Poor Santa. Either children everywhere have been swapping Sherry for Red Bull or Rudolph's been eating supercarrots, but it seems to me that this year Santa delivered more plastic objects than a Shanghai factory with a power surge.
To put this into perspective, on Christmas eve at my sister's, who took over Christmas hosting after she became a mum of two and moved to idyllic Cotswold countryside, we laid out everyone's presents and perfected the Santa snow footprint (note: there are better things to use for this than icing sugar).
As I'm neatly arranging gold ribbon and trying to remember who's is who's after all the labels have fallen off, I'm told we have to hide the 'adult presents' behind the sofa. That way, when my niece and nephew (2 and 4) come downstairs they will see only their own colourful mounds of parcels. "Santa doesn't deliver to adults," I am reminded, for which I am very grateful. Being child free, I do get absent minded about what Santa does and doesn't do these days.
It's tradition in our family to open presents before breakfast in pyjamas with champagne. But now that there are minors in the mix, adult opening is banned until after they've opened theirs. Presumably we may be too distracted to make the right oohs and ahhhs. Of course, I don't mind this new routine. No really I don't.
Still behind the sofa, handling the adult presents, I'm handed a few extra ones for the children. "We should hold some back," I am told. "In case they get upset when their pile is gone."
I'm not a parent so perhaps this is naive, but it's difficult to see how a two and four year-old could possibly get through a tower of gifts each that could dwarf The Shard before the Boxing Day buffet, let alone exhaust the entertainment value of all their contents enough to justify a tantrum.
I've nothing against the commercialisation of Christmas. The economical boost benefits us all. Yes I know, it originated from religion. But only 30% of Britons now go to church regularly yet the majority celebrate Christmas, so clearly it isn't about religion anymore. The ceremony of Christmas has evolved and it now symbolises family reunion, keeping the high street alive, exercising your credit limit and getting drunk at your office party. It just does.
But what does make me squirm is the child-centric indulgence - the surplus-to-need excess of talking toys and gadgets and bear-ified TV characters. The piles on piles on piles of packaged stuff. Some of them duplicates. (you have to have a lot of presents to make it statistically probable to get a duplicate!).
This month in her new book, What's Next? What to Expect in 2013, Marian Salzman, who's been hailed one of the most insightful trend-spotters, predicts that we will declutter and downsize and turn towards frugality.
I didn't see a seedling of that trend this year. What with toy guitars, fisher price kitchens, skalectrics, Wiis and more DVDs that I've watched in a lifetime, I worry that by the time my niece and nephew are eight, there will be nothing else to buy. But then I'm an auntie, not a parent, and what would I know about the spectrum of the toy market?
Most presents are heartfelt of course. I love hearing the squeal of delight when my nephew opens a giant size model of Holly Shiftwell - the last one to complete the set of Cars2 characters. But some presents, I suspect, are given for the sake of it. They are more about ostentatious adult brownie-point-scoring than because your friend really feels that a pink talking pelican is perfect for your four-year-old.
When did we become so child worshipping? My friends who are parents don't care so much for buying presents for each other, but buy presents for each other's children instead. More bright plastic objects that will get thrown in a corner, lost or outgrown within months. When I visit people with children, I feel more of a sense of obligation to turn up with a teddy than to bring a good bottle of something. Talk about skewed priorities.
I'm no Christmas humbug. The reason Christmas is still so magical for me is because of all those excited childhood memories of the sight of an over-spilling stocking by the bed and an even bigger pile downstairs. But that memory was imprinted when I was old enough to have learned appreciation. In fact Santa gratitude was drummed into me so deeply that I felt compelled to wear, use and eat everything I was given even if it was hideous. I wore many an uncool jumper, just because it felt vulgar to leave it in my wardrobe unused. I hated it if something didn't fit - not because I was a gift down - but because I couldn't stand the guilt that a relative's efforts may have been wasted.
Perhaps parents are programmed differently. Perhaps maternal love makes us turn a blind eye to indulgent waste. But from the perspective of a childfree but adoring auntie, there is something uncomfortable in a consumer culture which starts in the cradle. I'd be interested to hear from parents and non-parents to see if this is just a perception thing or whether Santa really does work harder for generation Z than any other.
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