Dear friends. Welcome! For those that celebrate the day, we are now just ten days away from Christmas. This year I have received a most blessed and wonderful gift. Author Bianca Marais has kindly written a guest post for my blog. Author of Hum if You Don’t Know the Words and more recently If You Want to Make God Laugh , Bianca very kindly took time out to create something for my little corner of the blogosphere. I am very humbled to be able to share this post with you today. Thank you so kindly Bianca.
I have only ever wanted to share my words and build a little community of like minded souls here at Benny’s Place. I wish to thank everyone for being here and taking time out to read what I post. To all my new subscribers old and new, I am so grateful you are here. Welcome! And, now, it gives me such pleasure to share with you this post I have titled Expressing Love at Christmas by Bianca Marais.
I’ve always loved travelling, but I’ve recently developed a particular taste for travelling alone. It’s probably because of all those author tours, where you spend a week or two almost completely on your own as you make your way daily from one city to the next. While the actual events at the bookstores are always filled with wonderful people who I love engaging with, the rest of the time, I’m my only company.
I used to find it awkward, at first, how to navigate meals by myself. Watching a movie or going to an art gallery alone seemed manageable, but eating by myself? Wasn’t that just sad? Turns out, it’s not! People are mostly very friendly and will start a conversation if you’re open to it. More often than not, I take a book with me and either read, or pretend to, while shamelessly eavesdropping in on other people’s conversations.
Don’t judge me. I’m a writer, after all. It’s my favourite pastime.
Observing and InternalizingMy most recent travels were to Scotland and England where I met up with wonderful friends and family. In between the reunions and the cherished time that I spent with them, I kicked into solo-traveller mode. Travelling with a companion is about sharing, and so you do a lot of talking and listening, as you process your experience together. Traveling alone is about observing and then internalizing everything you see and hear; it’s as much a journey of self-discovery as anything else.
Edinburgh and Scotland are breathtaking this time of year. The Christmas lights and trees; the decorations on all the main streets; the markets and amusement parks; the iconic buildings dressed in their Sunday best. Even the construction cranes that loom over the cities are festooned with flickering lights. Buskers enthusiastically perform Christmas carols; storefronts beckon weary shoppers with gleaming displays; the scent of mulled wine and sugary desserts wafts over everything, hypnotizing you into a kind of stupor. It should all be so magical except for one thing.
All those thousands of people don’t look dazzled or enchanted, nor do they appear to be filled with festive cheer. Instead, they looked stressed out and harassed, almost like zombies as they elbow their way through throngs of shoppers, their shoulders dragged down by the weight of their dozens of purchases. Instead of counting their blessings, they appear to be tallying up just how much credit card damage they’re doing while worrying about how they’re going to pay it off.
The sight of all that misery stops me in my tracks.
Which is the complete wrong reaction, because it elicits terrible grumbling from the thirty-something woman behind me who tells me to get the f*ck out of her way, that she doesn’t need another bloody idiot to contend with.
Why Do We Do It?
As I watch her stomp away, I can’t help but wonder why we do it? Are we all so disconnected that the only way we can express our love is by buying lots and lots of things for each other? I look at her bulging bags from Zara and Jenners and Harvey Nichols, and I wonder if the gifts they contain are the ones her loved ones specifically asked for, or if they’re just ones she grabbed in a desperate dash to cross people off her list? Does she do this to express her love, assuage her guilt or just because it’s expected of her?
In the book, ‘The Five Love Languages’ by Gary Chapman, (which, among other things, explores how people like to have loved expressed to them) one of the love languages is receiving gifts. So, according to statistics, only a fifth of the people in that woman’s life feel loved when they receive gifts. But what about the rest of them? Have we become so consumed by materialism that we’ll rather spend money we don’t have on things people don’t want instead of spending quality time together, expressing words of affirmation, doing acts of service or physically touching them? And if you consider that a global survey found that approximately 30% of Christmas gifts are returned to a value of $90 billion, that’s proof that we’re giving each other a lot of stuff we don’t want.
Do we ask for and expect all of these gifts every year because we really, truly want them? Is that how all this consumerism began? Or did the materialism begin because we were told that we should want things for Christmas? That people don’t love us if they don’t go out and spend a fortune on us?
I honestly don’t know.
All I know, from looking at all those miserable faces, is that none of it is making us any happier. A season that’s historically supposed to be a time of turning inward in a kind of hibernation as we protect ourselves from the elements, has become a time of running around gathering things instead of tending to our emotional and spiritual hearth. And if you consider that our consumerism is responsible for up to 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and between 50% and 80% of land, material and water use, it’s clear that we can’t continue this way.
And why would we want to when it doesn’t even make us happy? It’s something to think about as we open all those gifts and dispose of all that paper, packaging and other waste. This Christmas season, I hope to find better ways of expressing my love for those I hold dear, and invite you to do the same.