Australia’s Carols by Candelight. My Dad, who lives in Melbourne, is a huge fan of the Carols by Candelight performance and will watch it over and over and over again on Boxing Day and the day after. He took my sister and I to watch it a few times when we were young, and they are magical times. Notwithstanding my unease at the role of Santa Claus, I like to read Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore with my boys before they (reluctantly) go to sleep. My mum used to read it to my sister and I every night, and we can still both recite it by heart. We then put out cookies and milk (or sometimes something stronger) for Santa and his reindeer.
I celebrate on Christmas Day in as low key a way as possible. This year I will be spending it on the Gold Coast with my Mum and Stepdad, before flying to Taiwan that evening.
On Boxing Day this year, I will be soaking in the hot springs at some nice resort in Beitou (in the mountains of Taipei). Once all relaxed and happy I will work off my appetite by indulging in a steaming all you can eat seafood hot pot. I am going back for a short holiday; I lived and studied there and I haven’t been back for three years. It is my second home and I miss it very much. Especially the xiaolongbao dumplings. And the hotpot. And the cakes. And the night markets. (I could go on.)
The gift I’d most like to give this Christmas is of simple homemade edible gifts made with love. I am not into giving big gifts just because it is Christmas. Thankfully my family isn’t, either, so we tend to give to charity instead. This year we are supporting the Let’s Give Everyone a Christmas campaign at Kippax Uniting Church.
For Christmas this year I’d like no present at all. Really. I value relationships and experiences more than stuff. I am busily decluttering as I prepare to sell my house and downsize to an apartment. I am blessed with (over) abundance. Well, perhaps I might like the guy I am dating to give me a present. Best think about what I want and start hinting.
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At top: Serina and her two boys. Photo: Michelle Taylor from Kazuri Photography
Centre: Christmas Eve with family on the beach, eating pizzas, Sorrento, Victoria, 2015