When my parents visited me, I told the story of assembling my Ikea bed. It goes like this: a friend helps me bring the boxes in the bedroom. My sister and I go step by step through the assembly process and everything goes perfectly well! There is no missing piece, every bolt and screw is in the package. We managed to get the bed frame standing and stable.
At this point we take a break and there’s one more step to complete: fix the 4 flexible metal bars that hold the frame together. Easy peezy… We just had to put screw nr 117327 in 12 little holes . Or not.
I could only think that assembling an Ikea bed might discourage the myth of the 40(or 72 virgins). Who would ever like to deal with that after trying to make screw nr 117337 go in it’s hole?
I only had an electrical screw driver. It didn’t work. Apparently when it’s too small you don’t need force. You need precision and being gentle. And I tried from the top and from the bottom. I tried making the holes bigger, but metal on metal doesn’t go well. In the end I managed to screw around 6 of the 12 screws and I gave up. So, if my bed falls apart one day, you’ll know why.
I bought then a new manual screwdriver that turned out to be as useless as the previous.
At that moment in the story, my father did the following exclamation: “And do you have a hammer?”.
Now, being used to the logic of my family, I know exactly why my dad asked me this apparently unrelated question.
The reason has nothing to do with crafting, or DYI or nails for that matter. It has to do with tradition. No, we have no tradition of hitting each other in the head with a hammer. The man was simply looking ahead to the next occasion when he will have to, for the sake of tradition, buy me a present.
“No, dad, I don’t have a hammer since my ex boyfriend took it with him 3 years ago.”
“What??? You don’t have a hammer? I’ll buy you one tomorrow. As a present.”
“Thank you dad, but I don’t need a hammer.”
“Why? What will you do if you need to put a picture on the wall?”
“Like I always did: I’ll use the rolling pin. I never use it for backing but it’s perfect for hammering nails.”
“And what if you will absolutely need a hammer. What if you need to assemble something that needs nails?”
“I’ll borrow one.”
“But why? I’ll buy you a hammer tomorrow.”
“Dad, I have lived for 3 years without a hammer. I can still live for another 3.”
“Then what would you like for a present?”
That’s the thing. I don’t want anything. I have so many things, so much stuff that the idea of desire itself is gone. Instead I have less and less space and tend to spend more and more time outside.
Have you ever felt fed up with something? I did. With objects.
I appreciated all the presents that I received in the previous years. I still know who gave me the scarf I was wearing yesterday or each book, but I also know that the most valuable gifts received from them were non material. For instance I remember when a friend of mine gave me as a present The Help by Kathryn Stockett. This is a book that I devorished, and I watched the movie. But I have other memories with her that I value more, like the times when I was visiting her over the weekend. I was just beginning to live in Luxembourg and I was alone with all this time in my hands. She had a 28 square meters studio in Nancy, France and we were watching movies and talk and walk and when I was leaving was always a feeling of emptiness and loneliness again. All gifts from her were valuable, but those times are even more important to me.
And there are those few presents that I wanted to have and I couldn’t have. One time, someone promised me for my birthday the crystal unicorn figurine from his collection. But in between the promise and the time when he was suppose to bring me the unicorn, our friendship broke into pieces. Now you know what the unicorn on my bracelet represents.
I know I can’t help myself from buying presents and I do put a lot of heart and energy into finding the right one. But ultimately I would like to change that. And I’m working on it.
I would like to challenge this idea. Ok, birthdays are birthdays. We all benefit from time to time to have a special day. But Christmas… this should be about sharing and not presents.
My parents had a job in sales and the most busy time was December. Many years in a row I received from them a pyjama, bought from the store next to the place where they were working. Yes, it was sweet but the memories of all these pyjamas are in fact quite bitter. There was a lot of useless guilt on both sides of this gift: them for not being able to put a greater present under the tree and me for their effort that did not mean much to me. In fact, for a strange reason, I hate pyjamas, as I hate any set of closing. I don’t own any costume in my wardrobe. I only wore a skirt suit once for graduation and because my mother forced me to. And that was because the skirt was different from the jacket.
Anyways, coming back to the pyjamas. Strangely enough, I remember them all and in relation to my parents. The most vivid memories about those were about me being sick.
Back to presents. I really think that we could slow down on buying Christmas presents. Why can’t we just give up on one tradition and build other more meaningful? Why is it soo hard to give up on a thing that won’t matter anyway? Are we doomed to bury each other under objects? In stuff? Is happiness only about having things or cumulating mountains of plastic?
I remember the times when my grandmother was cleaning the storage house, an event that took place every two years in summer. In my family, you probably got it already, we love to entertain paradoxes. We had the house with the 5 rooms which was called “the house” and a small annexe – only one room where we were throwing all the useless shit, and that was called “the BIG house”. Once every two years the BIG house was put under reorganisation works. Did I mention that my grandparents lived most of their lives in the scarcity of communism so the number of objects they cumulated over the years is probably the tenth part of what a family would hold today in one year?
And then the show would start. Grandma was taking everything out from the big house into the sun and would make piles of what is to be given away, what is to be thrown and what is to be rearranged. And when she got the three equally big piles she would go for a nap and when she came back she would find my grandpa (also called “the collector”) who was shifting the last two piles back.
“Why are you throwing this dress away?”
“Because it’s eaten by moths.”
“It looks good to me”
“It doesn’t fit me since I had kids”
“Maybe the girls would wear it”
And when it wouldn’t work with the practical argument he would try an emotional one. Sometimes it worked if he would track back the touching memory of an object, but most of the time, the negotiations were tough and totally unpractical.
But grandpa didn’t like presents either. When he was asked what he would like for a present he would say: “Bring me that sweater that doesn’t fit you any more. I’ll wear it when I’ll feed the animals”. He never appreciated new things but each time he was receiving a good pair of worn shoes from my father his eyes sparkled.
For years I thought that he was just too attached to objects to let go, but towards the end of his life, when fear of death started to slip in, I understood that it had nothing to do with the stuff itself. It had to do with the memories of his life, pictures of his girls cheering up, joy and beauty that he once lived, and something else. Because here’s another element about this wise man: he was a craftsman. Nothing was ever lost, everything was transformed. Whatever was there in the piles, he saw a potential to use it. And it wasn’t the stuff itself he didn’t want to give up but the idea that one day in the future he will do something with it.
I wish I had the time and motivation to do like him, but the problem with the world today is that we have a lot more. We are in the middle of an excess crisis. We own too much and feel too little! We give with comfort and relief. We give to clean our conscience, we pay money for it. There is more love that goes into not giving than into this meaningless exchange of benefits: money against doing your duty in the tradition.
That being said, I would like to make a point for all those who feel guilty that they didn’t buy all their loved ones a gift for Christmas. Don’t feel! By all means, don’t feel guilty for not adding to the mountain of meaningless stuff under which we bury ourselves.
Do something else: write them a nice card, bring them to a show, a movie, cook something (only if you’re good at it) or simply spend time without fighting! Be kind! Think about not hurting someone! Give attention! Leave your phone aside for a day and go in the woods with them.
That’s what Christmas should be about: quality time, not stuff.