A Simpler Life at Christmas
We’ve always loved Christmas, I mean really loved Christmas. Even pre-children we had our tree up way before the beginning of December. Now we have two gorgeous boys we have even more reason to celebrate and relive the glee and wonder of believing in magic that is Christmas but could we make our consumerist Christmas work for our simpler life?
When we lived in the UK we spent a lot of time preparing for Christmas by shopping, you name it, we did it, online, travelling to the nearest huge shopping mall, supermarket shopping, to make sure that everyone had a present and then some…Every year I managed to have ‘spares’ to roll-over to the next occasion. We shopped a lot, we spent a lot; not only of our hard earned money but also our time. Did we enjoy it…? Well, to be honest, yes, totally, it was our ‘normal’ and we absolutely loved spending Christmas with our families and giving and exchanging gifts.
I read a post on Facebook the other day from someone who had stayed up the night wrapping presents and still hadn’t finished they had so many gifts. People were jokingly calling this person crazy and laughing at their sleepless night and the number of gifts they had bought. They were obviously very generous, and part of me applauded the fact that they enjoyed the spirit of giving, but mainly I was shocked and dismayed that this is what Christmas has come to. Do we really have to spend so much money? Do we really have to buy so many gifts? Would one gift suffice instead of ten?
I totally agree with the spirit of giving, we bought a bag of chocolate coins for our postman as a thank you, as he finally found and delivered our youngest son’s birthday cards, six weeks later than expected (this is what happens when you move into the Spanish Campo but fail to introduce yourself to the postman straight away). He was over the moon with our simple gift, it is after all the thought that counts, isn’t it?
So what’s changed? We have. We have to be frugal by necessity but have found we are so much happier having escaped the rat race and the consumerist society that can so easily overtake us. We recently bought new trainers, it was the only money we have spent on ourselves in over a year. No new clothes, no frivolous purchases, nothing unecessary, nothing at all. We decided to be as frugal as possible and simply use what we have until it falls to pieces and actually needs replacing. Hence the new trainers, they really, really were needed and a wise investment! So we are having a frugal family Christmas and it really has made us realise what is important…not shopping, not gifts, but us, our family, our friends, our happiness and most importantly our time.
We have bought presents for our boys but we have only spent a small amount on them. I know that this is probably easier to do as our children are young and at two and three years old they don’t have massive expectations for what Father Christmas will bring. Equally though they don’t have a massive Christmas list because they don’t get bought whatever they want, we also don’t watch TV so they don’t have the constant assault of adverts, a massive influence on children’s desires for more. They are by no means deprived and we still seem to have tonnes of toys, but when we go to toy shops, whilst they enjoy looking at all of the toys, they do not expect to leave the shop with a toy.
Instead of spending lots of money at Christmas we have really been trying to make Christmas special by having loads of christmas experiences together as a family. We took to the boys to see a free Spanish theatrical production of Frozen. We could not understand the majority of what was said (we really do need to learn more Spanish) but it was still magical for the kids to watch a real theatrical production and interact with the characters. Chaos was even brave enough to go onstage and have his photo taken with the cast.
We visited our nearest major city of Granada, which really does know how to do Christmas properly. So much so that it has the largest Santa in Europe in one of it’s major plazas! It is also open to Nevada Shopping Centre, a huge mall which has some wonderful festive decorations and a rather large fun fair to be amazed at.
In Huetor Tajar (interestingly pronounced whia-ter takh-ar) the top floor of the cinema is dedicated to a Belén Monumental, for the uninitiated this is a really, really big nativity scene. With miniatures of places of interest and landmarks in Granada and of course the standard nativity characters. The boys were genuinely fascinated by figurines, some of them animated. A rabbit poking it’s head out of a hole, a pig being slaughtered and a donkey being hit with a stick…a rather ‘campo’ countryside version of a Belén, but fascinating all the same.
We went sledging in the Sierra Nevadas. Which we absolutely loved, Chaos (3 year old, nearly 4) also had a fantastic time, but Mayhem (two year old) screamed cried and protested at this crazy new experience, even bribing him with hot chocolate didn’t work, it was all simply too much for a little two year old to comprehend. We ended up buying to €10 sledges from Decathlon en-route to the mountains as it cost this much per hour to hire a sledge. Hopefully we will be able to use them again and Mayhem can join in the fun next time!
Our local town of Loja, in the Granada province of Andalucia, Spain, is a small town with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. It has a few banks, a high street jam packed full of cafes, local independent shops and lovely, friendly people. A great town but when it comes to Christmas it’s not as OTT and in your face as the UK, there are some wonderful decorations, even a whole display made entirely from plastic bottles, but they’re mainly in the street, not in every shop, cafe or house. Also, much to my disappointment, there isn’t a constant soundtrack of Christmas tunes wherever you go..bah, humbug! Christmas here seems slightly more subdued and with Spain having a mainly Catholic population, Christmas is of course much more religious.
Loja does however have ice skating and a Christmas Train! Once again Mayhem protested so it was just Chaos and I for ice skating and even Chaos wasn’t as keen as usual, so he was consigned to the orange seal whilst I did the hard work. The €1 train however was a total hit with both boys, despite the fact that it travelled through very disturbingly narrow cobbled streets of the old town, rattled so hard we thought it might collapse and played horrifically loud Spanish Christmas music and we were worried it may crash on the tight corners!
The one thing we have yet to do is see Father Christmas. Christmas comes rather later in Spain, in fact Father Christmas, or Papa Noel doesn’t really make an appearance until the 23rd December. A small gift is left on Christmas Eve but the main gift giving event is on the 6th January when the three kings leave their presents. We used to spend £30-£40 on a real Christmas tree, this year we pruned one of our olive tree and used a rather large branch as our christmas tree. The majority of the decorations are hand-made and once Christmas is over we can ‘recycle’ the tree by using it as fuel for the woodburning stove. It not only looks great but it makes us feel so much better knowing that our tree is free, beautiful and easily recycled.
When it comes to being eco friendly the amount of wrapping paper we use at Christmas also bothers us. The amount of wrapping paper used and binned at Christmas in the UK alone is enough to stretch to the moon (really interested to know how they figured that one out, but it wouldn’t surprise me). Yes it’s wonderful to see excited little faces ripping paper off to reveal their most favourite toy underneath but surely there are more environmentally friendly ideas for wrapping without the need for so much waste. Do you need to buy wrapping paper, what’s wrong with using old magazines or newspapers, fabric or even tea towels? We are wrapping this year using recycled brown paper, then draw our own designs onto the paper to personalise. Of course when the paper is all finished with it will be fuel on the fire. No photos of this yet I’m afraid, yes the wrapping is very last minute here!
Oh and our Christmas Jumpers, well Chaos and Paul have had theirs for three years now; I’ve never had one (the shame!) and Mayhem also needed one (he’s grown out of his elf baby grow from last year-which Chaos also wore), so rather than buy new jumpers we used our existing jumpers and sewed on €1 fabric decorations. Bargain festive jumpers!
I used to feel obliged to buy gifts, some family members were impossible to buy for (yes, you mum), as they already seemed to have everything and wanted for nothing specific. Each year we bought presents and received presents, some of which were really wonderful and thoughtful but some, hopefully the minority, were probably unwanted and either re-gifted, binned or given away. Now we are having a ‘present amnesty’ it’s actually a huge relief. We made a calendar for our mums, sent out a few homemade Christmas cards and will Skype and call people on Christmas Day so that we can catch up and communicate. We’ve always believed that Christmas is about being with family, friends, loved ones or people you connect with and without the pressure of spending loads on presents, somehow this seems slightly easier to achieve.
Everyone is entitled to their own Christmas and gift giving methods but we are so much happier now we have reduced our monetary spending and instead invested in spending our time together. What’s the greatest gift we are going to give our children this Christmas…well hopefully it’s our time. Isn’t our presence present enough..?
Whatever you choose to do, however you choose to celebrate, we really do hope you have the most wonderful Christmas!