I love Christmas. The twinkling lights, the winter spices, the magical wonder in my children's eyes when they open all their presents. But last year, something inside me snapped.
We had a lovely holiday surrounded by our families. We overindulged on mince pies and turkey, we played family games of Hide & Seek and Sleeping Lions (a particular favourite of Grandad's), we even sang some Christmas songs the kids had been learning at nursery.
But after Christmas, when it came to actually sitting down and reflecting on all the gifts we had been given, I couldn't help but notice that gift buying amongst my family and friends seemed to be giving some people more of a sense of competition than a feeling of joy.
Since my husband and I started our family 3 years ago, Christmas has become a bigger and bigger deal each year. Whilst I really appreciate all the thought and effort that goes into making my children's Christmas a truly memorable event, I have finally had enough and decided we should stick to celebrating the simpler things this year. We also decided to pare down the decorations, lights and card-giving.
I have spoken to every friend and family member that I can, to explain that gifting should be small and simple this year. We are giving our 3 year old books, clothes and a small toy to play with. And we would love it if our friends and family followed suit.
In spite of my best efforts, this has not worked out quite as easily as it first seemed:
It is really difficult not to keep up with the Joneses
We live on a really great street, with lovely neighbours that we can always pass the time of day with - or pop over for that cliché missing ingredient. Over the last couple of years, though, we have noticed rather a lot of 'Christmas Creep', with the lights going up ever earlier in the year, and the Christmas Trees taking up more and more space in the bay windows at the front of each house. As much as we are trying to hold firm with our modest Christmas Tree, it isn't half tempting to join in.
Experiences only work if everyone is on board
Our families love the idea of the gift of time spent together. We often write each other notes offering to cook meals, babysit or visit a museum or gallery together. So my efforts to pare Christmas back go down easily with them. On the other hand, some of my friends feel a need to 'win' at gifting every time. I'm just hoping that when they open the 'IOU a fun day out in the muddy kitchen' I bought their children they don't resent me for whatever amazing gifts my own children have received from them.
The friends circle gets increasingly bigger with each passing year
Since I had kids, it has started to feel as if every person I ever meet wants to buy a gift for my two sons. The little toys or games we receive are really lovely. And it doesn't seem a lot to pop out and buy a reciprocal box of biscuits. But it's when you are wading through a sea of plastic toys to get to the breakfast table in the morning that you realise it really has gone a bit too far.
Some of Santa's gifts might have got 'stuck' in our chimney
After Christmas, it is normal to see all the local children wearing their new clothes and playing with their new toys. My eldest is only 3 years old right now, but comparing notes with his friends at school as he gets bigger is a concern. Luckily, I've still got time to think of a good answer when he asks me why Santa didn't buy him a tablet too!