I recently went to a talk by a psychologist on how to parent teenagers... she said that kids today have never had a greater sense of their rights and entitlements. Correct. On the other hand, she said, they've never had less sense of their responsibilities. Also correct. Now the gift of a goat for someone in Sierra Leone or reading lessons for a kid in Kenya isn't going to change any of that, but it will do no harm, and it'll do nothing but good for those who receive these gifts in far-off places of which our kids know little. And these gifts really do make a difference. Trust me, I went to Guatemala and El Salvador with the charity Cafod to see it with my own eyes.
One thing is for sure - saying thank you is a nice thing to do. It makes you feel good, and makes the receiver feel valued. We may not subscribe to the hand written parchments of old, with ruler straight lines and wafty words of gratitude penned from inky quills, but we do still subscribe to basics of liking to give and liking to be thanked.
During this season charity fund raisers actively appeal for the disadvantaged. They almost universally don't ask for presents - much preferring you donate cash - because this is pragmatically the most useful contribution you could make. If it's obviously more helpful than other gifts in the domain of charity, so economists remain perplexed as to the irrational paradox of continuing to buy each other 'suboptimal' presents?
Swathes of lurid elf-print wrapping paper have been stuffed into a bin liner by your stoically efficient mother. Everyone is feeling fat, unattractive and a bit queasy from the Bailey's sugar rush and you're all desperate to go your respective ways before strained relations snap after three solid days of housebound family time.