I’m no scrooge. I love Christmas. I love the lights illuminating the towns and bringing warmth to dark evenings. I love the chance to spend quality time with family. I love the look on my children’s faces when they see that Santa has been. And, I freaking adore Lebkuchan, probably a bit too much. I’m not religious, and I prefer to think of Christmas as a way of cheering us all up in the middle of winter, but I still can’t help thinking that things have got a little out of hand.
1. Charging For Nativity Tickets & Other School Requests
I’m writing this at the end of November and so far my son’s school has asked for the following for the festive period:
- Food and new Christmas decorations to put in hampers to be auctioned off at the Christmas fayre.
- Bric-a-brac items to sell at the Christmas fayre.
- A bag filled with sweets to sell at the Christmas fayre.
- Money to donate for “Christmas jumper day”, which will also require me to buy my son a new Christmas jumper since his last one no longer fits.
- Money for a school Christmas trip where they will meet Santa (see point 2).
- Clothing items for him to wear as part of his nativity costume. Items that we don’t actually have so will need to borrow or buy from somewhere.
- Money for tickets for the nativity.
The last request probably irks me the most, mainly because they don’t have any adult sized chairs so they’re basically charging me to give myself backache sitting on a chair designed for a five-year-old for an hour, during which I may catch a glimpse of my child in the background in his key role as “soldier number 6.” We haven’t even reached December and yet at the rate the school are taking my money, I’m fearful there won’t be anything left to buy any actual presents.
2. Multiple Appearances By Santa, Terrifying The Children
There is no escaping Santa anymore. When I was a kid, Santa did a parade in town and that was it. The rest of the time he was clearly really busy in the North Pole running his elf slave empire, which made perfect sense and helped to maintain the Santa myth. However, shops, soft play centres, garden centres, tourist attractions and even my local whisky distillery has cottoned on to the idea that Santa = Money. It’s odd when you think about it, because we spend all year reinforcing our children with the idea that they shouldn’t talk to strangers, and yet come December, we insist that they sit down next to a terrifying man with a large scary beard and tell him what toys they want.
What is more, all these different appearances by Santa look pretty suspicious. Children in school talk to each other about where they are going to see Santa. My school is taking my son to see Santa at a farm. We’re taking my son to see Santa at the distillery (I know, but the food is amazing). Santa is even coming to our street on his sleigh as part of the Rotary club’s annual fundraising efforts. Anyone with half a brain can see that if Santa is spending all this time in my local area, he clearly can’t be doing much in the North Pole. Which is why it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to me to hear my just turned five son say the other night “Mummy, Santa isn’t real, it’s just different men dressed up”. Too many Santas have ruined the illusion.
3. Starting In November
Shops have always been keen to get their Christmas displays in early on, driving up their sales. As soon as Halloween is over the aisles are cleared of spooky costumes, sweets, and fake blood and are replaced with Christmas jumpers, more sweets, and fake Christmas trees. However, now it seems that others are following the trend, with many people putting up their Christmas decorations up in early November. As a result, my son has spent last three weeks asking when we will put up our tree and it’s not even December yet! His excitement levels are starting to peak and I’m worried he’ll crash and burn before we even reach mid-advent.
4. Elf on the Shelf
If you haven’t heard of Elf on the Shelf then you must be living in some sort of anti-Christmas bubble, and I’d like to join you. The idea originated in America, where in 2005 authors, Carol Abersand and Chanda Bell, wrote a tale of elves that leave the North Pole and spy on children to report back to Santa about who is naughty and who is nice. The book comes with an elf toy and has spawned lots of copies. Parents maintain the illusion of an elf spy by moving the toy around the house each night and children are told not to touch it in case they break the magic. In recent years, the idea has rapidly increased in popularity. This has been fuelled by social media images of elves in increasing bizarre predicaments, some more appropriate than others. with parents coming up with creative ways to continue the elf’s story.
This is lovely if you have both the time and the inclination to spend each evening doing an elf activity. But I, personally, am glad my children have remained largely oblivious to the phenomena. I worry that it is just another way for parents who are struggling with juggling work, carrying out commitments and worries about money to feel guilty about their inability to provide this experience for their child. Elf on the Shelf simply adds another task to an already full list. Plus the official Elf on the Shelf has an uncanny resemblance to Chucky and that can’t be good.
5. Pricey Advent Calendars
Remember when advent calendars consisted of a piece of card with flaps that when opened revealed a festive image? If you were really lucky, and your parents were feeling generous, you got one with a tiny morsel of chocolate in for each day. Then, in the late 1990s, Lego started releasing advent calendars with mini Lego sets in for each day. In 2011, the company released their first Lego Star Wars advent calendar and the advent calendar market was permanently changed. Now practically every toy manufacturer has jumped on the advent bandwagon, with everything from Disney characters to craft items available. There are even those aimed at toddlers, as if toddlers can understand the concept of advent.
It doesn’t stop when children outgrow most of their toys either – in fact, it gets more expensive, often for something of little value, as parents of fans of one YouTuber recently found out. Kids might enjoy opening the door each day, but let’s be honest, most of it ends up chucked in a drawer alongside party bag tat, museum shop souvenirs, and the cheap plastic rubbish that came with a Peppa Pig magazine, never to be looked at again. It all adds more money onto the Christmas bill, more pressure on parents, and more unnecessary landfill.
6. Christmas Eve Boxes
Although some families have been having small presents on Christmas Eve for years (with many families in Europe doing their main gift exchange on the 24th), the popularity of the Christmas Eve Box has soared in the last couple of years. If you are not sure what it is, it’s basically a box to open on the 24th December, filled with items that used to be in stockings, such as Christmas pyjamas, sweets, etc. They often contain something for the family to do that evening, such as a DVD, board game, hot chocolate, etc.
Proponents argue that they help children to calm down when excitement levels reach their peak. Personally, I’m dubious of any claim that presents and sugar help a child calm down. To me it seems another way of adding more expense and more pressure for parents. Even the boxes themselves have got out of control, with personalised boxes available online to buy between £20 – £40. Yes that’s right, people are paying £40 for an empty box to use once a year.
Another trend is to include a packet of “reindeer food” to sprinkle in the garden for Rudolph and his mates. I’m not sure when it was decided that reindeer preferred a bit of muesli mixed with glitter over a good old-fashioned carrot, but it’s led to this plea from the RSPB. On Christmas Eve, I want the kids to go to bed as early as possible so I can enjoy a few hours of peace before the mayhem of the following day. I don’t want to be traipsing around the garden in the cold and dark sprinkling glitter, before spending two hours telling my sugar fuelled kids to get back into their beds. Especially as I know no matter what time they go to sleep they will still be up at 5am the next day.