Christmas Is For Kids, But Family Comes First

15/12/2014 09:16 | Updated 20 May 2015

Children sitting in a car full of gifts CHRISTMAS! Make it stop! I know there's still more than a week to go until December 25, but I'm already a broken man.

Contrary to the mythology that men can't multi-task, in the past two weeks I've been on an evangelical blizzard of festive organisation, selecting and shopping, packing and wrapping, bowing and tying.

I've bought presents for my wife, our three kids, my dad, my brothers, my nephew, my nieces, my Godsons, our neighbours.

I've sourced and ordered the festive food from everywhere from independent butchers to supermarkets.

I've got RSI from writing so many Christmas cards (after spending hours trying to track down addresses – because I'm not actually that organised) and pine needle lacerations from dragging a giant Christmas tree into our tiny flat.

And then there's been the school commitments. Because my kids are aged 12, 10 and seven, they go to two different schools, which means two lots of Christmas plays to attend, two carol concerts, two school fairs to set up and serve at, not to mention three sets of teachers (and teaching assistants) to buy pressies for.

OK, I've had a bit a lot of help from my wife, but nevertheless, I'm knackered!

But it's going to get worse.

Far from being peace on earth, there will be no peace for the Housedad.

When I was but knee-high to a grasshopper's kneecap, Christmas was a simple affair involving three days of purely kid-based jolliness.

On Christmas Eve, me and my three brothers would be put to bed early.

On Christmas Day we'd wake up at 4am to catch Santa in the act of putting the presents on our individual chairs.

We'd play with our toys until Top of the Pops came on, then have Christmas dinner during the Queen's Speech. Then we'd all sit around the telly and watch The Great Escape, then flop into bed at 8-ish.

On Boxing Day, we'd venture outside to see what all our mates got for Christmas, then go back indoors for cold cuts and Morecambe & Wise.

We had no visitors and we visited no one.

Partly this was because our mum and dad worked so hard that we never saw them from one week to the next so Christmas really was a special time to spend together.

But it was mainly because their philosophy was that Christmas was for kids: a time for us to get what we'd asked Santa for (these were the days when children got presents just twice a year – Christmas and birthdays – not every other week for brushing their hair properly or getting eight right in the 10 times table) and to play with what Santa had brought us.

It wasn't a time for dutifully dragging us around relatives to order us to Sit Still and Behave Yourselves while they drank Snowballs with grandparents, aunts and uncles (who wouldn't have really wanted us there anyway).

But we were lucky – all our relatives lived literally a stone's throw away. We could see them any time we liked – any time except the three special days of Christmas.

All that has changed now.

Social and geographical mobility has sent family members hither and thither, across country, down dale, even overseas.

Divorce is more common, so children don't have just one set of parents to spend Christmas with (and receive presents from).

And so, for many of us, the Christmas period is a time for travel, not relaxation; for visiting, not solitude; for blended families and extended families.

In fact, according to recent research, the average Brit now goes to five Christmas celebrations over the holiday season.

The survey of more than 2,000 mums and dads, by TK Maxx, found that over Christmas, we'll:

• Attend five Christmas celebrations

• Travel Christ93 miles to make sure everyone is seen over the festive break

• Eat four Christmas dinners with all the trimmings as we spend time with those extended loved ones

• Fork out an average of £726.14 for up to 60 gifts for everyone we know (including the dog, apparently!)

But visiting relatives is THE priority: 88 per cent said their immediate family expect to see them over the Christmas holidays – and our family is part of that statistic.

Over the festive period, we travel around 1,000 miles visiting our children's grandparents (our parents), on roads that are jammed, with children who are bored and tetchy.

And on those long stretches of motorways, being hypnotised by the red rear lights of the car in front, I often wonder: "Why are we doing this?"

Because it wasn't like this when I was a kid.

But then 300 miles and six hours later, we pull into the cul-de-sac where our children's grandparents live and the front door opens, and two craggy, wrinkly faces crack into smiles so broad they light up the December sky. And our children's do the same.

And then travel fatigue and presents are forgotten in a huddle of cuddles.

Christmas is for children, yes. But family comes first.

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