When did Christmas get so big?
Christmas seems to have exploded. Everything is festive to the max – bigger, longer, more.
It feels like everything got super-sized.
Christmas stockings expanded into pillow cases then Christmas sacks. Pigs in blankets became a foot long, toblerones grew into girders, and I spotted a £60 mega bottle of gin in Morrisons.
When did presents become so ridiculous, in quantity and price? Photos of huge piles of presents pop up on social media. Magazines are stuffed with gift guides touting £50 diaries, £144 ham and £2,500 cognac. Suddenly it’s not enough to give presents on Christmas Day, now Christmas Eve boxes are a thing, stuffed with new pyjamas, DVDs, snacks, hot chocolate and whatever else.
Simple things got gussied up. I remember being excited to open paper doors on an Advent calendar, just to see a picture. Chocolate calendars blew my mind. Now my kids clamour for pricey Lego versions, and you can scoff and slosh daily doses of wine, cheese, beer, gin, or immensely expensive beauty products. Fancy a mince pie? The shelves are stocked with mountains of varieties, luxury ranges, nut topped, soaked in salted caramel, with added almonds or alcohol.
We’re driven to buy brand new items, rather than reusing old ones. You’re not supposed to drag down a box of baubles from the loft. Now we’re encouraged to have a new theme or colour scheme every year, and not just one tree, but several.
Somehow Christmas seems to involve more time and trouble than ever before. Advent has been hijacked by the elf on the shelf, which should be shifted into different positions for 24 days beforehand. You can’t just tell your kids Father Christmas is coming, you’re meant to put out booze, mince pies, carrots for the reindeer, ring bells outside their door, order a personalised letter, track his progress round the world on a paid-for app, then leave icing sugar footprints and reindeer droppings behind. Forget visting Santa in a shopping centre, wrap it up in tickets to Winter Wonderland or jet off on a trip to Lapland.
I used to think I was doing well if I managed a clean tablecloth for Christmas dinner. Apparently I should be worrying about table runners, festive flowers and foliage, special napkin rings, candles, party games and selfie props. I remember being glad to get a cracker.
Dinner itself was enough of a faff, cooking a roast meal with extra sauces, without laying in more chocolate than Cadbury’s and enough festive food to feed the five thousand. Now there are catalogues full of Christmas food. Exotic varieties, with weird combinations of birds stuffed one within another. Suddenly Christmas isn’t Christmas without not only a cake, but stollen, a gingerbread houses, a yule log and pannetone.
And then all the themed Christmas clutter, specifically designed to be used on only a few days of the year. I’ve ranted before about Christmas jumpers, but they’ve expanded into all kinds of clothing – hats, socks, slippers and matching pyjamas for the whole family. From festive bedding to mugs and special plates for those mince pies for Father Christmas. How can that be a good use of money and scarce resources?
Christmas on credit
Now, I will defend anyone’s right to spend their money however they wish. Fancy a £20+ tiger tin with eight macarons? Knock yourself out.
What concerns me is the pressure to spend money we don’t have.
At this time of year, I get a flood of worrying emails.
Hargreaves Lansdown reckon 57% of people will spend more than they mean to at Christmas. Research by Where to Sell revealed 40% of Brits are struggling to afford Christmas, with a third of people surveyed expecting to take out a loan or a second job just to cover the cost. MyVoucherCodes found half of their respondents admitted to going over the top at Christmas, and 43% got into debt every year to afford it. Earlier this year, the Financial Conduct Authority reported that 13% of the UK populations had no savings whatsoever. That means any extra spending at Christmas will drive up debts.
I do see why Christmas dialled up to 11 is great for retailers. Let the tills ring out, it’s Christmas. But their enormous advertising budgets create enormous pressure to spend. Many families face a bleak choice between borrowing money or feeling guilty if they can’t fund the perfect day.
Keeping Christmas special with less spending
So I suppose I’d like to wave a flag for less spending at Christmas.
Yes I would like my children to have a nice Christmas. But I reckon a happy Christmas isn’t measured by cost.
As a kid, I enjoyed Christmas, but not because of the price tag attached. Sure I liked getting presents – but it was also about seeing the extended family and all the familiar activities. Singing carols, decorating the tree, watching Christmas TV specials, playing cards, going to see the Christmas lights, baking Christmas biscuits, eating chocolate before breakfast, all the stuff that hardly costs a penny.
Previous post on Christmas traditions
As someone who tries to strip down spending to essentials, the orgy of consumption is overwhelming. It makes Christmas seem expensive and exhausting. I reckon my kids will enjoy it more if I can spend time with them, rather than shopping, decorating, cooking and stressing. (My husband certainly will). A single day shouldn’t drive up debts that take months to pay off.
So this year, I don’t want a perfect Christmas. I want a bit less Christmas, a lot less spending, and maybe actually a bit more fun.
Now – over to you. Are you going all out for Christmas? Or do you think Christmas can still be special without a massive spending spree? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear.