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Have We Lost the Spirit of Christmas?

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When I was a kid Christmas magic came from the simplest things.

Turkey roasting in the oven, bread sauce bubbling on the stove, clementines in your stocking, crooners on the record player and the presents nestling in the tree from the tree fairies (my mum's invention) that promised so much.

I used to like the wrapped presents more than what was inside. I used to smuggle some into my room and keep them there until Easter. I just wanted to look at them, imagine what was inside and keep the spirit going.

We had modest but lovely gifts. Of course the odd Barbie, but games, dressing up outfits, art sets and pottery kits. To play, to make things, to let our imagination fly.

This may start to sound like my recent blog about our virtual world, but Christmas doesn't seem as simple or as special these days.

The obsession with material goods has made Santa's job more than overwhelming. iPads, Wii, XBox, BlackBerry for teens. Nintendo DS 3D for the little ones.

I have heard friends' kids talk about presents in terms of how much their parents will spend. Five means 500 big ones these days, not 50.

Everything is ready made. Marks and Spencers' ready made finger food. Christmas trees sprayed with ready made snow. Even ready prepared Turkey dinners.

Good old Delia Smith has tried to pass down the cooking message, with her Christmas Cake Kit all weighed out and ready to cook. But it's all too easy to bung it all in the microwave.

Whether you're religious or not, whether you believe in Jesus or not, the Christmas spirit is simply good for you. The family gets together to laugh share and love once a year. You eat wholesome festive food, nibble rich delicacies and let your hair down after a Drambuie or two.

For many children Christmas is a dream come true. A fantastical icy toy realm in some far, far away place. But the Father Christmas story comes to an end all too soon. I remember finding out in early teens (I refused to listen to my cynical school friends) when my mum tripped over something in my room, stubbed her toe and woke me up swearing.

We get so quickly conditioned to lose our fairylike imagination and only believe in what's real, here and now. We all need to go back to dreaming of things like the Snowman - it's what geniuses like Pixar and Apple do.

The saddest part is that Christmas often causes family strife, not joy. Arguments over which parents to go to and then couples row because they can't please anyone. Worse still divorced couples who find themselves alone for the first time on Christmas day and their children missing the other parent. Worst of all is grieving for the one that used to be there but isn't any more.

We all have to deal with that stuff as we get older, as the pixie dust of our childhood starts to disappear.

My ex-husband didn't like Christmas. Rather than making merry with his family he preferred to go for a two hour run during lunchtime on Christmas day.

Then two years ago my dad died on 18 December and was cremated on Christmas Eve.

The festive build up was anything but. It just pointed to the inevitable that my dad would be gone by Christmas day. He really loved Christmas - which made it all the harder. His eyes bright with excitement as we unwrapped presents and humming along to Joy to the World as he decanted the wine for our lunch.

Rather than be maudlin, I owe it to his memory to love every bit of Christmas.

I now have a huge French family that does the big old Reveillon number - oyster foie gras seafood galore - the table ends up looking like a mini bistrot.

Then my English family with my mother's second-to-none Turkey and all the trimmings and Hark The Herald belting out from Radio 4. And my Greek family who celebrate on 31 December, with so much hysteria as GiaGia chomps her way through mezzes, then fish, then lamb, then the sweetest deserts then chocolates.

Christmas these days is too much about what you don't have, or about having to do things you don't want to do. In one of my all time fave films, Elf, people stop believing in Christmas and the spirit dies.

That's just too bad.

Isn't it time to stop being all "bah humbug", open our hearts and homes to people we love and enjoy the moment? That moment is all too soon gone - and sometimes the people who are there also.

My last Christmas with my dad was wonderful - but had I known it was his last with us I would have moved heaven and earth for him.

Happy holiday to you all.

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