IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN.
The shopping centres are twinkling with fairy lights and tinsel-wrapped trees. Shops are gift-wrapping wicker baskets of goodies. The ad breaks are full of festive jollies. Santa is ho-ho-ing and making his list. Yes, it must be almost Hallowe’en.
As a mammy of four children, can I add my voice to the chorus of parents crying: WHAT?!
Back in the day (prepare yourself, we’re going old school now) – when summer was sunny every day, you could buy your fill of sweets for £1, and you only got new clothes twice a year – I seem to recall Christmas started some time around a week into December.
Your teacher would set everybody to work with papier mâché and sensible scissors to decorate the classroom. Your parents started totting up their Dunnes Stores club vouchers. And Santa was helicoptered into the local supermarket. With a week or two to go, the Christmas tree came down from the attic – very posh people had real ones – and boxes of Tayto and crates of alcohol would appear in the alcove under the stairs.
It was a decent lead-in period to the most thrilling time of the year – judged just so to ensure children had exactly the right amount of excitement.
Nowadays. Good God. Okay. I will admit – I’ve breached the December timeline myself. It’s just too tempting as the nights draw in and your children are acting up at bedtime to pull out the ‘Santa is watching, you know!’ line.
But, in general – and I think most parents would agree with me – starting Christmas in mid-October is problematic. ‘Is Santa coming?’ ‘No.’ ‘Is he coming soon?’ ‘No.’ ‘Is he coming now?’ ‘No. But he’s watching. He’s always watching. Go asleep.’ In August, there was a news piece about Selfridges in England opening its Christmas store. Imagine, strolling through the sales racks looking for a cheap bikini for your holidays and feeling a tug on your hand: ‘Look, mammy, they have their Christmas tree up. Is Santa coming?’
Imagine being the poor soul assigned to Christmas shop duty five months ahead. I worked in a clothes store when I was in college and three years in a row our manager brought out the Christmas CD in mid-November – we thought that was early – and it played on loop until New Year’s Day. There are still certain songs that for me trigger a Pavlovian response of folding and wrapping. I’d obliterate them from existence if I could. If I worked in a big department store’s Christmas shop, chances are I’d chill out on the weekend by hiking up to a pine tree forest with a blowtorch.
I love Christmas. My housemates in college nicknamed me the Christmas Fairy when, one year, I wasted valuable drinking money on a tree and a box of cheap decorations. I’m not Scrooge, I’m not anti the season. I just think it has its place. And I think we have absolutely lost the run of ourselves when it comes to the material aspect of the day itself. One day, that’s all it is. When I tipped into the realm of four children, all with Santa present lists, I realised things were getting out of hand. My eldest, at 12, is in the category of small but really expensive gifts. My three youngest fall into the absolutely everything from the Smyths catalogue, the bigger the better, box. We live in a small house. Santa has to be judicious.
Having approached this conundrum like responsible adults, we then have to cope with the onslaught of presents from well-intentioned relatives.
My husband’s number one job in the run-up to Christmas is not getting the turkey or painting the house or doing the tree run. It’s ensuring our green bin is empty so we can recycle the plastic and cardboard post the 25th. If we miss a bin collection day, we have to have a crisis meeting. That can’t be right.
I want my kids to enjoy Christmas. I love the twinkle of happiness in their eyes as we approach the big day, the fun on the morning itself, the traditions of dinner and movies and daddy having a nervous breakdown trying to figure out the electronics – always easier with a glass of wine in hand, I keep telling him.
But I want them to appreciate it in its context. It’s a long year. There are lots of enjoyable points along the way. The changing of the seasons, Easter, sunny holidays, long autumn walks, Hallowe’en, wintry nights.
And I want them to understand that Christmas is not just about the buying spree in the run-up. It’s visiting and parties, Mass if you’re religious, spending time with people you love, understanding there are many worse off. ‘Is Santa coming?’ ‘Yes. He’s coming on December 24. That’s eight weeks from now. You’ve no concept of how long that is, but believe me, it’s an absolute age in your little world.’
Christmas comes but once a year. And that’s not in October.
I’m not Scrooge, in fact my housemates nicknamed me the Christmas Fairy. I just think we’ve lost the run of ourselves