Cutting out the middleman

Christmas visitor
Caught in the act, and in broad daylight too …

It’s such a weird idea, isn’t it, the notion that we’d encourage our kids to feel OK about an old man whom they didn’t really know creeping like a cat burglar into our houses, all while they’re asleep in their beds on the night before Christmas. In an era when ‘stranger danger’ is still a buzz-phrase, when bygone celebrities are sent to jail for past misdemeanours with underage victims and when cyber-grooming is second only to terrorism in the public perception, what a muddled mixed message to pass on to future generations.

At the other extreme of the chronological spectrum — when you get to a certain age, and sometimes a lot earlier than that — you know that all this hype about getting your heart’s desires is just so much guff as you open presents containing stinky perfume, socks you wouldn’t be seen dead in or that cut-price book about Hitler (because somebody thought that a specialist interest in King Arthur meant any old history title would suit). If it’s better to give than to receive it’s no wonder my heart sinks as the end of the year approaches: all those happy faces smiling as they hand over gifts and my rictus grin as I pretend to contain my simulated excitement.

Admit it, you too have a bit of the Scrooge DNA lurking in your genes, don’t you? And if your knowledge of history extends back before the Second World War you’ll know that all this gift-exchange hysteria that we’ve been told is traditional is — relatively speaking — recent, serving only to increase the comfort and joy of a few senior executives of, and investors in, supersized commercial corporations. In the medieval Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the only gift-exchange of note was the chance to behead a stranger who gate-crashed King Arthur’s party, followed by a return beheading a year later. That’s the way to do it! as Mr Punch would say.

Here’s my suggestion for the future, a practice which increasingly seems to work for many families with grown-up children. We each buy what we ourselves want, and a ceremonial reimbursement and handover occurs at a pre-Christmas meet-up so that presents can be wrapped before the arrival of the Big Day. Then on the day itself we exchange presents, make suitable noises of delight as we open them (the choice of wrapping paper will be the biggest surprise, occasioning suitable exclamations of appreciation) and settle down to the ritual meal and postprandial walk. Honour is satisfied, goods properly valued, tradition upheld and, of course, big business will continue to reap their ill-gotten rewards.

Grinch Cynical? Moi? Probably. It’s the prerogative of age, though I probably sound just like the Grinch who tried to steal Christmas. Myself, I’d be happy to simply give and/or receive book vouchers — everyone gives what they can and gets what they want, job done.

And for goodness sake, let’s cut out the middleman. You know, the one who supposedly slithers down the chimney in the dead of night. He’s over-rated, overweight and over here. Get over him.

*  *  *  *  *

Lest you think I’m a total curmudgeon, this is of course all totally tongue-in-cheek, a post in search of a cheap laugh, a diatribe laced with childhood disappointments: ’tis the season of goodwill, after all! So Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays / Season’s Greetings / Happy Solstice / Nadolig Llawen / Joyeux Noël [delete as appropriate] — my fervent wish is “Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too …”

And did you spot all the unsubtle literary references?


13 thoughts on “Cutting out the middleman

  1. earthbalm

    I have to agree with your comments. I’ve spent the last 10+ years asking pupils and parents not to buy me anything for Christmas and telling them there’s no need to feel obliged by social convention. I’m sure some children would rather their parents threw the money down a drain than give it to me (in every class there are children who think you’re the best in the whole world and others who’d rather you lived a thousand miles away from their sphere of influence). If they feel they must make a gesture, I’ve asked them to make a donation to their favourite charity. It all sounds a bit mean spirited of me but it’s not meant to be. My intention is the exact opposite. I like nothing more than a spontaneous hand drawn Christmas card. Fuelling the great commercial vehicle known as Chri… sorry, XMAS leaves many people broke or in debt and no happier.
    But, here’s a genuine, heart felt “Merry Christmas” from me. Enjoy the positive aspects of the time of year.
    BTW, I read “The Scream” last night. Oh! Boy! Is it creepy and strange?!

    1. My teaching experience was similar to yours, Dale, but I did appreciate the small gestures that came my way: cards, a small box of chocolate or shortbread, and of course I gave a card and a token gift to each student in my tutorials, whether they were appreciated or not. My attitude was that you can never know what longterm effects such gestures have on students’ futures. Would the same apply now if I was still teaching? Hard to say.

      ‘The Scream’ is … how to describe it? I tried, as this review shows:
      Looking forward to your take on it!

      1. earthbalm

        I am moved by the gestures from children and parents but I know also that there is a social obligation that some parents feel. And in my experience, some teachers seem to have expectations that they will receive gifts and count them like ‘badges of honour’.
        Your commentary on the book was very informative and much better than mine. I’ve dug out my copy of Maxwell Davies’s “Boyfriend Suite” and other work to listen to “Farewell to Stromness” again.

        1. The last time I had my own tutorial was 2003 (opted to do supply until retiring in 2008) — things seem to have changed in the interim. I was never conscious of colleagues boasting of their tallies, and students tended to be discreet about handing over presents at Christmas, thank goodness.

  2. Yup, you’ve pretty much summed up the standard UK Christmas. You could have added the saccharine religion that surfaces at this time of the year, when folks who haven’t set foot in a church since their forehead was wetted, join in with the joyful praises. I also agree with your statement re ‘Tradition’. It this time of year that word alone is a veritable money-spinner for the hundreds of over-sized corporations that dominate our high streets and dot-coms: Mince Pies, £1.00; Traditional Mince Pies, £1.50. As for moderated gift-giving, I don’t have a problem. But I do advocate the issue of a (wedding type) gift-choice list. It sounds mercenary but if it stops you getting a blow-up-pair-of-boobs bath pillow on the big day then I’m all for it. And I speak from experience on that one.

    1. Yes, nothing says Christmas like a boob-haped blow-up bath pillow, does it? And religion, ‘tradition’ and commerce are a potent mix, for evil as much as good. Pleased this post rang some bells …

    1. The Stan Freberg video seems to be unavailable here, sadly. 😦

      Hope you’re never put in the position where you have to make that bizarre choice between book and blow-up boob, Lizzie! 🙂

      1. Freberg worked in advertising for years, so his commentary comes from experience. I like to listen to Green Christmas whenever the holiday spirit acquires too much “monetary joy”.

  3. I always try to give my family members what they want; I play Santa to everyone on my list, but yet, like you I end up faking my smile as I unwrap gifts that come across as last minute ideas. My mother would rather buy me a scarf ( a lady’s tie) than give me a bookstore gift card. Sigh.
    This year, I did what you do, though I did not give them to anyone to wrap. I bought myself a coveted pair of Ugg boots. I’ve been wearing them for two weeks. An early Christmas present to myself? Perhaps, but they are the best gift I’ve received in a long time.

    1. We all (well, nearly all) get to the point in life where if we want something we go out and buy it which when we’re young is rarely possible. So I find it mildly irritating, Sari, when I’m asked “So what do you want for Christmas?” The answer quite often, though unspoken, is “I couldn’t wait, I bought it last week” or something similar.

      As we get older all we’re likely to want for Christmas is a small gesture — something handmade, hopefully beautiful or useful that cost little, for example.

      Either that, or the holiday of a lifetime. Or maybe several holidays. But that’s never going to happen. And it’s rather greedy. So forget it. No, don’t worry about it, sorry I mentioned it …

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