By this time of the year the Christmas present cupboard will be stuffed to the gills, children will be going to bed each night praying that Santa doesn’t miss their home particularly if parents are using that particular kind of blackmail to get the pampered ones to bed.
I came from a large family and we were well skilled in the tricks to ensure we would get up to a pile of presents. Early to bed, of course, was the secret.
In turn, each generation increasingly indulged their own children. What changed my attitude a bit one year was after an interview I had done in what once was a deprived part of Belfast, somewhere off the Shankill Road.
One little old man recalled to me the joy of finding a whole penny and an apple in his stocking. He was five years old and he proudly gave the penny to his mother as he ‘knew she hadn’t any money’ and Santa hadn’t left her anything.
That mum must have scraped and saved, may even have gone hungry herself to provide that bit of joy for her child who remembered it with pride.
Over the decades generations of children have been increasingly indulged at Christmas whether parents could afford it or not. The Christmas stocking has long been replaced by a sack as big as a pillowcase and a ‘little’ doll’s house these days would probably pass for a bedsit in London.
But the backlash is beginning. Some parents are discovering that piles of toys and gifts is not the way to foster creativity in a child. I have heard the story of the sullen child, annoyed that Santa didn’t get the right make of mobile phone for heaven’s sake. The little madam was just six-years-old.
Researchers at the University of Toledo in Ohio recruited 36 young children and invited them to play in a room for half an hour, with either four toys or 16 toys.
Those who got the smaller number ‘were far more creative’, played with each other for twice as long, thinking up more uses for each toy, thereby lengthening and expanding their game. Those who got the higher number appeared to lose interest more quickly which affected their play.
Another survey by safe.co.uk revealed that in 2016 the average festive spend on each child in a family was £204. From what I’ve seen I would think that’s a very conservative figure. A child’s first mobile phone would cost that and will look very small under the Christmas tree. Parents feel obliged to provide some ‘big stuff’ as one put it to me and so the spending continued.
The late Paula Yates who was married to Bob Geldof once lamented about how her mother and father passed Christmas in a merry haze of alcohol while she got nothing from Santa. Ms Yates was prone to exaggerate but it may have been the reason why she indulged her children so much at Christmas turning the family home into a magical place with lots of presents.
For my generation Christmas didn’t begin until the week before. Today it starts in November giving children far too much time to dream up the mountain of gifts they expect to see on Christmas morning.
This lengthy run-up to the big day does appear to enhance their creativity but the joy of it all soon clouds their creativity as they hardly know how to deal with all they have been given.
Over-spending has created this mental lethargy – yes I blame the parents – because children don’t really understand what to do with over indulgence.
I remember my son unwrapping a requested toy one year and asking me did Santa really live in China because that’s what it said on the box. I had to be creative with my answer conscious of the fact his little brother was standing looking at me waiting to hear the answer.
Christmas has become overly materialistic. It costs a fortune for those with children who soon realise that money cannot buy the magic their children buoyed up by television adverts expect.
I’m on strict orders not to indulge the grandchildren. I really am trying not to.