Christmas is for kids, and the sooner we all accept this, the more fun we'll have

Christmas: Traditionally a time for gifts in western cultures. Photo: Shutterstock
Christmas: Traditionally a time for gifts in western cultures. Photo: Shutterstock

It's hard work, living with a Buddhist.

You'd think it would be the opposite, that you would be imbued, through proximity, with a sense of calm, of stillness, of a general sense of fatalism that would absolve you of any need to worry about anything.

But if you're a regular old western rationalist and consumerist like me, it's exhausting.

Take Christmas. Where my partner is from in South-East Asia, Christmas is, quite literally, a non-event. But there's no shortage of other festivals and occasions marked with ritual and tradition. It's not the holiday itself that causes our two different backgrounds to grate uncomfortably against each other - it's the gifts.

Put simply, no one really does gifts over there, not even on birthdays.

And I can't tell you how liberating it is. The thought that a smile and some well wishes can take you exactly as far, or even further, than something wrapped up in shiny paper and ribbon, is enough to make me want to convert.

But there's no need, really. You can just sort of...opt out of the whole gift thing, and religion barely needs to figure at all. Trust me - I'm three-quarters of the way there, and feeling lighter every year.

I don't need anything. I want many things, but I'm old enough to know the difference.

Like I say, though, it hasn't been easy. Year after year, The Buddhist has looked on in bemusement as I tear myself to shreds with the stress of trying to get the right things for the right people at the right time in the right place. The agonising, the shopping, the spending, the wrapping. It's not a happy time for me. So why put myself through it, he asks? Why does everyone in this country go through this same agonising dance of desperation?

I see his point. Of course I do. You're right, I tell him each year, but you're not helping.

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm no Christmas grinch. I love almost everything about Christmas. The heady, almost-holiday excitement that is triggered by the strains of Christmas carols in shopping malls, the heating up of the weather, the winding down of the year. I love decorating the tree, stocking up the fridge, making plans for the big family get-together.

I love the Christmas pav, the champagne, the pudding, the brandy custard, the mince pies that a neighbour bakes a massive batch of every year and delivers wrapped in cellophane - the ones I would never, ever eat at any other time of year, so as to preserve the taste sensation for the next time around.

I especially love the excitement of my own children as the day approaches. I love wrapping up their gifts and watching them open them up. I would never dream of depriving them of this, just to satisfy my own complicated feelings of guilt. I would never berate them for being excitement about presents.

And I love harking back to the days when this was the most exciting day of the whole year. But this part is nostalgia, plain and simple. Because I have grown out of gifts. My whole family has grown out of gifts, but it's taken various pointless, unwanted items, many years and 11 - count them! - grandchildren to reach this point.

Certainly, we had to ease our way in. About six years ago, mum suggested we all give money to charity instead. This was meant with squeals of horror and derision from other members of the extended family.

Still, it was the beginning of the journey, that involved, first, "giving" the "gift" of goats and chooks to African villages, toilets to schools in Pacific Island nations, bicycles to needy children in developing countries. That kind of thing.

Next came the years of eco-gifts - bamboo toothbrushes, aesthetically pleasing foldaway shopping bags, edible goodies in biodegradable packaging.

And now, for the past several years, we have migrated entirely to a world in which gifts are for kids only. It's a much more reasonable and rational place to be. Even our resident Buddhist agrees.

I once heard an author, when asked about whether he had any special rituals when settling down to write, explain why he thought they were silly. As soon as you can see through a ritual, he said, to what lay beyond, it became meaningless. A ritual that is supposed to give you luck, or somehow increase your chances of writing a bestseller, or even get published, is nothing more than just superstition.

Gift-giving is for kids. Picture: Upsplash

Gift-giving is for kids. Picture: Upsplash

The same can be said of lots of rituals we observe in daily life. Chief among them, at least at this time of year, is the ritual of gift-giving among adults.

And this year, at this time, it feels especially odd and incongruous to be stockpiling more stuff, while people across the border stuff whatever they can, if anything, into their cars while they flee for their lives from the encroaching bushfires.

Even without the triggering whiff of smoke in the air, the thought of accepting gifts makes me itch.

In a state of mind that has nothing whatsoever to do with the decluttering queen Marie Kondo (why would anyone want to read a book or watch a show about tidying up?), I find myself drowning in stuff. I don't need anything. I want many things, but I'm old enough to know the difference.

And once you remove the obligation of having to buy gifts for all the adults in your life, Christmas suddenly becomes as exciting as it ever was, with the world tying itself up in a big, shiny bow of happiness.

It's enough for me.

This story A gift-free Christmas? It could just set you free first appeared on The Canberra Times.