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.
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.
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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?