My last article of 2015 for the Loch a Tuath News!
Each of our days lasts twenty-four hours. Each week is seven days. Each year is fifty-two weeks. And still, regardless of these facts, it seems every Christmas comes upon us quicker than it did the year before. I’ve often wondered why this is the case. The most obvious reason I could think of is that living so far away now means that my fellow expats and I need to plan as early as possible for a trip home. It’s not unusual for us to start organising our holiday plans as early as July. To leave it to the last minute is to feel the harsh sting of FlyBe’s wrath on our bank account, leaving us to a month of eating leftovers and wondering whether our money would have been better spent on a flight to New York.
But once the travel plans are in order, then comes the next great challenge: gift shopping. I know some see this as the greatest burden of the holiday season and so I warily admit that I love buying presents. I find the process of spending time figuring out what someone might want or like, wrapping them up in festive paper and huge oversized ribbons and bows is an oddly therapeutic task. The problem with buying presents often comes when the gift itself becomes the focus and not the intention with which they are given. Last year YouGov said that British people spent, on average, £821 on Christmas. £604 of that was on gifts. And in a pressurised economic climate, where many families struggle with day to day living costs, it is easy to understand why more and more people see both the financial and sentimental benefits in creating their own homemade gifts.
This was something I found out when Carol (who often appears in these stories with me) and I recently attended a modern calligraphy workshop at Cushion & Cake, a café in Glasgow’s West End. We spent an evening drinking tea, eating Victoria sponge and being taught some basic hand lettering techniques at the sold out event. We had actually visited this particular café before to attend a bunting workshop and were told that almost all their events sell out quickly. Apparently, people have a real desire to eschew the commerciality of gift giving in order to present their loved ones with hand crafted pieces of art. Even in the islands the craze of crafting has had a huge renaissance. There are all sorts of classes and workshops where people can learn how to do everything from personalising lampshades to making Harris Tweed bags to icing cupcakes. My mother even reported that you no longer have to even leave the district to get your chance to flex your skills – having recently attended a highly enjoyable crafty workshop at The White House in Back.
What strikes as most ironic about this latest trend is that the skills we all have to learn from scratch and pay to learn about were once part and parcel of island life. Not many people my age can say their dad can knit, for example. And my Seanair was one of those skilled men who made Harris Tweed for a living. My uncle made me a rug for my house a couple of years ago. A rug! And yet, I feel deserving of a Brownie badge when I manage to sow a button back onto a blouse. There are so many fantastic skills woven throughout our history. Sadly, many of them have faded into the distance with time and new fashions and our 21st century fast-paced lifestyle. There’s never enough time to stop, sit and create something lovely from scratch. Time passes so quickly. Before we know it, it’ll be Boxing Day and then Hogmanay. And Easter and Summer and Halloween. And then Christmas again. Time passes quickly and it’s one of the few things money can’t buy. We have to decide how we will spend each of the precious minutes we are given. That is why some of the most meaningful gifts I’ve received have cost nothing or very little. The very fact that the giver chose to use their most valuable time to show they care has always been worth more than anything money can buy. Which is why this wonderful upsurge in crafting and present-making proves that, despite what the holiday naysayers and the bright green Grinch’s say, Christmas can still be the most magical time of year!
You can see more some of what The White House has to offer over on their Facebook page here