Christmas Presence, Not Presents

18/12/2015 14:00 GMT | Updated 14/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Having two small children I am acutely aware of how marketing affects young minds. My daughter, now almost three years of age, is turned on by any packaging with bright colours such that she will even grab items off the shelf, that are actually of no use to a small child such as a box of scouring pads or Darjeeling tea. She will insist that she have these items merely because of the appeal the colours have drawn from her.

Now that Christmas is nearing, my daughter is beginning to understand that there is something different about this time of year. It is a festivity that our family has simply undertaken in a different way. I am teaching my children about this secularised Christian holiday and trying to impress upon them that this time of year ought to be about presence and not presents. Coming from a Hindu-Christian family, I was always turned off by the avalanche of gifts upon children who really just want to have their parents' attention, the attendance of their parents at their school events, the communal watching of a schlocky Christmas film, or just the sitting down at a meal together without their parents being on their mobiles for work texts.

I have already informed our closest friends not to give gifts at Christmas emphasising that we need to focus on giving our presence, our time and energies to make plans and share a meal, rather than buying items that none of us really do not need or want. I add that although my children can potentially become the ideal objects of any marketing campaigns, I preferred to keep my children free of this push to monetise an event because the weather turns chilly and people are taking time from work. Some friends have responded, "But not even a little gift for your children?" to which I remind them that books are welcome any time of year. I do my best to explain to my friends that while I cannot change the fact of capitalism, that I wish for my children's childhoods to be as far removed from these pressures as possible. Other friends have over the years told me that they took my advice and tried Christmas without gifts, adding that it was the first time they felt relaxed at Christmas without the pressure to cave into social pressure to hit the high street. In short, I want my children to understand this syncretic holiday without the need to monetise it or for themselves or to become the pretext for chipper advert music or happy spirits of complete strangers (and how does the talking snowman fit in?).

Undeniably the pressures are there--the lights and decorations on Oxford and Regent Streets force the individual to look up and feel the emotionalised charge of these aesthetics which border on kitsch. The decorations outside Selfridges and the offers of discounts are enough to drive even Richard Dawkins to a nativity scene in the search for a 50% off men's dress shirts. But faux, gigantic snowflakes will never get old it would seem and my daughter points to these decorations asking for an explanation. Like China's Santa Claus which plays a saxophone which left me unable to explain to her last year, I am equally unable to fully explain the link between a god, his son born to a virgin and the tie-in to a fat man dressed in red fur with elves. The entire description of Christmas borders on paedophillic and spans the implausible.

So now that my daughter is able to understand narrative, I have had to contemplate which media to expose her to. I ruled out any nativity movies and went straight to animation. I ended up showing her the 1966 classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and she thoroughly enjoyed this short film even if she has not grasped what Christmas "really is." But here I was showing her a film about a person robbing others of their presents and wondering if I might not be guilty of the same. But the true conversion of the Grinch was not that he brought the gifts back, but rather the Grinch's conversion occurred despite the absence of gifts. That all the members of Whoville were inspired to find their Christmas spirit in the absence of the material: "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps...means a little bit more."