Before you proclaim me a real party pooper, hear me out. It’s kind of not my fault I ain’t keen on Christmas!
You see, I was born and raised in the communist country of Yugoslavia. Apart from my grandparents, who were born before the First World War, all of my family members were sucked into communism. Nothing too extreme but we were not churchgoers or religious holiday obsessed. Yes, we would have a Christmas tree but we didn’t get into the habit or make the effort to have all the family meet around the dinner table for that ‘magical time of the year’, nor did we buy presents for each other or anyone else for that matter. Even Santa Claus, when translated from Djed Mraz in Croatian, means Grandfather Frost – there’s hardly anything saintly about that!
My Christmas present or shall we say the sock (and I mean not any fancy stocking, just my own plain sock) that would get filled by Djed Mraz, would barely have space for a chocolate bar and couple of oranges, which was all that my splendid Christmas presents ever were. I lived alone with my mum, and we were not well off, most of the time we were on the border of fridge poverty, so I would mostly enjoy any special Christmas foods at my grandparents’ house.
My favourite thing was my grandma’s homemade type of fettuccini lookalike pasta with ground walnuts and sugar and ‘Saran’, river fish oven baked whole with sweet onion and rice, with ‘Kajmak’ (something like crème fraiche) poured over it. Those were the foods that were traditionally made for Christmas Eve, a kind of ‘fasting time’ that actually meant one was not supposed to eat meat that day. And because my grandparents were religious they would give me extra pocket money at Christmas, which I would give to my mum on coming home to buy food for us.
Please do not think that I was so poor and hungry at any time! It is just that things were tight, financially very tight, my life was super simple and so was my mum’s. We had just about enough, but nothing more than that.
Upon leaving my country and moving to London, Christmases got to me hard. Christmas in the UK is a big thing – people started talking about it in August! You could buy Christmas decorations in August too. All the friends I made were buying plane tickets to go home for Christmas and others were planning to spend those dreaded longest three days of the year (for me personally) with their loved ones. Every Christmas I would end up alone, missing my family more than ever and there was no option to go back home, as after the war most of my family were accommodated in different places (my mum lived in a hostel and my brother in a city hotel for years before they were given an apartment to live in), and we did not have one big table we could all meet around. And this is when I would always think of my mum’s wish… to have a big table and to have all of us sitting around it together. I wonder why each of my Passions has at least one big communal table?
But from another point of view, the reason why I dislike this time of year – though not necessarily Christmas itself – is the consumerism that goes with it these days. It is horrible! Christmas is so bloody good for the Chinese economy! Such overspending on the most ridiculous level, so much waste from all the decorative wrapping, so much food, overeating, overdrinking and over-consuming in the western world. This is time of the year when you really feel the imbalance of people starving or dying of hunger and all the excesses of Christmas that others can afford. This is always a sad fact, but Christmas brings it to another level…
I have witnessed people stressing over how many presents they need to buy and getting into credit card debt that makes them even more stressed about repaying it. I am also a workaholic, we all know that, so having that length of time off from all of the institutions I need to be open and running to keep working myself seems like forever! Banks are closed, my gestoria is closed, my printers are closed, the post is not delivering, my masseur is out of the country, so are all of my staff and I cannot keep my Passions open for Christmas just so that I have something else to do other than think about how Christmas sucks for me. But hey… I’m being super honest with you as always.
Deep down, I’m slightly envious that you are flying home for Christmas and that you will be spending your days eating mince pies and being merry with your family. And I’m happy for each one of you. This Christmas my family is getting around a table together but I simply cannot make it due to work overload. Now that we have a big table, I cannot make it! The irony of it all…
Wishing you all wonderful holidays wherever you are, whoever you are with and whatever you do. Just go easy on all trimmings!
Peace, love and Djed Mraz.