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The festive season has its upsides. Morning drinking. Eating as a competitive sport. Having the threat of Santa to moderate your child's worst impulses. But I want to talk about the worst of Christmas. Right now, there are middle-aged women up and down the nation groaning inwardly at the very thought. Cleaning the house so hordes of ungrateful relatives can eat in minutes things that took weeks to prepare. Buying everyone's present for everyone, including, very often, yourself. Arguing about politics with your extended family who are plainly wrong, and are in all likelihood actual idiots.
For me, though, the very worst part of Christmas is the shopping slash gifting that starts with a hate-filled temper tantrum through the closest shopping mall before everything closes on Christmas Eve. Grabby shoving, accompanied by a child wailing to the soundtrack of Best of Christmas! Vol 3 that the mall's assistant manager put on in October and will take off in February, with my husband mindlessly singing under his breath the word "parampapumpum" over and over again.
The worst part about despising shopping is the rest of your family hating it too. Before my brothers got wives, their Christmas gifts were legendarily terrible in their tight-fisted thoughtlessness. Historical romances with a $2.99 sticker firmly affixed to the front, things they found for free, and one memorable year three 20 cent aniseed wheels from the local dairy still in their white paper bag.
When my most miserly brother got married, the rest of the family was overjoyed. Before that he would buy things that clearly cost 2, when our limit was $50. Sometimes you could give them away to children (because all children are famously attracted to rubbish, like small wingless magpies vying for animal-print polyester and neon coloured plastic), otherwise you would just bin it directly. When Katie came on the scene things improved immeasurably.
I hate shopping so much that one year I changed my name because it seemed easier than going to the mall. I was getting mid-Decemberish, I still didn't have anything and was working quite a lot, when I came on it. The perfect present. Something that cost me virtually nothing, took 10 minutes sitting at VTNZ to change my driver's licence over, and yet looked like a touching and thoughtful gift. I didn't even need to go into town! Sure, it did mean sacrificing my long-held feminist ideals about partnership not meaning ownership, and joining a group of women I had always felt slightly superior to, but whatever. At least I wasn't being "ho-ho-ho'ed" to by some d***head in a beard.
This year though I have been working at Otago Museum. The down side of this is that I am surrounded by people whom I am too stupid to have a proper conversation with, who like talking about things I am too stupid to understand. Anthropology. Archaeology. Astronomy. I stand staring dully into the middle distance as people talk animatedly a lot. I have, however, just discovered the upside of working here: the capacity to never have to go to the actual shops for Christmas shopping.
Everyone who is not getting booze is getting something from the Museum Shop. The nice quiet, non-am-radio-station-Christmas-playlist playing Museum Shop.
Mother: merino something. Sister-in-law: zero waste something. Nieces: programmable robot, crystal growing set, picture books on feminism to annoy my brother. Good brother: a hat with an inbuilt light. Bad brother: something for his house that I know my sister-in-law will like.
And then it will all be over. I will relax into the rest of my December without the looming shadow of yuletide-mall-music and a hundred other exasperated middle-aged ladies.
From here it's an easy slide down to the real meaning of Christmas: a 48-hour extravaganza of gluttony, annual leave and watching small children fizz with happiness as you validate their unfurling belief in magic.