A guest post by my friend, Karen
I don’t particularly enjoy this time of year. As soon as I hear the advertising blaring, and see the merchandise appearing, usually at least six weeks in advance of the actual day, I groan inwardly. I started to say this to someone I work with, someone who normally tolerates my extra-dry sense of humour. Without waiting for me to elaborate, she informed me that the reason I don’t adore this time of year, is that I don’t have a husband and children.
That’s still a very common notion, that a woman will automatically live blissfully ever after, all her emotional needs fulfilled, as soon as she gets a husband and has children. Which means, of course, that a single, childless woman cannot be anything other than miserable, lonely and unfulfilled. This idea persists after decades of social change inspired by feminism, and despite the statistical realities – half of all marriages end in divorce, and quite a few people who have children still end their lives alone in old people’s homes.
I’m used to people, even literate people, being shocked by, and judgemental of, my persistent single, childless state. I’m used to the helpful suggestions. I’m too choosy; one ought not to be choosy, at my age. I should keep my opinions to myself; men don’t like opinionated women. I’ve dated men who appreciated my intelligence, strong work ethic and good financial sense – as their own personal ticket to freedom from the nine-to-five. Men who assumed that any single, childless woman over thirty, never mind forty, has been well and truly rendered a doormat, by the shame of her condition. Spinsterhood is bliss, in comparison to such treatment. Nowadays, friends, hobbies, sports and volunteer work give me at least as much social life and community involvement as any coupled person I know. If a man did show an interest now, I’m not sure I’d be able to fit him into my schedule. (Applications are considered; selection criteria implied above.)
Another simplistic notion, is that the Family Christmas is all joy and harmony. All over the Western world, police services and women’s shelters prepare themselves every year, knowing that domestic violence rates routinely go up at this time. For me, going “home” at Christmas meant listening to my father bellowing at his step-grandchildren for making noise, and being relieved to see them shrug off his verbal abuse, in a way that I as a dependant child had not been able to do. Most people have stories of the disharmony that brews in the crucible of the Family Christmas, all those people pressed together and forced to “get along”. Such stories are whispered sheepishly, because it is assumed these things don’t happen in other, “normal” families.
Christmas is also a time when the gap between the haves and the have-nots is accentuated; a time of financial stress for many families, spiralling into unmanageable debt for some. Christmas is, apparently, something that must be bought, so if you don’t have money, you don’t have Christmas. And you can’t re-use last season’s Christmas: what would the neighbours say? Thousands of dollars are spent on symbols whose original meanings are forgotten: the fir tree, a pre-Christian symbol of hope, the only tree that keeps its leaves through the cold and dark of the European winter; puddings made of dried fruit, a pre-Christian celebration of the stored bounty of the previous summer; the star that heralded the birth of Jesus Christ, a great thinker and social reformer, whatever else he might have been; Saint Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, an overweight, bearded man in a brightly coloured suit, age-old symbol of generosity, good cheer, and world peace. Much of the food ends up in the bin, and only some of the plastic is recyclable.
But Christmas is really for the children, isn’t it? It’s so exciting for them. They talk at length, about what they might be getting for Christmas, what they got for Christmas, some other child getting something more, bigger, pricier. If I had children, that would be another troublesome aspect for me. In the face of all the advertising and peer pressure, how do you teach a child that Christmas is not just about getting stuff? Coming together with whanau and friends, marking the passing of the seasons, giving thanks for what we have, the joy of giving, charity, goodwill, peace on Earth. Somewhere beyond the stereotypes, the marketing hype and the keeping-up-with-the-joneses, these blessings are available to everyone, rich or poor. And maybe even to a (gasp) forty-something, single, childless woman.
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Do you have some thoughts you’d like to share about this time of year? Send them to me at verdant at paradise dot net dot nz and I’ll publish them – there’s still time 🙂