SUE JACKSON Therapist | Writer | Photographer | Activist

An avid blogger for the last fifteen years, I believe in the power of the word to change the world. I have participated in, and reported on, a range of protests during this period, including the successful East-West Link campaign and, more recently, our wonderful, home-grown Extinction Rebellion (XR). If you believe, like I do, that it is time for ordinary people to rise up in defence of the planet, I encourage you to explore this blog, share it with your networks, and – of course – take action.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Bad Santa: Handmade Christmas

'Although we found it to be an interesting read, unfortunately it is not quite right for publication in The Big Issue.'  As you can no doubt see, our veteran, lovingly hand-varnished Christmas tree bird was decidedly underwhelmed by this response to 'Bad Santa' (below). I'd love to hear your reaction!

I can remember the exact day Claribel arrived. It was a full two weeks before Christmas. Our ‘rich’ aunt in New Jersey, who knew exactly how much real American presents meant to her ‘poor’ Australian relations, always sent them early. When my younger sister, the lucky recipient, finally passed Claribel to me for a hold on Christmas morning I too was instantly smitten.
Claribel had creamy dappled fur, real eye lashes that lifted and lowered over her soft brown eyes, and a huge rubber udder with prominent teats. And best of all, each time her tail was lifted, she emitted the most doleful ‘moo’. Young city dwellers that we were, we just loved that cow. So much so that many years later, after noticing the perforations on her rubber udder, the bald patches on her fur and the fixed stare of her lash-less eyes, our mother took the unilateral decision to throw Claribel out, my sister and I were distraught. So I know all about the joys of mass-produced toys. And like everyone else back in the day, I was oblivious to the layers of wrapping paper, bubble wrap and cardboard that Claribel arrived in, the ‘toy miles’ she represented, the rubber and plastic she was made from, or the fact that her eventual permanent home would be in land fill. It has taken a long time for me to appreciate it, but our beloved cow could have been the poster child for Bad Santa.  
But times have changed. For one thing we no longer have rich relatives, American or otherwise. And these days, as adults, we are more likely to spot Bad Santa and avoid him where we can, especially where gift giving is concerned. So much so that one Christmas a few years ago our family decided to go cold turkey - make our own presents, re-gift or recycle them or buy them from poor third-world communities.
Emboldened by a big gift success the previous Christmas, I was one of the advocates for this change. I had donated money via Oxfam on behalf of my brother-in-law for construction of a toilet for villagers in a remote region of India. Having trekked in the area and being a plumber by trade, he said that it was the best Christmas present he had ever received.
So I was very cocky as the inauguration of our changed family Christmas gift regimen approached. A true zealot, with no concern for potential pitfalls, I decided to source all my presents from Oxfam. However, that confidence proved short-lived. My first mistake was presenting my 3-year-old great niece with the gift of a chicken for a child in India. Despite repeated explanations that there was no ‘actual’ chicken on site, this precipitated a lengthy disconsolate search of our back garden, culminating in an hysterical reaction to the poultry centrepiece at lunch - and that was just from the mother.
Then another of my favourite choices unravelled. I had bought my adolescent daughter a padded fabric jewellery roll made in Thailand. Initially a dead silence greeted the item’s emergence from its wrapping paper. What was it? Ignoring her elder brothers’ jibes of ‘mouse’s coffin’ and worse, my daughter smiled bravely as she gingerly untied the wrap’s ribbons. But as she lifted it up for general inspection, out flopped the long flaccid ring holder within, mortifying her and giving her brothers the biggest laugh of the day.
Following these experiences the group consensus was that the children in particular needed to be cut some slack. We decided that descendents of Claribel and her like could occasionally be offered a home, especially when they were second-hand or liberated from an op shop. We also officially welcomed parents’ gift suggestions for their children – although so far, sadly, no one has requested a jewellery roll. But I am a big fan of this year’s suggestion that non-parent adults give the child an IOU for an outing or activity (of any price or free) to be shared with them during the coming year.
As for the adults, our ‘reuse/handmade’ Kris Kringle (with its pact of no requirement for virtuosity of manufacture) is working well, coupled as it is with a donation to an organisation of choice. 
This year's KK 'in progress'

Personally I have greatly enjoyed this transition to handmade. I tend to opt for a theme, last year’s being succulents planted in a variety of pretty or zany objects. And I look forward to the day when a relative gets hooked on making ancient tools, because I really fancy the prospect of a bow and arrows awaiting me under the Christmas tree. Despite those lovely limpid eyes and the plaintive ‘moo’, I feel I have finally left Bad Santa and his dear poster child far behind.

Wreath - handmade of course!