This piece first appeared on ABC Online on 23/12/08
“And what do you want for Christmas young man?” said the Myer Santa to 10-year Steven. “An Ipod? A Nintendo game? Perhaps a remote control car?”
Steven looked decidedly glum, and after some deliberation, spoke with maturity far beyond his years. “I want the financial crisis to end please Santa. I understand these things sometimes take time to resolve, yet Mum and Dad tell me this Christmas will be far leaner than any before, and that our holiday is going to be at home this year. I’m guessing even you are having trouble affording the raw materials to make all our toys.”
Santa smiled. He knew this was no ordinary Christmas for many kids like Steven.
For the first time in many Aussie kid’s lives, they are experiencing a Christmas not defined by the material overflow that has been the trademark of Christmas for the past decade. Dads and Mums (and Santas) around the country have made the conscious decision to spend less and take control of the largesse that has long defined the holiday season. Rudd Christmas bonus or not, families are tightening their belts, and even the retailing gurus are facing reality.
Richard Evans, Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association, admits that shoppers have opted for less expensive items, and although “the crowds will be the same, their total spend will be less.” For most of us, this is a no-brainer.
Yet for children faced with the promise of a ‘diminished’ Christmas, the reality of it all must be confusing to say the least. Possibly even more confusing is the feeble efforts of parents in trying to explain this change. If the head of General Motors can’t understand it, how can a 10 year old? Mmmm…perhaps that’s a bad question.
One of the biggest gifts a parent can give a child is the ability to face reality and to understand personal limitations. We’re emerging from a decade when every child was capable of everything and every adult could have it all, to a far more reasoned time. For years, school report cards never told it how it was with children always ‘working towards understanding’ rather than simply ‘not understanding’. The post feminist message that women could ‘have it all’ has been proved a myth with both women and men understanding that life is compromise and attempting to have it all often results in obtaining nothing at all.
For children, understanding that years of plenty are usually followed by years of thrift helps them see the world with a seasonal rhythm and prepare them for the cycles of life with all their ups and downs. Continuing the delusion of everlasting wealth is like believing the myth of everlasting health. Everlasting anything is delusional. As human animals, we’re all subject to the beat of the seasons, whether they are environmental, financial or personal.
It’s in the very seasons of difficulty that communities and families often forget trivial personal disagreements and somehow pull together to overcome whatever external problems they face. Australian mateship wasn’t forged through consumer bliss in Christmas shopping malls, but in a spirit of hardship faced and overcome. Far from resulting in societal disintegration, high and low seasonal cycles help cement the relationships that bind society together. Together we can enjoy the highs, because without being united, we can never overcome the lows.
This Christmas season, it’s perhaps timely to give our children not just a gift that needs unwrapping, but the gift of a conversation about the realities of being a human animal on this planet of ours. Yet rather than the negative conversation of financial woe that many are having, the conversation could be one of harmony, natural order and togetherness reflected through our seasonal and personal cycles. The kids may not say thank you, or give you a hug, but unlike the Ipod or the Nintendo , it’s a gift that will last a lifetime.