Week in Review

The true heroes of Christmas

As she has gotten older, Anna Rawhiti-Connell has realised the true hero of Christmas is not a weirdly white baby in a manger or a fat man with a beard, but women. 

I spent the better part of Sunday making an Advent calendar for our dog, Albie. This has already been perfectly described as ‘batty yet characterful’ by a friend and used several times in my own social media posts about it, so no further correspondence will be entered into on the matter.

As I sat in the study, listening to Amy Grant sing about Jesus, folding envelopes that were becoming increasingly irregular in size and shape, I began to wonder what the hell I was doing. ‘Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’ I said out loud. About dogs. So far, Albie’s response to my labour of love suggests they don’t.

I love Christmas. I always have. I made that calendar for our ungrateful dog because we don’t have kids and there’s a bit of Christmas magic that belongs exclusively to children. I am hopeful that by December 24, Albie will have at least learned that there is food in the envelopes and be excited for five seconds. I also did it because I want traditions for my family. I want to be blanketed in familiarity and I just want everyone to have a very good time at Christmas okay? It seems I also want to pick up a burden shouldered by my sisters for as long as Christmas has been code for ‘great expectations’.

Both my parents made Christmas special for my brothers and I. Dad would write notes from Santa. I’ve kept a few and they are treasured artefacts from a time when it was still acceptable for Santa to drink a can of Rheineck or three and drive his sleigh.

But it was Mum who made sure there was a green salad and a very specifically non-green salad for Christmas day. It was Mum who made sure everyone in our extended family got a thoughtful and handmade or home cooked gift each year. It was Mum who hand made an Advent calendar for us. Tiny emblems of Christmas, hand stitched and wrapped in tissue paper for us to unwrap and hang on the red-buttoned felt tree. Every year I would do a speech about how, as the eldest child and the only girl, I should always be allowed to unwrap the last one, an angel, for the top of the tree.

It was also Mum who made sure we got sunblock, a magazine, socks and a mini Mars bar in our stockings. When Mum abruptly halted that tradition last year, I was devastated. In hindsight I can see that it might be reasonable to expect your 39-year-old daughter to buy her own sunblock. I can also see that after spending two thirds of her life being the glue that held Christmas together for our family, she is entitled to a break from upholding tradition.

The veneer of Christmas starts to crack a bit when you realise it’s a burden for many, particularly for women. And sure, not all men and not all husbands and Dads, but in my experience and the experience of many of my friends and family in heteronormative relationships, women do a lot of the seen and the unseen Christmas labour. The negotiating, the pre-empting, the planning, the navigating, the soothing, the placating and the organising.

It’s called emotional labour and I have sent articles about it to female friends approximately 7,613 times this year. It’s the work that goes on in our heads and manifests at the mall when we buy an extra present or two in case thingee turns up and we can’t bear the thought of anyone feeling left out or unwelcome. It’s remembering who doesn’t drink anymore and who’s allergic to seafood and who is dating who. It is glue-gunning googly eyes onto felt snowmen at midnight. It is ensuring every kid has a bloody decoration just for them on the tree even if it’s a crime against your Christmas colour scheme. It is sending your adult sons in Melbourne their Christmas stockings. It is the mental braiding of fibre every year that weaves traditions strong enough, so they last for generations.

As I have gotten older, the true heroes of Christmas have been revealed to me. It’s not a weirdly white baby in a manger or a fat man with a beard, it’s women. If your Christmas is Christian, this obviously all started with Mary, the teenager, who didn’t get a lot of say in the whole ‘carrying of the son of God’ situation and then ended up giving birth with some sheep looking on.

As much as I love Christmas and obviously had supremely idyllic childhood experiences of it, looking back, I can now see just how much of that was about my mother. When she was my age, she had three children and lived an expensive plane ride or nightmarishly long car drive away from her own family. Because of where we lived, we spent most of our Christmases with Dad’s family. They were great but now, with my own in-laws, whom I love a lot and who are incredibly relaxed about where we spend Christmas, I can see how hard that would have been sometimes. And yet every year, she put us all in our Christmas outfits, got us in the car to church to sing carols so we could realise, that yes, we probably did still love each other and her, even though she said I couldn’t wear jeans to the birth of Baby Jesus Mass.

Maybe speaking my feminist Christmas truth will make some of you angry, but I’ve yet to receive a single text from a male friend or relative on Christmas Day that says, ‘I’m crying in the pantry’. I’ve had several of these from female friends and though I’m not sure my mother ever did this; I honestly wouldn’t have blamed her. Heavy is the burden of the person who not only wears the cloak but has spent her whole life lovingly crafting it.

However your Christmas shapes up and whatever your feelings are about my corrupting of Christmas for the cause of women everywhere, I wish you and yours a very good time okay? Complaints can be sent to Mr S. Claus c/o The North Pole. My inbox is open for missives from the pantry.

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