What’s the one time of the year you can break the rules? In my household, it’s the entire month of December, pretty much. Forget being on the ‘nice’ list, what I tell my children is simple and controversial: the rules do not apply – within reason.
That means staying up way past bedtime to watch seasonal classics like Labyrinth, The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Muppet Christmas Carol – and if you’re my kids, suffering through Mummy singing all the words, to all the songs, operatic-style. It means chocolate coins instead of vitamins, and pigs-in-blankets for dinner, all December long.
It means interacting with strangers, too. Come December, kids do it all the time. Earlier than that, even. On Halloween, talking to strangers – going right up to knock on the doors of their houses – is perfectly acceptable. Taking sweets from people you’ve never laid eyes on before? Fine. And then at Christmas, kids are thrusted towards people they don’t even know for a chat: elves in the grotto queue, Santa himself, sometimes even a festive fairy. Suddenly, your child is allowed to whisper whatever they like in their ear, because it’s Christmas.
Kids sitting on a stranger’s knee and accepting a present after their parents have queued up in the freezing cold, outside a shed dressed up to look like a grotto, and paid £5 or £10 for a photo? Why not! Your kid won’t be smiling in said photo, anyway. Every classic ‘Santa’s Grotto’ snap features a small child looking terrified while a lopsided Father Christmas probably wonders what he’s doing with his life.
“At home, the relaxing of rules is endless – starting, of course, with an advent calendar full of chocolate on 1 December.”
And at home, the relaxing of rules is endless – starting, of course, with an advent calendar full of chocolate on 1 December. From then on, it’s chocolate before breakfast, even on a school day. And it lasts the entire month.
On 24 December, it’s a double-bill of the CBeebies pantomime, followed by Tom Hardy reading Bedtime Stories (but that one’s just for Mummy), and a Christmas film (or three). It’s being so high on sugar that you’re still zooming around pretending to be a dinosaur at 10pm, but that’s okay, because the grown-ups are perfectly happy... or tipsy, or asleep.
It’s waking at 5am the next morning and running excitedly downstairs to open your stocking; and it’s being allowed to watch cartoons by yourself because your parents are desperate to sleep in, if only until 7am. It’s Mum or Dad opening the ginger wine or Bailey’s at 11am, because normal rules do not apply. Not for you, not for them, not for anyone.
It’s more chaotic for us parents, certainly – but there’s a joy in it, too. Because if you’re not sticking to a rigid routine, or worrying about how much sugar one small child can consume in the course of a single day, then you’re not really worrying at all, are you? And isn’t that the real magic of Christmas?