Not long ago, I was reading a thread in a parenting group on Facebook about what mums had brought their children for Christmas. One posted a photo that had completely covered her sofa and floor, with a comment along the lines of ‘Feeling like a crap mum this year, this is all Johnny is getting’. Another posted that she had bought her 13-year-old the latest iPhone and had spent several hundred pounds on designer tracksuits and trainers. Apparently, she was prepared to spend whatever it took to make her teenager happy.
I have absolutely no problem with people spoiling their children at Christmas, or indeed at any other time of year. My own three children get an awful lot of toys and clothes sent out to them throughout the year through my blog, so we choose to keep Christmas fairly low key when it comes to gifts because a) we can’t afford to go crazy b) we wouldn’t be able to move and c) I want my children to not need a million things to be happy.
Other parents do things differently, and I totally get that. With all aspects of parenting, you do what you think is right for you and your family. But, when someone feels like a crap parent because their kid ‘only’ has a sofa full of presents or that they need to spend literally thousands of pounds to make a young teenager happy, well – that’s a bit sad, isn’t it? Because that’s not what Christmas is about.
I was trying to think back to when I was a child and the presents that I received. We always had a big pile of gifts to open on Christmas morning, but now, at the age of 33, I can only name a few.
I remember my desk – a big black ash desk with two drawers on one side, and a little lockable cupboard on the other side. I had a grey swivel chair to go with it. I remember my electronic typewriter (the days before PC’s and laptops!)I remember my Sylvanian Family toys, which are still in the loft. I remember my dolls pushchair. I remember our Ghostbuster proton packs. I remember my bright blue and orange Adidas popper tracksuit bottoms. That’s about it.
When I think back to Christmases as a child, I remember all the other stuff. The important stuff.
I remember my mum buying us chocolate advent calendars and my parents putting the Christmas decorations up, with our Now! Christmas album playing in the background. We would sit at the table, making glittery Christmas cards at the dining room table.
I remember seeing Santa at the school Christmas fayre and at garden centres and counting Christmas lights and trees on the Saturday evening visit to see my Nan and Grandad. I remember being able to take a party dress to school to change into for our afternoon class party, making calendars and cards to take home and the Christmas songs and carols.
A few days before Christmas, we would go to the butchers that my Great Uncle owned to pick up the Christmas meat, and I was always terrified of the big bulls head on top of his fridge
On the evening of Christmas Eve, we would head to the house where my Great Aunts and Uncles all lived. It was always called ‘Home’ – it was like the extended family base. We would swap presents, ready to put under the tree to open the next day. My Great Aunt, who was a devout Christian, always put up a beautiful wooden nativity set in the porch. When we got home, it was bedtime. We’d put out a treat for Santa and his reindeer.
We would wake up relatively early in the morning. We’d creep into my parent’s room and they’d send us downstairs ‘to see if Santa had been’. We didn’t do stockings but we each had a pile of gifts. The presents were bought and paid for by mum and dad – Santa collected them in December to look after them and deliver them back to us on Christmas Eve. All the gifts from our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends would go under the tree.
Once my mum and dad had a coffee in their hand, we’d open our presents, getting excited about each and every single thing. Once we had opened ours, my mum and dad opened theirs.
After breakfast, we would open the gifts from under the tree. We would each end up with a little space in the lounge where our opened gifts would be piled up and would stay for a couple of days. We loved not having to put all of our toys away for a few days! The rest of the morning would be spent with my mum in the kitchen cooking dinner, my dad putting toys together and stickers on everything, and, as we got older, arguing over who could listen to their new CD on the family stereo.
Lunchtime was always fairly standard. There would also be a tablecloth on the table and we would make an extra special effort to make it look nice. I remember one Christmas, the chair that my mum was sitting on collapsed (it was a dodgy fold up chair!) and she ended up literally in the Christmas tree. For some reason, she didn’t find it quite as funny as the rest of us did!
The afternoons would be spent playing or watching films whilst demolishing a tub of Roses. Mum and Dad would inevitably fall asleep! On the evening, my mum would do a little (ok, huge!) buffet, which we would be eating for days to come.
What I’m trying to say, in a waffly, nostalgic type way, is that none of the best memories I have of Christmas as a child involves the presents. It was all the little things, the things that we all did together.