I've just seen an ad for Littlewoods, or 'copses' as they should be known.
It's your usual fare. Loads of cute kids on stage at a school and the proud parents beaming from the fold-up chairs below. It's not a nativity of course, god forbid. It's a singing tribute to how wonderful mums are. Nice? Well not really no, because the song- and there's even a rap in there to keep it 'street', is all about how mum is wonderful for buying just about every consumer electrical gizmo you could imagine that doesn't begin with an 'i'.
'Grandad' gets a laptop, even though I'm sure he'd find more use for a lap dance. There's an HTC Android phone as well as a digital camera for some random uncle. The first kid proudly holds up his X-Box Kinect unit like it's the 'fragrances that are also useful in scrabble' shop's entire stock of Myrrh.
The add stops short of having Santa flying overhead trailing a banner from his sleigh that reads, "MONEY = LOVE, don't forget kids!" But that mantra is sewn, inextricably, into the underpants of every precious, seasonal second.
I'm not against Christmas, contrary to the view of the parent of a child that approached me once and asked if I was Santa's sister because his mum has said I was 'Aunty Christmas.' I love Christmas. I come over all Jimmy Stewart as soon as Summer's over and I can't hear the opening bars of 'Silent Night' without bursting into tears and wanting to join the Sally Army. I just hate this unnecessary and inexplicable extortion every year.
I don't have kids, and I'm sure some of you are thinking, "If your wife's as tight as you are, you never will!" But my sister does. My sister is a single mum with two sons. The eldest is 22 now so his festive focus has fully relocated from under the tree to under the table but his kid brother is 14. Old enough to want everything but too young to care what it costs.
When his mates are all tweeting photos of their new PS3 on their new ipads and running round to his house in their new trainers to make sure he got it because he hasn't 'RT'd' yet, he's going to hide his market versions- the 'JPhone' and the 'Games Centre Play Console- with 7 game cartridges included!' And look at my poor sister like she's picking the last of Santa's gonads from between her teeth just because she couldn't get herself into deep enough debt to avoid the emotional scarring a shit present can have on a teenager.
He won't really because he's a good kid. He'll do what I used to do and pretend it's just as good as the thing you really wanted then find a way to hide it long enough to casually mention you played with it so much it broke, and suffering the inevitable comeback, "That doesn't just apply to toys you know!"
I still remember desperately faking happiness when the 'Evil Knievel action figure' I'd asked for turned out to be a small plastic 'figure-on-bike' with a big glued seam running down the middle that you revved up and watched career in a short curve into the nearest skirting board. Not to mention picking the stitching from the fourth stripe on my 'same as Adidas' trainers before I got to school only to be told by my jeering fellow students, as I knelt down for assembly, that they had different coloured soles- not from genuine Adidas trainers but from each other.
That was nearly 30 years ago. The pressure's ten times worse now.
Mark Twain said, "The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." I agree with the first part, although the day I heard my mum say, "by the time I realised it wasn't wind it was too late," doesn't even make my top 100, but you get my point. Presents on birthdays make sense! Let's just do that shall we?
Here's what I think we should do: Everyone, at the same time, stand up and say, "There won't be any presents this Christmas." Then enjoy a huge sigh of relief and start, for the first time in a long time, to really look forward to the holidays.
It's important that everyone does it at the same time and sticks to it, which will be hard to organize and even harder to check, and there will be mass disappointment for every child in England but it will pass when they all realize they're in the same boat and they're not missing out.
Now imagine the Christmases that will follow. Everyone can just work until the holidays start and then enjoy time with their friends and families. Boyfriends and husbands won't have to reduce themselves to asking the teenage assistant behind the perfume counter for suggestions because they've forgotten what their wife's favourite is called and EVERYTHING just smells of perfume!
It can feel like a real holiday for a change and, once it's all over, there won't be a national depression as everyone spends January skint, cold and about as festive as Scrooge's warts. Better still, single parents or families that have little or no income won't have to worry that their kids will hate them and/or get bullied at school. Loan sharks, feeding on the poor and vulnerable in in the less affluent areas of the country, will have to find other ways to 'help people out till pay day'.
A weight of unnecessary obligation would be lifted from everyone and we would all be no less festive for it.
As for Christmas morning? Imagine getting up (whenever you like- you're on holiday remember) and strolling downstairs to greet your family with a hearty breakfast and a mulled wine and hugs all round. Elders can talk to youngsters while the crisp winter morning air draws the first flame from the Yule log. Christians can take a moment for silent reflection while the rest of us slap a bit of Slade on and work up an appetite for the largest and best meal of the year. Happy in the knowledge that it's cost you no more than all the good will and genuine Christmas cheer you can muster.
Sounds great to me.
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