crypticgirl: (xmas)
( Dec. 25th, 2008 12:30 am)
When I was little my Christmases always went the same way: Get up before the sun to open presents. Eat chocolate for breakfast. Play with my 'new' things. New books or toys in my house were almost always second hand; growing up in a single parent household meant that buying things which had never been used before was a rare indulgence. Then we'd shuffle out of the house to go and have a bland Christmas lunch with my grandfather at the local nursing home. It was always thin slices of barely identifiable meat with watered down gravy and overcooked vegetables. My grandfather was always slightly surly with nothing much to say to us, and we were always writhing in our chairs, waiting to go to the river.

The river was our real Christmas place. It ran through a small farm owned by old family friends, hippies who grew most of what they ate and otherwise subsisted through the earnings of the husband, an accountant who I've never seen out of sandals and an old t-shirt worn down to the bare threads. They would invite all of their friends to their property for Christmas day - young and old, Christian or not. Many of their friends - and by association, my Mum's friends - celebrated summer solstice as a religious holiday, so Christmas celebrations were purely secular. There were only a few rules: Bring a plate for the trestle table set up on the riverbank. If you're male, you have to participate in a game of cricket or volleyball before you jump in the water. You can go into the water naked if you like, and if you want to wear swimmers you at least need to be comfortable with naked people around you.

I think there was also a rule about no dive-bombing off the log in the middle of the water. Of course none of us kids paid any attention to that one, so it wasn't really a rule.

I learned to swim in that river. Not in the same way you learn about in swimming classes at school, where they put you in a pool and make you practice careful strokes under a watchful eye. I learned to fight a strong current, to dodge others, to look for obstacles when you can barely see anything around you. I learned about tradition there, that tradition comes from a vision of better things and the desire of a lot of people to make it work. Sometimes, I learned, traditions also die. As the families grew up and the kids left the area the Christmases at the river have stopped. Barely any of us are local any more.

Since then I haven't really had a Christmas tradition. I've been hither and thither and yon, living in different parts of the country. Some Christmases have been with my mother by the beach. Some have been with the partner du jour and their families. One or two have been with my sister and her children, though I try to avoid those where I can because the temptation to say "Ye gods, why have you bought them ALL THIS STUFF?" is too great. Especially after a three hour repetition of the same battery-operated toy noise.

This Christmas day will be spent with Matt, cooking food and talking. He's in town because he's only got a short break and no desire to spend most of it travelling, I'm in town because Mum has just moved to a much smaller place and would like some peace and quiet. It'll be a good day, even if it doesn't get me any closer to building another tradition or routine.

I'm slowly coming to realise, though, that maybe I don't need a tradition or a routine. I just need good memories of Christmases past, and to create some good new memories out of the day right in front of me. So that's what I'll do.

Happy Christmas to those of you who celebrate it. And to all of you, may you have many good and loving memories to keep with you.
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