Christmas – a global marketing feast!

If there is one holiday in the world that has a sweeping impact on everybody, it has to be Christmas. What unifying theme inherent to Christmas makes it one of, if not THE most awaited time of the year? This seems to be true regardless of race, social background, creed, or religion.

Is it the extravagent meals, the parties, or the family gatherings that make this holiday so special? Dare I say it just might be the outrageously priced presents and the spirit of giving and receiving that has created such a global buzz – in other words commercialism! Very, very clever marketing tactics. In fact, quite brilliant – just about everyone buys into it!

Whatever it is, no one can deny that Christmas is the most expensive holiday there is, and many are saying (quite rightly in my opinion) the true spirit of the season has been missing since retailers started to realize the money making opportunities Christmas can offer.

Food for thought – many have been complaining about how Christmas mutated into a crass, and wantonly commercialized yearly event way back in the late 1800’s. While it is untrue that the Victorians came up with this holiday, they are credited for having “invigorated” it. From what used to be a solemn family occasion, manufacturers, shop owners, and industrialists cottoned on to the fact that Christmas had the potential to be turned into a profit maker.

In the quest to drive profits higher, entrepreneurs found innovative ways to get the cash registers ringing well into the 21st century. Today we see Christmas decorations and hear holiday carols playing in the background since November, or in some cases even earlier – drives me nuts!

Let’s dive a little deeper into how it all started. Perhaps by doing so, we can understand how it’s got to this ridiculous point. At the turn of the 19th century, when shop windows start displaying hand-painted Christmas cards, it signaled the start of the holiday season. A great way to remind people to buy the Christmas cards for friends and family!

Christmas comes early in Selfridges’ Oxford Street store. Photograph Anthony DevlinPA
Christmas display at Selfridges, London. Photograph Anthony DevlinPA

Then there were the department stores who created a whole new Christmas tradition – obsessive and excessive shopping. Case in point, JP Robert of Stratford was the first to incorporate a Santa for the children to visit. It was the perfect marketing ploy! A mother would bring her child to the shop knowing it would be fun and exciting to the child. Similarly, Gordon Selfridge coined the phrase “only X shopping days left to Christmas,” and made sure his department store – Selfridge’s – was at its most glamorous to tempt shoppers to come to spend their money.

Even during the outbreak of World War II, although austerity measures dampened Christmas buying, it never came to a grinding halt. By the time rationing ended the British actually encouraged everyone to go on spending sprees.

It doesn’t take a historian or an economist to figure out that Christmas has been well and truly commercialized for a very long while. It is far worse today, with easy access to credit cards, online shopping, Boxing Day sales and so much more, all designed to part us from our money.

In my book, the true gifts at Christmas are the presence of loved ones, not the presents. Sure, gifts are nice, but they are not the be all and end all – unless you’re a small child and even then, they do not need to be madly expensive!Christmas 1

My most favourite memories are of the build up to Christmas Day. The tree used to be a live one that went up in time for my birthday (Dec 23rd), Mum would always make me a chocolate cake and that was the start of Christmas for us.

This year, for the first time in a very long time, I’ll have all my family here with me for Christmas, all us siblings, Mum, Dad, nieces and nephew.  There won’t be massively expensive presents, but there will be a whole lot of love and that’s what the true spirit of Christmas is to me.

Michelle

PS – I might just get a chocolate cake again as Mum will be here for my birthday 🙂

 

Thanksgiving is Thanks to a Woman!

Are you thinking: gee Michelle’s a bit behind the ball on this one – Thanksgiving has been and gone!

Indeed the date has passed; and I hope all my American friends and connections received my good wishes post on Dragon Sisters Facebook page?

In Australia and in many other cultures, we don’t have Thanksgiving Day per se. But like many of the American global cousins, when it comes around, I share in reflecting upon all the good in my life which I have to be thankful for. I’m not forgetting, Canadian Thanksgiving in October or the similar secular observances around the world.

You may not know but until Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863, each American state scheduled its own Thanksgiving date.

What I think is just fantastic is that he did this because of a 74 year old magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale. Ms Hale had been lobbying for 15 years(!) as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Until President Lincoln responded, she had been ignored by past Presidents. Her letter asked him to have the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.”

She explained, “You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.” (Source: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler et al.)

And that is how the last Thursday in November became American Thanksgiving Day.

Forgive me for crowing about girl power again – but there you have it: all thanks to one persistent lady!

Maybe my blog title today is a bit cheeky because, of course, Ms Hale can’t be credited for the existence of Thanksgiving, but wasn’t she an extraordinary woman?!

I found that little snippet about her very inspirational. I hope you do too.

Michelle

A Week in Yorkshire

My last blog post was from Malaga just before I headed to the UK. To Yorkshire to be precise, which is where my mother’s ancestral roots lie. I spent many a wonderful holiday in my youth with my grandparents in the picturesque village of Green Hammerton which lies midway between York and Harrogate. I also lived and worked in England both in York and London for a few years, but that was a long time ago, it’s been 14 years since my last visit.Spring Tuba The Ship_Aldborough Mailvan_Phoneb GH20150330_112141-1

It was a delightful week, which flew past all too fast, and although the weather was cold, I was in my brother’s flat which is beautifully heated so I was very cosy and warm. Before I hopped into bed each night the electric blanket made it all warm and toasty before I slipped between the sheets each night.

The coming of Spring is certainly a wonderful time of year to visit England, as daffodils gaily line roadsides and tubs filled with spring flowers added a splash of colour, so even though the air is cold, the outlook is bright.

I spent a very happy time catching up with friends and family, eating favourite foods, both at home and out at the little country pubs which are so unique to the UK. They have English pubs all over the world, but they are just not the same. There is a special atmosphere that oozes from the buildings, the stone floors, the wooden beams and furniture that echo with hundreds of years of history, these places existed long before Australia was even colonised.

I know people say that English cooking is terrible, but that’s not true. It depends on who does the cooking. I feasted on steak and kidney pie, chicken and mushroom pie, Whitby fish stuffed with spinach and prawns served with white wine sauce, roast pork with proper, homemade Bramley apple sauce and much more. In between meals I feasted on homemade shortbread, Wensleydale cheese, Jaffa cakes, Pontefract cakes and the odd piece of fruit for good measure. I’m not sure how much weight I stacked on but who cares!

I arrived back in Spain last night and am all set to start work again later today on what is the final term of the school year here.

Michelle

Ratatouille

LoveRatatouille. Those unfamiliar with the word may struggle with pronunciation and wonder what on earth it means. Several may think of the Disney movie where the main character is a rat. It would be logical to surmise that the word somehow has something to do with rats. Definitely not!

I love ratatouille. I adore the smell that tickles my nostrils and stimulates my taste buds as the simple, fresh ingredients, rich with colour bubble away slowly over a low flame. I savour the wonderful medley of flavour as the first mouthful hits my tongue whilst my memory banks simultaneously bring to mind thoughts of great friends and family members whenever I prepare this simple fare.

As I chop gorgeous red tomatoes I think of Uncle Gordon, a man of few words, but as kind and gentle a person as you could ever meet. Uncle Gordon was allergic to tomatoes so whenever I invited him to dinner, I had to be careful not to include it in any of my dishes. Susan, my very good friend, also springs to mind as, although not allergic, whenever we went to lunch would always order her salad with no tomatoes. Slicing up the zucchini, I think of Wayne, my son, whose aversion to them is so strong that he feels physically sick. Beautiful firm purple eggplants conjure up images of my father, standing in my kitchen in Darwin teaching me the recipe for eggplant and chilli bean which is absolutely delicious. Hot, spicy and a regular accompaniment to our curry feasts.

Food has a wonderful way of connecting us with memories. For me ratatouille represents family, friendship and love even though it’s not a dish we’ve all eaten together. Weird how our thoughts work!

Michelle

Ratatouille (noun) – a vegetable stew said to have originated in Provence, France

Homeward Countdown!

Today is my last day in Spain for 2014 and I’m just a little bit excited about heading home for Christmas. My little suitcase has nothing in it except for my swimsuit and presents as all my summer clothes are waiting for me in Darwin.

Alexa Van Buerle Vargas
My gorgeous niece Alexa Van Buerle Vargas

Last weekend I had the pleasure of catching up with my gorgeous niece Alexa in Seville where we went Christmas shopping and despite the awful weather had a great time together. It was fun to explore the shops and I stand by my earlier opinion that the season is not as commercialised as in Australia or the UK.

Yesterday the Academy where I teach English took all the staff out for a lovely tapas dinner. It was a great evening that, in typical Spanish style, saw us head to the restaurant just after 9.30 where we sampled a variety of yummy dishes and finished off the meal with a very decadent chocolate brownie, complete with thick chocolate and strawberry sauce, cream and ice-cream followed by a sort of port with which we toasted Merry Christmas. It was well after 1 pm before I got home.

Sasha and Jonathon - many Christmas's ago!
Sasha and her cousin Jonathon when they were much younger.

Christmas is the one time of year when I feel it’s so important to be with the family as without them it is just not the same. This Christmas will be extra special as I have seen Alexa, my brother Robert is in Australia and my cousin Michael also has the holidays off for the first time in years. Sasha has done all the shopping ready for us to start making the rum balls, mini-cheesecakes, cupcakes and all the other wonderfully fattening delights that we enjoy at this time of the year. Can’t wait to get home!

The journey from Spain to Australia is not exactly a simple one and will start at 6.30 am tomorrow morning when a lovely chap is driving me from where I live in Ecija to Cordoba (45 minutes away) to catch the AVE, a wonderful high speed train, to Madrid. From there it’ll be a dash to the airport and then onto Dubai, Singapore and finally Darwin arriving at 5.20 on Monday morning. It reminds me a bit of the trips I used to make when at Rishworth and heading home to Nairobi for Christmas except that Australia is little further away than Kenya.

Michelle

Delicious delights……Spanish style

On Saturday I had to go to two supermarkets. Why? Because I needed to stock up on Earl Grey tea bags which are only sold (as far as I have discovered) at the one supermarket right across town – 20 min walk each way but hey, there’s lots to see along the way so it’s no chore. For the record the Earl Grey tea bags are more expensive than wine!

It was then onto my local supermarket (5 mins from home), for the heavy stuff (wine!), where I discovered a wonderful counter has popped up. It’s like an old fashioned lolly shop, full of a massive variety of individually wrapped little treats. It’s not self-service, so you don’t just grab what you want (even if it is the supermarket!), rather there is a very charming lady behind the counter who notices me looking. I tell her in my very poor Spanish that I have no idea what this stuff is.

2014-11-22 19.37.22_resizedShe asks me if I’m French – why does everyone do that, do I speak Spanish with a French accent? Then she explains they are all varieties of shortbread – yep, I learnt that word last week, so thankfully was able to understand. There are about 40 different varieties so I am stumped! However, this is a properly trained saleswoman who immediately sees an opportunity and suggests a small selection to begin with. I agree. Yes, once I’ve tasted, I can come back for what I like. I have absolutely no idea what she’s sold me except I also got the word almonds and wine. Yes, I like them both. Hasta luego and off I go clutching my twelve individual little pieces that cost me a grand total of E2.00 – so cheap that it doesn’t matter if I don’t like them.

Back home, shopping is unpacked, wine in the fridge and time for a cup of (very expensive) tea as far too early for wine. Ohhh…… mmmm, it is soooooo yummy. Yep I have found something new, delicious and I am sure totally fat free – (not!) to indulge in. My favourite is Rosco de Vino made with cloves, cinnamon, aniseed, sesame seeds, red wine, four and butter and dusted with icing sugar – reminds me of some of the delicious Arab style cookies. How will I resist eating too many? Just as well I walk everywhere!

Michelle