Monday, 17 December 2018

Jingle bells, Santa sells – by Ruth Bonetti

Australians all let us rejoice this Yuletide—though, by the sea, turkey maybe garnished with sand and sweat. How to capture the spirit of Christ-mass without snow, mistletoe and holly? 

Shopping malls are awash with tinsel, Jingle-Bell-muzak and Santa—who was invented for Coco-Cola advertisements. With his reindeer and unfashionable bulk, he muscled out the Christ Child. I'm allergic to reindeer hype and tempted to shoot Rudolf through his red nose, even if the animal liberationists counter attack. Swedish Christmas trees are decorated with cornstalk goats, not reindeer–they're ho-hum common.  While living near the Arctic Circle, I collected wood-carved nativity scenes, birch bark stars and angels to add to my Aussie pot plants.

The season of giving-–or gimme?

European gifts are given on December 6, St Nicholas’ Day. Music, services and candles lead Advent into Holy Night Mass on Christmas Eve. Northern hemisphere celebrations of the Light of the World make vivid images. Candles feature on Christmas cards and trees. The sun struggles out like a tired invalid for a few blinks mid-morning and fades by 3 pm.

Multimillion dollar marketing strategies set up parents for checkout tantrums. Glitzy TV ads build Christmas hype. Actors’ happy smiles rub vinegar into loneliness.

Counsellors know this is a peak time for lifeline calls. Relationships fracture. Split families juggle quality vs. quantity time. Frazzled striving to create a perfect day, choose the ideal Chinese sweat shop gifts. Great expectations shatter. Credit cards suffer. Many over-indulge and over-imbibe. 

Scarcity Angst

Family Christmas dinner at the redbrick riverside house. As six-year-old small fry, I am demoted to a coffee table overflow. My nostrils flare and tummy rumbles as plates laden with turkey, ham and vegetables pass along the tables—then halt. Granddad pronounces the blessing. Over the rattle of cutlery, I chirp several times before they hear, ‘Where’s mine?’ Mum scrabbles another plateful together. 
            [Excerpt from Midnight Sun to Southern Cross]

The Happy Families Myth

Loose cannon comments blitz harmony.  In my teens, catty barbs made me feel unwelcome in my own home. I fled south to camp on a friend’s couch.
The next lonely years looked out my window at the happy-family lights of Brisbane and prayed for love. That maiden’s prayer was answered. Antoni and I married 45 years ago, our relationship cemented by seven years in Europe. 

Our first European winter 

As struggling students armed with Eurail pass and backpacks, we blitzed an unrealistic £10 a day budget; youth hostels were chuiso, fermé or geschloßen for the festive season. Also banks, in the dark ages before internet fund transfers. The Vienna-Venice train offered six-hours’ sleep. Next night Venice-Rome, then Rome-Venice. 

We shared plates of goulash soup or spaghetti; a half-cup of tea still warmed throats. On Salzburg Bahnhof platform a stranger gave chocolates called “Manna.” This tiny gift warmed our hearts like a sunburst from heaven. Our marriage was firmed by sharing life’s basics; food, shelter and love.
Two years later:

Aussie friends landed on our Swedish doorstep just after our travels had depleted our cash. The refrigerator was bare except for a dubious slab of lutfisk cod. How to make it edible after the usual evil processes of salting and soaking in lye? I wrinkled my nose. Knowing tourist budgets, how could I ask the friends to take us out to dinner? Margaret resorted to hints of reading my recipe books. There was no other choice: the smelly cod. 
                                         [Excerpt from Burn My Letters]

Gifts of time, friendship and hospitality

We drove three young sons through the arctic winter in a campervan. Its heating expired at the first snowfall but we were warmed by snug beds, hospitality from friends and family. Advent music concerts, sung Christmas Eve mass in Oberammergau uplifted our spirits.

Last Christmas we shared with four unattached, grateful people. Six months later one died, too young. Alienated from his remaining family, no one organised a funeral to celebrate his life and gifts. 

Reflect; what phone calls could you make to reconcile with others before it’s too late?
Rather than see them next over—or in—a coffin, why not share Christmas cheer?

May your Christmas be truly blessed with God's peace, love and joy.

RUTH BONETTI is grateful for opportunities to explore her Scandinavian heritage family traditions, written up in her two-part saga, Burn My Letters and Midnight Sun to Southern Cross. She will share ways to surmount the challenges of Writing Family Stories at Omega Writers Book Fair on 16 March, 2019.
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  1. Great post Ruth. Lovely to read of some of your life adventures. I'm so glad God answered your prayer for love - and wow - 45 years later, you have much to share and rejoice in. Thank you for pointing out the challenges of the season and also the truth that it is never too soon to forgive and connect with those who have wronged us. Tomorrow may be too late. Bless you for reaching out to those 4 unattached people last Christmas. Sad to hear of an untimely death but your action in reaching out to him/her would have been a great blessing. May we embrace what Jesus came to do this Christmas and be His Hands and feet to a hurting world. Thank again Ruth and Merry Christmas.

    1. Thanks, Anusha. Though in a case of "use it or lose it" my recent efforts to ski were dismal. As I confess in "Midnight Sun to Southern Cross":
      "Decades later, when we visited Australia’s Snowy Mountains, I had lost my skill; forgotten to bend my knees, backside out. I spent most of the time working out how to drag my splayed limbs upright."

  2. Some great memories - and some more challenging. Christmas can mean so many things. Great reminder to get past all the glitz and expectations. Thanks, Ruth.

  3. Thanks, Jeanette, glad it resonated with you! Happy and blessed Christmas to you and your family.