At this time of year, I often while away the time spent in the serpentine queues before cash desks thinking about a story that appears in a Christmas reader for our students. Blithely ignoring the woman behind me, who's decided to remove the skin on my shins with her child's pushchair (no, really, misssus, shoving the vehicle in the back of my legs will not make the fifteen people before me magically disappear or even make them move faster), I think of the story of a teacher at an African school who explained the meaning of Christmas and how Christians celebrate - and how they give each other gifts in the Christmas season. Some time after, one of the children turned up at the school with a sea shell, which he presented to the teacher as a Christmas present. The teacher realised that the shell could have only come from the coast, several hours' walk away.
"You didn't have to go so far to get me a gift," the teacher said.
"Long walk part of gift!" the child replied.
This is my zen-mantra during the worst periods of Christmas shopping. While waiting in line for a free counter while the post office workers chat to each other beside the parcel depot, I grin brightly and think, "Long queue part of gift!" When poked in the legs by errant rolls of wrapping paper, I think "Weird bruises part of gift!" When I suppress the urge to smack the bottom of the wally that thought it would be a good idea to bring their red setter puppy on a last-minute Christmas shopping expedition at our city's crowded mall at 4 p.m. on the 21st December, I breathe deeply and think, "Great patience part of gift!" By the same token, when I hold the door open for someone and that person looks me in the face, smiles and says, "Danke schön!" I also think, "Small kindness part of gift!"
I hope the recipients of my clumsily-wrapped Christmas presents appreciate all the extra intangible bits and pieces that have been wrapped up inside them, along with the gifts themselves.
In any case, I am simultaneously disorganised (72 hours and counting down!) and breathtakingly organised at the same time. First of all - the organisation:
I decided to knit a couple of soap socks for the colleagues that I work most closely with, the ones I see every day. Five or six, I guesstimated. (Pause for laughter.) Twenty socks later, my apartment smells of Yardley's Rose and Lavender soaps, and I can only thank the heavens that my husband has been struck by the near-death experience of a mancold (= do watch this. It will be familiar to many of you), rendering him incapable of smelling anything.
I've also made some yarn-covered pens. This idea is from my sister Emily, who has been doing Trojan work on her blog, coming up with quick and easy gift ideas for every day of Advent. Really: if you're reading this post with cold sweat running down your back, your pulse racing at the thought of all the uncrafted and unbought gifts on your list, have a look at her blog here. The yarn pens are super cute and quick to make (mine are a lot less neat and a lot more woolly than hers).
The disorganisation? No decorations up. No tree bought. No presents wrapped. No washing done, no floors vacuumed, empty fridge. Oopsie.
And how did the soap socks go down at my school? Well, after the astonishment that I'd actually made them myself had died down, and after I'd explained what they were and that, no, you didn't have to actually use them, you could also stick them in your among your bed-linen or use them to scent your drawers, one of my colleagues did a quick tally of the soaps knitted and said, "How many did you make? Have you been knitting non-stop for the last week?"
More or less, I thought. Long knit part of gift!