Christmas cheer…

Christmas beer ≠ Christmas cheer?

I carried out a long-standing tradition and left out beers for “the garbos” (rubbish collectors) for Christmas with a card thanking them and wishing them a Merry Christmas.  Done at the last collection prior to Christmas, that was what my mum did and what we do (and my son loves to get up early and see if they collect them as he worries they may think it is garbage or a passer-by may snaffle them).

Along with cards and chocolates for the postie and more beers plus cards for any tradies doing work in the final pre-Christmas period this has been a nice tradition for decades.

Someone (OK it was my mother-in-law) told me that providing early morning alcohol with good wishes to a bunch of (usually) burly blokes is irresponsible and could be seen to legitimitise drinking on the job and, if enough people provided it, make for dangerous and possibly violent outcomes by the end of the shift, possibly even leading to family violence too. Sheesh.

I know that at workplaces the Kris Kringle/Secret Santa has been rightly given firm guidelines to ensure it doesn’t turn into a nasty, offensive or innuendo-laden event causing discomfort to some staff, for which in previous times it has occasionally been misused.  With Christmas card exchange we suggest our son pick out cards with words about love, kindness, sharing and celebration and avoid the heavily Christian ones for his Muslim friends (and for other non-Christian friends).  The recipients have always been glad to receive them and have told me they treat this as a family time and are quite unoffended by any part of the season.

I wonder, if you were a garbage-collector and could not have beer for religious, medical or just plain taste reasons and perhaps did not celebrate Christmas at all, would you be offended by a card and beers or would you see it as a gesture of friendship and thanks albeit using a perhaps outmoded and offensive stereotype of “garbos” as burly mates who love a bevy?

At work (I have a few workplaces) I sometimes receive wine, chocolate and flowers at Christmas-time from clients and students and this does not violate the usual “no gift” rule as it is a one-off, under $20 in value and not done in expectation of any “return” other than Christmas wishes.

I don’t like to refrain from giving certain gifts because of possible offense.

However I also don’t want to contribute to someone being hurt by word or deed because an unexpected free drink gave them a sense of endorsement to go ahead and drink and be violent.  I don’t want to offend non-Christians, people who don’t or can’t drink or perpetuate stereotypes that could shut women out of a job-role or people of varying backgrounds.

Nor do I want to be a Grinch.

Is it time for me to think of a new gift and tweak an old tradition so that it lives on in the 21st century in the spirit it was intended?


Karen Squire-Ryan