Merry Christmas! [slow claps]

– What day would suit you for the second interview? I said, and opened my work calendar.

– Monday would be best.

– OK.

I wrote the time she gave me under ‘Monday 24 December’. Something clicked in my head, but I didn’t know what it was until I came home again. Then it came to me:

 

Christmas cartoon with text 24 December, a reindeer head seen from the back


 
Where I come from, the 24 December is The Day. Christmas Eve on the 24th of December is the shining Utopia that all of December orbits around; the whole year if you’re a young kid (albeit a distant dream for most of the year). The magical bright light in the middle of the long, dark and cold winter time.

Now this is Australia, and winters are neither dark, nor cold (although some Aussies may think that; only because they don’t know what cold weather means). Christmas is in the middle of summer. And it isn’t even on the 24th of December, but on the 25th in the morning (or something). So the scenery isn’t quite on.

Then I walked my dogs in the neighbourhood, and met a neighbour from a few streets away with his daughter. They were walking his big, fat, somewhat cranky and not-so dog-social Labrador cross. My dogs adore the Lab and were all kissy and puppy-like. The Lab-owners are lovely people, and I have a good relationship with them. The daughter said:

– What are you doing for Christmas? to which I replied

– I don’t know yet. My husband and I haven’t actually talked about that.

She said – Your husband must be very busy.

 
Christmas – doing it wrong?

My husband is busy, but not that busy. Christmas time always seems like a limbo because it is a time meant to be spent with the closest family, and our families live far away in Europe.

Potential Christmas plans are complicated further by… me. A key objective of dinners and other social events is to get people to chat with each other, and I’m not chatty and don’t like noise and crowded places. I struggle to cope with even my own family’s family dinners, but I do like to spend Christmas with my dad’s little family and youngest brothers (and oldest little brother, if he shows up too) on the hobby farm which I’ve known all my life. Christmas Eve out there is small, calm, and familiar, and I know my role* in it, having done it every year for many years.

But that’s far away. Here, I expect dinners to be somewhere between mildly stressing and nightmarish.

Last year, our neighbour across the road (in the old place where we lived before) invited us over for Christmas dinner with her friends. That was nice of her. I didn’t really like being there, but at least is sounded OK when my family asked me how we had celebrated Christmas and seemed less looser-like.

The year before, we realised on Christmas Eve that we did not have anything in the house to eat, and all shops and restaurants were closed, so we ended up buying take-away from McDonald’s, which was the only detectable food outlet that was open. That sucked. So, this year we’re better prepared? Nope**.

 
The mystery of family traditions carrying on through generations

When I was a kid, December was all well structured and laborious, filled with Christmas preparations and activities and the Chrissy smells of candle lights, cinnamon, spruce twigs, glue, deco paper and spicy cookies. There was the Christmas Calendar TV for kids and Christmas Calendars on the wall, counting down the days to Christmas Eve.

It wasn’t just a few people who knew what to do: the whole big family was buzzing of Christmas activities, lead by steady female hands, and there were Christmas decorations in every room. I enjoyed the magic of Christmas, but it didn’t occur to me that I was supposed to, one day, carry on the logistics of it.

Christmas survives generational changes by being handed down from parents and grand parents to kids, and the kids somehow learn how to build and maintain the scenery while they grow up. As usual, as with most of the expected woman role stuff, I obviously forgot to pay attention when the know-how was handed down through the generations.

 
Our Christmas

That was enough sentimental whining. Now to Our Christmas. I asked my husband today how he feels about Christmas, and he said ‘Horrified… because of you’. He said that he knows our Christmas doesn’t live up to my expectations about what Christmas should be, and that stresses him.

He also said that he doesn’t really care about Christmas. It is fine as it is, with no decorations and all that. He misses his family back in Europe, but not more in Christmas than in any other time. What he will say when people ask him what his Christmas plans are? ‘Go to bed early’. So we decided to ditch the traditional expectations and just enjoy our time together as if it was any other time. Hm. I guess that solved it. That was easy.

 

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* It varies slightly and may involve being Santa Claus if they can’t convince my dad to do it

** Except we do have a big ham this time

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12 thoughts on “Merry Christmas! [slow claps]

  1. bloodfreak

    Isn’t it strange trying to celebrate Christmas with no snow on the ground?!? I too grew up in a place where that was part of the deal. Now that I’m stuck here on the Wet Coast (temperate rain forest, temperature rarely below 3C in winter, maybe one snow if we’re lucky), I rarely feel any enthusiasm for the season. This year, my son comes down on Boxing Day and then we fly out to Montreal the next day to see family and friends. At least there, they will probably have some white on the ground. I don’t usually decorate my home since I’m either alone during the holidays or somewhere else. This year, I did because my daughter-in-law and her boyfriend came over for dinner last week.

    Anyway, as to know-how passed down, I’ve felt that way as well. My parents divorced when I was 8 and my father passed when I was 13. I often wonder if all those things I’ve struggled with in my life come from never really learning the “man’s role” except through the twisted lens of my mother and the altogether alien father figure presented by mainstream media. Based on the invisible palms smacking so many foreheads around me, there appears to be a number of protocols governing how I’m supposed to behave and I’m regularly breaking these. I’d like to follow a model, but I don’t think I’ve seen one I find acceptable by my standards. I guess I’ll just carry on until someone can prove — with corroborating data — that I’m actually doing it wrong.

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    1. Mados

      Isn’t it strange trying to celebrate Christmas with no snow on the ground?!? I too grew up in a place where that was part of the deal. Now that I’m stuck here on the Wet Coast (temperate rain forest, temperature rarely below 3C in winter, maybe one snow if we’re lucky), I rarely feel any enthusiasm for the season.

      Yes! And not only is there no snow, but it is mid summer. It was 35 C today! (24 December). I suspect that dressing up like Santa on a day like this can actually be deadly.

      I often wonder if all those things I’ve struggled with in my life come from never really learning the “man’s role” except through the twisted lens of my mother and the altogether alien father figure presented by mainstream media. Based on the invisible palms smacking so many foreheads around me, there appears to be a number of protocols governing how I’m supposed to behave and I’m regularly breaking these.

      It is interesting to hear your perspective. I’ve tended to think that the ‘man’s role’ is simpler and more straight forward to learn than all the little nitty-gritty social expectations of the ‘woman’s role’ (especially in relation to events), but most likely not! Different, but not easier protocols. Good luck with continued role development amidst forehead-smacking:-)

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  2. bloodfreak

    It is interesting to hear your perspective. I’ve tended to think that the ‘man’s role’ is simpler and more straight forward to learn than all the little nitty-gritty social expectations of the ‘woman’s role’ (especially in relation to events), but most likely not! Different, but not easier protocols. Good luck with continued role development amidst forehead-smacking:-)

    LOL, way to euphemize!! Sure, maybe the man doesn’t play usually a big role in domestic events like xmas, other than perhaps to put up lights and carve a turkey, but even when the role in a given situation is to do nothing, if you deviate from the script, you raise eyebrows. Not speaking specifically of home life, more as a father, I think I’m probably a bit of a mother hen. I hear myself talking to my son in that patronizing manner I so hate to hear, but I feel often he needs the narrative that he doesn’t pick up from social cues. I know one other father with a child diagnosed with ASD, and I think he’s even worse than me, so maybe it just comes with the territory.

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    1. Mados

      I think that comes with the territory:-)

      My dad’s Christmas role is to 1. Go out and take the Christmas tree home (with an axe, the kids, the dog, and me, usually… this part is great), 2. Make sure everybody has wine at the table (involves keeping an eye on what everybody do, which isn’t his strong side), 3. Cut the meat (not Turkey… we don’t eat that in Denmark, but Duck and/or Pig roast), 4. Be Santa Claus (rarely happens… not his cup of tea with that theatre), and 5. Entertain the guests. That’s pretty much what l I can think of… but he is very old school, more so than what’s appreciated in a family context, because it is interpreted as ‘doesn’t care enough to participate’. Modern Scandinavian dad’s are expected to be sharing parental responsibilities and household chores to a high degree, gender equality is high in Scandinavia. To be honest, he isn’t cut out for household chores and social duties, he is a solitaire type of person with little capacity to pay attention to others needs, and he needs a lot of space and has a low social stamina (a bit of socialising = then needs long breaks).

      I fully get that… I do too, but because of gender expectations I HAVE to participate in preparations and serving. So I’ll generally ask a lot when I’m joining Christmas back home, like ‘What can I help with?’ I try to do the heavier and technical type of tasks, because I’m physically strong, tech savvy and they typically take longer, and it is appreciated. I find nitty-gritty, shifty, all-over-the-place little chores where people talk to me or I often have to ask them what to do (like decorating) much more exhausting than few, heavy, dirty tasks.

      Anyway, that’s all back home and now 6+ years ago! Here in Australia my husband and I simply skip all the Christmas stuff… easy. But I don’t think that is viable with kids.

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      1. bloodfreak

        Your Christmases sound like Norman Rockwell paintings. In a good way, though. When people talk about “the good old days” in the US, we often make a joke about white picket fences and Norman Rockwell’s works, because his paintings seem to reflect a time of innocence, when life was mostly good, filled with humorous little moments. It was a time that never really existed except in those paintings, but right-wing politicians have a habit of appealing to people’s nostalgia for this time quite a bit.

        AH yes, I forgot turkey is a very North American thing. I went to my brother-in-law’s apartment for turkey dinner tonight. The whole floor of the building smelled like turkey. I thought that was interesting because most of the people I’ve met in his building so far are immigrants (first generation): East Africans, Eastern Europeans, Pinoy. His turkey was not bad, but it definitely wasn’t what I was smelling in the hallway. I wonder who made such a delicious smelling turkey…

        Anyway, so you say gender equality in Scandinavia is high, but traditional gender expectations persist? It’s not so different here. Gender expectations are a tough nut to crack. Personally, I’m not convinced there’s a lot to be gained by trying to foist today’s men into roles they simply aren’t psychologically capable of assuming anyway. I think over time, when/if children are raised without gender stereotypes, it will be possible. It’s just too difficult to overcome these when they are so deeply rooted in our culture. A couple laws won’t change that overnight. Sure, there are always exceptions (of men as homemakers), but it will be a long time before it’s anywhere close to half the population. In the short term, we’ll probably just see more women juggling homemaker and professional roles. I think when it comes specifically to parenting, it’s also a bit naive to ignore the connection established between a mother and child, which begins before birth and continues through breastfeeding (although male lactation does occur, it’s just too rare at this point to consider). The father cannot simply pick up where the mother left off.

        Oh dear, I think I’ve veered quite a bit off topic. Sorry about that! I must be really tired. I should head to bed. Happy Holidays, Mados!! Hope you can get out and enjoy the 35C weather. Or you could just go to bed early as your husband suggested. Sounds like a fine holiday to me.

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        1. Mados

          Thanks for your replies. I don’t know Norman Rockwell but from the way you talk about them, it sounds right:-) Traditional, romantic Christmas far out in the countryside, and we even grow our own Christmas trees! Yes that does exist.

          With the gender types, I agree with you! As long as women (like myself) are not automatically foisted into those expectations either (that we are fully capable of handling multi-tasking, social multi-attention and constant interruptions) then I’m fine with men not being expected to do them. To be honest, I don’t think all the stressing around and decorating and preparig food and buying Christmas presents and all that theatre is worth it at all! weighing up all the good things and all the costs (and I am not being sarcastic!)

          With that you write about mother-child bonding and breast feeding, I agree. But I remember that for a traditional house wife like my maternal (and paternal) grand mother, housework was an almost constant pursuit. Besides the actual cleaning there was preparation of food, bringing in and taking out food, packing and unpacking things, paying constant attention to people’s potential needs et.c. Not only did it require her to be ready for interruptions and shifts at all times, it also ‘programmed’ her to interrupt others (probing about their potential needs), which was extremely annoying. Many ‘traditionally minded’ women tend to do that,- They never rest in the present, their mind always half way doing something else than they do and restlessly probing people to want something else than they have. I find it very stressing (I hate interruptions). I can’t see how that helps bonding?

          Bonding requires time and focus, a calm, focussed presence in one task only, I would say. That’s the opposite from being busy splitting one’s attention between a million little tasks. I could do the bonding bit really well I think, but not the big overview, split attention & relentless activity bit. (I don’t have kids, so the scenario is hypothetical. I do however have pets and am good with them)

          Sure, there are always exceptions (of men as homemakers), but it will be a long time before it’s anywhere close to half the population. In the short term, we’ll probably just see more women juggling homemaker and professional roles.

          I do think that the proportion of household where housework is a shared responsibility, exceeds 50% in Scandinavia- and more than that amongst younger couples in urban areas (that’s my gut feeling – Don’t have any statistics to show). Maybe not 50-50, but old school households like my dad’s are not common anymore back home. They also don’t seem happy to me (the ones I know of), but that could have to do with the whole set-up of modern life and there are also unhappy couples who are on a more equal basis.

          ‘Men as home makers’ sounds like a suggestion to swap the gender roles. That is not gender equality. Gender equality isn’t doing all the same chores either (most are better at some than other types of tasks. Tasks that are typically shared/done on equal basis: dish washing, vacuum cleaning, garden work, child care (feeding, interacting with, correcting and driving kids).

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    2. Mados

      LOL, way to euphemize!!

      What did you mean by this? I looked up ‘euphemism’. It says ‘the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt’. Did I do that? (sorry, I hope I don’t seem stupid for asking … I’m not a native speaker of English and sometimes get mildly confused about expressions… just curious)

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      1. bloodfreak

        Ha, yes, sorry about that. I actually had a feeling it would be problematic, but it still felt like what I had to say at the time. It’s my fault. “Way to “, for example, “way to go!” was originally a compliment for a job well done, but it became overused, and now it’s pretty much only used sarcastically. You referred to the man’s role as “simpler” and “more straightforward”. If I was a sensitive sort, I might perceive that as a slight against men, suggesting that they really aren’t capable of doing anything very complicated. Or that instead of saying, “oh, I thought the man’s role was to do nothing at these events,” you chose to use more diplomatic words like “simpler” and “straightforward”. But don’t worry, I wasn’t offended. It made me laugh. It sounded like you were trying to be polite, but underneath the euphemism, you were suggesting what I already believe: most of us men, even the so-called “contemporary” ones, are like your dad; we just aren’t very good at juggling too many things. We can be good a few, very technical things, but only if we can focus on them. If we have too many little things to do over a short period of time, even simple tasks, we’ll probably screw something up. We usually just don’t care enough about them, especially if they’re things that women have asked us to do 😉

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        1. Mados

          Aha, that is the euphemism! Yes I can see that now, I didn’t realise it (and I wasn’t aware that ‘way to go’ was used sarcastically… if that’s what you are saying?).

          Actually my dad isn’t ‘typical’ for my culture. He would have been 40 – 60 years ago, but times have changed…. Although not as much in the countryside and regions as in urban areas. So I used him as a somewhat ‘extreme’ rather than ‘typical’ example.

          Scandinavian cultures are characterised by low inequality and low power distance throughout all sorts of realms of society such as education, employees-boss, child-parent, and also gender roles. That doesn’t mean that traditional gender roles don’t apply at all, just that the distance between them is ‘low’ in Scandinavia relative to other cultures. US and Australia are ‘high’ on the equality VS inequality scale… High power distance, high inequality (US), and highly conservative gender roles (US and Australia)*. This is what I learned in school… (BA and MA in business with emphasis on sociology, cultural communication et.c).

          Anyway, my point was actually that I’m sure the gender expectations to men are hard to live up to too, if you don’t match them naturally… as opposed to assuming that they’re easier.

          But now we’re at it, I will go on about a pet irritation of mine: the ‘men is such and such’ and ‘women is such and such’ talk (often promoted by certain types of chicks with high heels and low IQ in schools and work places and where ever else they roam). The reason why they annoy me is the female stereotype suits me like crap and make some people expect me to be good at types of tasks I suck at and don’t like to do … and overlook types of tasks I’m good at. In other words, they set me up to fail. So I call then out on bullshit. My logic is: if it is correct that women are [insert woman stereotype characteristics here] then it should apply to me too, because I’m undeniably a woman. But it doesn’t. So it is bullshit. Period.

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          *Disclaimer: That certain cultural characteristics & tendencies apply, doesn’t mean they apply everywhere. US is big country, and I would guess that most families who live in the New York City area are culturally different from most families who live in Oklahoma. Denmark is a small country, but there are still big regional cultural differences between e.g. the Capital island (that’s where my maternal family is located) and North Jutland (paternal family). And even within a narrow area there are of course big cultural differences between different families!

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          1. bloodfreak

            Sorry Mados, I was away in Montreal visiting friends and family, trying to avoid technology 🙂 But that said, I think you’ve covered all the bases here, so there’s nothing I need to add anyway! I know a couple Danes, but I know very little about Denmark. (I understand it’s very flat. I don’t think I’d like that very much.) So I can’t really compare gender “power distances” and such. I haven’t been in Europe since I was 14 and my memory is fuzzy. I can only compare to local immigrant populations, with whom I’ve spent some time. Many are from third world countries and tend to be more “traditional” than us in Canada and the US.

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        2. Mados

          Ps. I have heard ‘Way to go’ used often here in Australia, and never as sarcasm (as far as I know). And in Denmark, we speak, well, Danish… So that’s maybe the reason for a bit of cross-globe cultural lingo ambiguity:-)

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