Hey, kids! And your parents! Want to enjoy Christmas in the style of a middle-class family living in the West Midlands in the 1980s? Then look no further: because here is my handy guide to How To Have A Mann Family Christmas. Follow these six easy steps and you'll be enjoying the kind of Christmas I did as a child...
1. Get your neighbour to write Father Christmas's letters to your children
This is because your children are highly intelligent, naturally, and so if you write the replies yourself, they will immediately recognise your handwriting and thus [SPOILER ALERT] realise that Father Christmas doesn't exist. They won't, however, recognise the handwriting of Keith Wilson who lives at number 20, so employ him to do the task instead. This ruse will keep your children fooled for years - mainly because they will have no reason to ever see Keith Wilson's handwriting at any point in their life - and you can reveal the secret when they're young adults, at which point they will be both impressed at the cleverness of what you did and crushed at the immediate and irrevocable shattering of their childhood beliefs. (Also, while we're at it: always remember that it's 'Father Christmas', not 'Santa Claus'. 'Santa Claus' is for common Americans who watch The A Team and Knight Rider.)
2. Work your way through the Radio Times with a biro, putting your initials next to all the TV shows and films you want to see over the Christmas period
Thus, if there is a clash, the show or film with the most initials next to it is the one that is watched. This little ritual teaches your children to understand democracy, fairness, and the fact that, ultimately, adults rule the roost, because if there's a tie, their choice will naturally be what everyone has to watch. It also teaches children that only grown-ups are interested in watching the Queen's speech, that the whole world loves The Snowman, and that The Sound Of Music will always win, no matter what it's up against. If you're a child and you put your initials next to those of your parent, choosing the same programme, it will also prove both a) your maturity and b) your natural affiliation with that parent, which your siblings resent. So choose wisely.
3. Don't waste money on expensive Christmas stockings - a pillowcase will do just as well
And before you go thinking that it's a little mean to use a simple cotton pillowcase instead of an Americanised Christmas stocking, let me tell you this: there's nothing drab about a Snoopy or Thelwell pillowcase! So just let your child choose their favourite pillowcase, and watch their eyes fill with delight when they wake up on Christmas morning to find it... well, not even a quarter-full, because pillowcases are quite large, after all. But don't be fooled into thinking that means you have to pack it with goodies. You don't. A few chocolates, a book, some felt-tip pens and an orange are more than enough to keep your precocious child happy. Especially if they like drawing on oranges.
4. On Christmas morning, employ a strict present-opening system
The suggested system being thus: Instruct the smallest child in the family to retrieve all the gifts from under the Christmas tree (note: this may result in injury and/or the child reappearing covered in pine needles) and hand them out to each family member. Once all the presents have been distributed, and each family member is sitting with a pile of them at their feet, the opening may commence.
Person 1 (usually the person with the most presents - there's always one) opens their first gift of choice, while everyone watches and remarks on it. The person to their left (person 2) then does the same, while everyone watches and remarks on it. And so on, clockwise around the family, until all the presents have been opened.
(Note 1: Some people will naturally finish before others; they are not allowed to leave the room or make a cup of tea, say, as they have to continue watching other people open their presents. Note 2: There will inevitably be some gifts which have lost their tags, and thus the intended recipient is unknown. Such presents must remain in the middle of the room until all other gifts have been opened and it can be guessed who they might possibly belong to and/or no one has a clue, in which case they are given to the person/s who finished early due to lack of presents (see Note 1).)
5. Give all your children the same gift
Naturally, all your children are different people with their own hopes, dreams and personalities. But that's all the more reason to create a sense of equality by buying them all the same gift. Such presents should be practical, however - a necessity in life which your child would never expect to be given as a gift, such as a toothbrush, disposable hankies or a multipack of soap bars. Do note, however, that this element of surprise will be mitigated somewhat by the employment of the present-opening system suggested in point 4, above, because as soon as one child has opened their toothbrush/disposable hankies/multipack of soap bars, it will become apparent to the other children exactly what that toothbrush/hankie/soap-shaped, giftwrapped present lying at their feet contains. They will still be filled with
a sense of inevitability joy, however, when they open it!
6. Don't give your children something they want, give them something that's good for them
Good parents notice what their children like - better parents notice what they like and buy them the exact opposite. For example: if your teenage daughter has a taste for monochrome clothing and accessories, buy her a multi-coloured scarf, saying "Well, I noticed you always wear grey, black and white, so I thought this would brighten things up." Or if your young pony-mad daughter has dropped hints about how much she'd love the Paint-By-Numbers Horses And Ponies set she's seen in Woolworth's, watch her delight as she unwraps a painting-by-numbers-shaped box on Christmas day, only to discover that it's a Paint-By-Numbers Canal Boats set which you have chosen instead "because it's more challenging".
Trust me: once your daughter has consoled herself with the fact that at least one of the canal boats is being pulled by a horse, she will be grateful for your wise decision, and in no way carry it with her for the rest of her life only to later write a blog post about the experience. No, siree. If you pardon the crass Americanism.