Christmas can be tricky when you’re little. All that talk of Santa, not to mention the tantalising agony of Christmas presents that you’re not allowed to open for what must feel like an eternity, taunting you from beneath the Christmas tree. It must all seem like an exercise in torture.
I’m already tired of telling my lads off for trying to peak at their presents, and am torn between hiding them all in order to rescue my blood pressure, and earnestly trying to persist in teaching them the art of patience, despite the fact that mine has already worn woefully thin.
This feels like the first Christmas where my kids know the score. Last year at 4 and 5 they didn’t really remember all that much about the year before, so the whole day was punctuated by wide-eyed wonder and amazement. I have a strange compulsion to keep as much of that wonderment going for as long as possible, and am obsessively-compulsively trying to stamp out the merest hint of entitlement whenever I overhear them talking confidently about what Santa’s bringing them – when does wonderment get replaced with that sense of certainty, I wonder?
It’s so hard to get this stuff right. I’ve been restrained in my gift-buying this year, acutely aware that what the children experience in these formative years fast becomes the precedent for the future. Yet as the hours tick down until the shops shut I have an edgy compulsion to panic buy, fuelled by the fear that I haven’t bought ‘enough’ and that they might be disappointed with their spoils. It feels all kinds of wrong and yet they’re such palpable, real fears. I suspect the secret is to stay well away from shops and TV adverts.
Days ago my sons spent some early Christmas money on new toys which they’ve already misplaced. They mope around the house complaining that there’s nothing to do, and I look at the playroom full of toys and regret every single new toy I’ve bought them for Christmas. What’s the point?
We’ve donated some toys to charity and have talked together about kids who won’t get much for Christmas but it all seems so arbitrary. In a bid to underline the Christmas narrative I asked my sons who bought special gifts to Baby Jesus and the youngest answered, without hesitation: “Santa!” I long for my kids to feel the joy and wonder of the Christmas story, not just get caught up with the compulsion to consume.
And yet it seems strangely fitting that the beauty of Advent is somehow hidden on purpose – you have to follow a star or see an angel to reach what it’s really all about. Stars – and indeed angels – might be all around us but you won’t see them if your eyes aren’t open. You have to really look, and I have to teach my sons to do the same – to seek out the point of Christmas instead of being distracted by the pointlessness of it all.
This year I took a leaf out of a friend’s book and persuaded our lads to part with some of their own money to buy a present for one another, plus one for me and one for Dada. The five year old skipped along the pavement with unbridled joy, and practically broke my heart into pieces when he declared:
“I feel so happy because I am doing my own Christmas shopping, and I think I like giving other people presents even more than I like getting presents of my own.”
Alas, he later broke the golden rules of gift-giving by telling his brother what he’d bought him, and issuing exact instructions as to what he expects to receive. But when choosing his Dada’s present he asked ‘Which one is the most?’ and I was taken aback to think that he was already working out his budget so as to maximise the change he would be left with.
In fact, he opted for the one I pointed to, so I began to assume he had already assimilated his father’s sense of economy which is essentially that Most Expensive = Best. Afterwards he explained that he was asking which of the two similar items had the most product inside, and settled on the biggest one ‘so that Daddy never has to buy any more of it himself.’
To top off my pre-Christmas angst I’ve just realised that I’ve bough the wrong joint of meat for our Christmas Day dinner, and fear my beef wellington extravaganza might have to be abandoned. I’ve made no home-made mince pies this year, the gingerbread house is un-made in its box and I’ve got buyer’s remorse about the most expensive present purchase I have made.
There’s only one thing for it. I’m going to light the fire, listen to Christmas music, and read Christmas stories to my kids with my eyes wide open, looking for the light that’s waiting to be found.