Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Shadow of Wealth

On Christmas morning
Colourful paper and ribbons
Go to the dustbin.

25th December – for me Christmas is over at last! Our unpretentious family dinner and the following distribution of presents were yesterday. That’s because tradition has it that in Austria celebrations start already on Christmas Eve at nightfall. That’s the time when the Christkind comes loaded with a richly decorated tree and with heaps of presents. Nowadays!

Until the second half of the past century it used to be quite empty under the often self-cut spruce or fir-tree with apples, nuts, straw stars, bows, and a few beeswax candles in the twigs. Presents were scarce and consisted of things that were desperately needed like a handmade scarf, a knitted hat or woollen mittens. In a good year a warm pull-over, a winter coat or a pair of shoes might have come out of the simple wrappings. People rejoiced at their presents because they knew that it hadn’t been granted that they would get anything at all for Christmas. In our small corner of the planet things have changed a lot since.

I grew up in the 1970s, at a time when the Christmas mania was already in its first or maybe second swing. For me it was natural to have everything that I needed in daily life and I could count on finding more than just one parcel for me lying under the tree. Yet, my presents were a great source of joy (also anticipated joy) because it was unthinkable that I would have been given any of them without the special occasion. Of course, I cared more for the toys and board games than for the occasional clothes that I received. After all, I had never felt a shortage of clothes!

These days many people, especially children expect to be showered with expensive toys and electronic gadgets that they could as well have at other times of the year. Often it’s a competition between the recipients of presents, too. Who will get the better, thus more expensive stuff? There’s nothing extraordinary about Christmas anymore and thus the joy is moderate. After the celebrations quite some of the presents disappear in a hidden corner, are traded in, find their way into internet auctions or are simply thrown away into the dustbin together with the glossy wrapping material.

For me Christmas has lost most of its magic: the happy smiles of those who unwrap a present and find something unexpected that they had yearned for and might never have had otherwise. Those smiles mean more to me than any object I could ever receive. Every year I’m disappointed and I’ve come to the conclusion that, economic crisis or not, most of us are too wealthy to appreciate the love and care behind every present.

In a nutshell: we don’t deserve Christmas if we continue to limit it to the number and value of our presents!

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