”Did you get your Christmas cakes or did the cat eat them?” My Mum asked when calling me to check on my Christmas cake delivery situation.
Two days before Christmas, I woke up determined to dedicate my day to thoroughly cleaning the house.
I never really understood the secret connection between Christmas day and an obsessive need to absolutely sterilise your house, but I went with the flow, pulled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and got down to business!
A few hours later, after I evacuated a colony of ants from my kitchen – apparently their hometown, polished all the flat surfaces, repainted the living room, cleaned the roof tiles and inhaled a serious amount of cleanser, I squinted with one eye, concluded that the windows are as clean as they ever will be, yelled at the spider climbing on the wall, pulled the curtains over the windows, just in case, and took the kids outside, to ice skate. Well, to be completely honest, they were ice skating and I was safely situated behind the fence waving at them and drinking mulled wine.
While we were out drinking mull… excuse me, ice skating, my Mum decided to deliver her famous Christmas cakes.
The story with my Mum and cakes is a pretty simple one. You just have to have some cakes in the house. Always. An ordinary Sunday afternoon, a birthday party, getting a new job or getting fired, my Mum will bake and send you a cake. The question is just what type of cake you’ll receive.
Ordinary Sunday afternoon: Sour cherry pie
Birthday: Sacher torta
Geting a new job: Cheese cake
Geting fired: Apple strudl
Moving into a new apartment: Rafaello kocke
Children’s birthdays: Sacher torta, Sour cherry pie. Cheese cake, Apple strudl and Rafaello kocke
As Mum rang on my front door that evening and nobody was there, she just left the cakes on my doorstep at the mercy of our neighbour’s cat.
”Oh, and another thing,” Mum continued ”I don’t want you buying me any presents this year. This year I’m only buying presents for the kids. Enough already.”
Here we go… I sat down and prepared myself for the same speech she gives me every year before Christmas.
”I don’t need anything,” she continued her gift soap opera story. ”We never had this custom when we were kids. We were happy to get a few oranges and some walnuts for Christmas, and anyway, when I was a child…”
Yes, Mum, yes… I decided to stop her before she started to talk about how she walked ten kilometres to school through the snow every day or how at the age of twelve she was driving a van to help out her parents, who owned a tavern, to deliver goods from town.
However, it was too late…
”Did you know that when I was twelve I drove a van through Karlovac…”
Seriously, though, I think my Mum has a point there. No, I’m not going to make my children get a driving licence and drive a van, but she’s definitely onto something with the presents!
Before you give up on reading this article, I must asssure you that this will not be one of those articles moralising about Christmas presents and the true meaning of Christmas. I won’t write about starving kids and consumeristic Europe. It has all been written, and it’s all sadly still happening. The children are still starving and we’re still buying ridiculously expensive presents for each other, with just a pinch of sadness and a twinkle of guilt somewhere in the back of our minds when we spot a photo of a starving child on some social network.
First of all – I really like presents. I like getting presents, I like unwrapping presents. I like that moment of great expectation, when you still dare to dream that somebody actually remembers what you like. I even like that next disappointing moment of staring at your brand new grey socks.
But, this Christmas the whole buying presents thing has got a bit out of control! Here’s what I’ve noticed this year.
A month before Christmas, the TV commercials suddenly change. The usual commercials advertising pet food and detergents mysteriously disappear and every TV commercial is either for:
a) Designer perfumes – limited edition
b) Tablets and smartphones
c) Chocolate candies
So, my conclusion, after staring at TV ads this last month, is that for absolute happiness at this time of year, you just need to spray yourself with a tonne of limited edition designer perfume, take a tablet in your hand, and stuff your self with some nicely wrapped chocolate candies.
One TV commercial in particular caught my attention over the last few days. A pretty young woman, cheerfully smiling and holding a mobile phone in her hand, tells the TV audience something along the lines of people being so tired of soft Christmas gifts like scarves and gloves and that this year we need real gifts: A smartphone perhaps, or a tablet! And luckily, they are available at amazing prices!
So, what’s wrong with that, you might ask yourself. It’s just advertising, right?
A few years ago, when Croatian society was shaken by corruption affairs which took place in the highest political circles, a famous Croatian psychologist stated her opinion on the matter on national TV, saying that the biggest damage caused by these corruption affairs wasn’t the material one, meaning the stolen money, but the biggest damage is that the media was trying to convince the younger generation that what happened is absolutely normal, saying to them:
If you’re in a position to steal a cookie from a cookie jar, why shouldn’t you? You’d do it too, right? They just took the opportunity!
And then she said: But the truth is – we wouldn’t all do it. A lot of us actually wouldn’t steal the cookies from the cookie jar given the opportunity.
Most of us would have remembered that it’s wrong to steal. Most of us wouldn’t hide a national treasure in our personal strongbox like some of our politicians readily did. Our parents taught us better than that. So, don’t try to convince us that we would. And don’t try to convince us that scarves and gloves, scented candles, and funny socks aren’t good enough for Christmas presents. Because our parents taught us better than that.
When I was a teenager, I got a Christmas present from my Mum. It was an oversized three-and-a-half metre long knitted pink scarf. Back in those days, when there were no mobile phones, people had to do something to keep their hands busy. Some people smoked, others solved the crossword puzzles, and some were involved in knitting. My Mum was one of them.
Of course I was unbelievably disappointed when I unwrapped my present to find an endless pink scarf that she’d spent knitting for a good part of that year!
Today, however, twenty years later, I still wear the scarf. It’s still too long, it drags along the floor and it doesn’t go well with my coat, but when I put it on, it reminds me of all those long gone family gatherings we had and lost over the years, and my Mum and Grandma laughing, drinking coffee, talking and knitting, and simply being happy.
Take a moment and think about all the presents you’ve received throughout your life. What do you remember about them?
I don’t remember the name of the perfume I got for Christmas from my first boyfriend. I remember the moment I opened the bottle, though. It was snowing for the first time that Christmas evening in town. The vanilla scent of that perfume always evokes that nice feeling of the very first winter snow and Christmas in me.
The VCR recorder my Dad bought us one Christmas years ago is long gone on some junkyard now, but I will never forget the moment my Dad entered the kitchen one Christmas Eve with a huge cardboard box, looking all proud, and my sister and I in our pyjamas were screaming and jumping for joy.
And of course, there is Billy the Bear.
Billy the Bear, my long lost childhood companion whom I got for my fourth birthday. He was a brown furry animal who soon lost one eye and suffered some serious paw injuries in conflict with my cousin whose life goal at that time was to destroy all of my toys.
Billy the Bear helped me to get to sleep every night and gave some important furry hugs during the war attacks in my hometown. I will never forget those scary war days spent in the shelter when Billy’s hug saved me. I would cover my ears so as not to hear the sound of the grenades falling, cry, and hold Billy the Bear as tight as I could. And I survived those moments.
Billy the Bear was in my suitcase during that war Christmas of ’91 when my parents evacuated us from Karlovac to Zagreb to live with my aunt until the war situation in my hometown got a bit better.
That Christmas evening, the shades on the windows were pulled down and the lights were turned off because of the possibility of air strikes on Zagreb.
We had no money to buy a proper Christmas tree, so we decorated a pine branch with some candies and cotton wool. So there we were, sitting in a candle scented room eating Christmas dinner waiting for the sirens to announce the end of the danger of air strikes. My sister, my aunt Marija, me, and Billy the Bear of course. It’s one of my favourite Christmas memories.
I have no idea what we got for our presents that Christmas. Getting a call that everybody was back home, safe and alive the next day was a Christmas present enough.
”Mum, why do people who don’t believe in God celebrate Christmas?” my son asked me one night before bedtime.
Because Christmas is for everybody. That’s the beauty of it. For believers and atheists, for those who feel happy with their lives and for those who don’t, for children and grownups, for family and friends, and even for our enemies, we can all find something in it.
It’s a time to be thankful for all the presents we received this year.
Oh, and that reminds me! Thank you for the cakes, Mum! The cat didn’t eat them, and they’re amazing, as they are every Christmas.
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