Monday, 26 November 2012

This Woman's Work: Christmas



Christmas has a touch of the Marmites about it, I think, you either love it or hate it. My husband hates it with a passion. He thinks its overpriced, enforced consumerism - which, I suppose it is. I tend to swing, like a pendulum, between the two extremes. I think it is important to punctuate the year with traditional celebrations, as they are cast-in-stone ways of ensuring that we keep up with our friends and family. I think I actually prefer the concept of Thanksgiving, though. I do not have a strong (public) religious belief, and I do not actually believe that God cares all that much whether you pray on special or ordinary days - so the religious aspect of Christmas does little for me. I like the idea of noticing, and appreciating the good things that surround us all. Christmas, all too often, can become an exercise in The Wanties. I am not exempt from this myself.

I am starting my series 'This Woman's Work' with Christmas, as I think its an excellent example of the hard work that women do that often goes unnoticed. My husband is a 21st century man, he does a lot of housework and believes that relationships should be 50:50. However, he does have a tendancy to arrive at Christmas expecting that everyone should have thoughtful gifts chosen, made or bought, beautifully wrapped and delivered on budget. He does the food shopping, but I do most of the cooking. He couldn't care less whether Christmas cards were bought, written and sent, or who is invited and what type of food is served when they arrive, but he doesn't want anyone in the family to feel that we don't care about them. Work commitments mean that he can't attend school plays and decoration afternoons, magic shows, pantomimes or school fayres. So he doesn't get involved with finding costumes, raffle prizes, taking the children to various Christmas events and making sure they don't get too much of a sugar rush, visiting Father Christmas and encouraging the suddenly stage-struck child into the grotto, or helping clear the classroom of PVA glue and millions of pieces of paper from the classroom carpet. Nor does he think of the classroom politics of ensuring that everyone in the class has a card, posted into the right box and addressed in the right way, and of remembering other children in different classes who invited Charlie to their birthday parties over the year, and ensuring that anyone we might have left out has a card written and delivered the very next day. My husband is amazing and I love him, but Christmas really is MY work. He's busy doing the important paid stuff.

I start to plan Christmas in the preceeding January. We are both from quite small families, but that means that we need to buy presents for everyone, adults included. This may not be what other families do, and some of you will think that this is excessive and that the adults can do without gifts. Not so for our families. This is one of the unspoken challenges of Christmas that women deal with. Do you give to receive? What happens if someone turns up at your door with an unexpected gift? Do you have a few extras wrapped and ready under the tree for such eventualities? What if you buy a present for a person who can't afford to buy one back for you - is this a treat for them that they can't afford themselves, or are you encouraging them to reciprocate your gift unnecessarily, leaving them out of pocket? Do you buy things of equal value for all relatives? Or do you make sure that people have an equal AMOUNT of gifts (I especially struggle with this one with the children. It comes from Jonathan's younger days, when he had a friend with extremely generous parents. "Why does Father Christmas love Mark more than me?" he cried. Ouch.) What happens if you buy someone a gift in the sale? Does that mean you buy someone else a gift of the same amount that you spent, or the same amount that the gift is worth? And on, and on and on, Ariston.

Women try to work out all of this emotional, hidden crap. I am sure men do too but, in conversations with men I know, I find that they tend to care less what other people think.

I make gifts because I like it, and because it makes my money go further. However, if you make to sell then this is not a great use of your time. It doesn't make sense, from a financial point of view, to make items if the cost of your labour, plus the materials, is worth more than the amount you would spend on a gift. Besides which, do your friends and family actually LIKE handmade gifts, anyway? I once made a handmade blanket that cost almost £100 in yarn and hours upon hours of my time. I could have cried when I saw the disappointment on my recipient's face, and they said (much like Andie Macdowell in Four Weddings) "Oh. A blanket." 

This year I AM handmaking gifts for some people but not others; I have learned the hard way! Besides which, it gives me the opportunity to experiment with some new ideas for my newly re-launched Folksy shop that I plan to give an overhaul to in January 2013.

So, the picture above is a note book for our lovely Aunty Pauline. She's hoping to move in 2013 and is a great maker of lists. She's buying a house that looks much like this so I tried to interpret it in fabric. I REALLY enjoyed this project - fabric books are fabbity anyway, but trying to represent a home was lovely. I'm going to have a go at doing ours once I've finished the Christmas presents, but I intend to frame ours. I really hope she likes it.

SO, sneaking the Christmas joy where I can, then, with the odd bit of crafting, and some Christmas spirit (and chocolate. Oh, yes.) I'm trying not to worry too much about the other stuff.


Claire x


  1. I agree with all of the above, and in the past I would have made most of my presents and spent hours on getting it all right, But over the years I have had less time in December and a family that is shrinking. My son Ben is the youngest at 20 so gets harder to get in the Christmas spirit. I have decided that 2013 will be different and I am getting together with friends to do some Christmas Craft once a month next year.