Littlewoods have caused quite the festive fuss with their 2011 Christmas ad campaign thanks to a television commercial which stands accused of shattering childhood belief in Santa Claus.
The ad in question features a school nativity play wherein a cast of gloriously capitalism-friendly kids crow about how their mothers have bought ridiculously extravagant presents for their nearest and dearest for Christmas.
Outrage ensued despite the fact the ad never actually namechecks Santa - how dare Littlewoods spoil the magic of Christmas by introducing a touch of cynical realism to all the nose-pressed-up-against-the-snowy-window make believe of the festive season.
But really, wouldn't we all be a bit better off if we stopped deploying the magical Mr Claus on an annual basis and gently impressed upon our children the value of what they're given?
Santa is undeniably cool. He's able to travel the whole world in a single night, bringing you everything you've asked for - so long as you've been vaguely well behaved - plus he's got a whole herd of magical reindeer who can fly.
He's also a jerk.
His magical status leads to children confidently asserting that of course they will receive all their hearts' most materialistic desires because he's magic and that's just what he does. This in turn leads to the parental dilemma of how to either moderate their expectations without giving the game away or how to meet them without having to take on a new job or remortgage the house.
Perhaps, instead of imagining that our children are better off attributing their lovely presents and Christmassy good fortunes to Father Christmas, it would be better to relegate him to playing second fiddle so that children can appreciate not just the effort their loved ones have put into the day but also understand why Santa gave the rich kid next door an Xbox while they unwrapped a slightly battered looking Etch-a-Sketch.
I'm by no means standing up for Littlewoods - it's a horrible advert. Why is mum seemingly incapable of buying personally meaningful gifts? It's like she's had a massive panic attack in the middle of the tech section and just thrown a basket full of high priced nonsense at the cashier. She's actually in a hellish downward spiral of low self esteem, thinking she can win back her family's affection by working overtime and throwing her pay packet (as well as a heap of buy-now-pay-later credit) at every special occasion that comes her way. She probably bought a gold-plated pumpkin for Halloween.
And, while we're picking holes in the ad, why is everyone getting their gifts early? And what's dad been up to while mum's been off shopping? And when did primary schools start allowing large corporations to sponsor their dreadful Christmas productions? And why is no-one complaining about that dreadful John Lewis advert?
But ultimately the kneejerk response to the Littlewoods ad suggests that the key to happiness at Christmas is to keep children believing unconditionally in Santa for as long as possible. When you think about it like that, the campaign to stop the ad makes just as many assumptions about what makes your children happy at Christmas as the ad itself.
If we allow parents to take some of the credit too (maybe just a single present from Santa) perhaps our children will grow up with a better understanding of the value of what they receive rather than believing that Santa's magic is a boundless gift hall.
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