It’s the beginning of December. Our tree is up, wreath on the door and nutcracker in place. Now I can sit back… and really panic. For, added to the usual holiday card and gift exchange madness with which you are no doubt familiar is, for me, the ongoing uncertainty of foreign expectations. 11 years in and I’m still adjusting to Christmas in England.
This was always a busy social time in the States, and not having family around is a source of much regret. It’s the one time of year I question my decision to emigrate and live as an ex-pat. But, despite the isolation, there are advantages. One is the lack of a List. The List was my mother’s Xmas Excel spreadsheet, but handwritten and long before Excel ever existed. She would create charts and graphs and checklists to keep track of who was giving what to whom and which cards had been sent and received. Utter insanity. I have no List or even list. We buy gifts for our two kids (one each) and for each other (sometimes) and that’s it.
As for cards, well we just don’t do them. And this is perhaps not well-received because here in England card exchange is an institution. They even put up a special postbox in the children’s school for all the little cards they will be sending each other. The pressure to participate is terrific and yet I resist. Primarily for environmental reasons, but also because I just don’t see the point of it, especially these days when everyone is constantly in touch via social media anyway and the cards all end up in the recycling bin come New Year.
I did join in at first, half-heartedly, but found it very stressful having to remember not to forget anyone. And I refused to resort to a List because that’s just the beginning of the end. And then a neighbour informed me, she thought helpfully, that there is a tiered system in place for cards. Large and gorgeous for family, medium and presentable for friends and small and cheap for acquaintances. Not just that, but you are also judged on timing. If you send the card early, it is more highly-prized than a later card, which may simply be the result of a last-minute ‘Oops we forgot so-and-so’. Armed with this horrific new insight, I turned tail and ran. No more cards.
So, only 3 gifts to buy, no cards – you’d think my Xmas is easy, wouldn’t you? Well you’re forgetting our friends. And it’s ok for you to forget them but obviously I can’t. I like to have a little something to give them, to show that they are loved and appreciated, and as bribes to ensure they say “yes” when I ask them to babysit my kids. For them, and to avoid the awkwardness of having nothing to give in return to casual holiday droppers-in, I am ready with an arsenal of easy, homemade, edible treats.
Making them is fun – the kids and I put on Xmas music and dance around the kitchen – and they are invariably well-received. I mean seriously, you can almost hear the recipients sighing, “Oh thank god it’s not another fruitcake.” Although, having said that, I’ve come to find out that the fruitcake thing is more of an American phobia. Here they adore fruitcake and eat it in one of its many incarnations for every conceivable occasion. In fact they’re probably thinking, “Damn, I really wanted another fruitcake.”
I give up.
But I’m still going to make (almost) all of the following things because it’s fun to do and I love them. So if my friends don’t, then all the more for me. And that’s what I call a Happy Christmas!
If you’re with me on the homemade gifts front, here (in no particular order except the booze must obviously come first) are 12 easy recipes to get you started. Enjoy!
From Tomayto Tomahto:
3. Fig Truffles