Credit crunch Christmas
It’s a sign of growing older (and grumpier), but I despair of people’s lack of common sense sometimes. For weeks, the media has been full of stories about the economic situation. Now the retail trade is in a state, anticipating that most people will spend less this Christmas. Meanwhile, the Consumer Credit Counselling Service reports a high number of callers with worries about the strain of Christmas on family budgets. It’s as well it’s not me answering the phones. I’d tell them that Christmas isn’t compulsory, nor is spending money you can’t afford, so get a grip! You can still have a good time with your family, without getting into debt. Read what some Humanists have done. And if your kids expect lots of very expensive presents, maybe you haven’t trained them well? My advice to parents of very young children? Start as you mean to go on, and don’t assume that you’ll always be able to put everything on a credit card. Get them used to a modest midwinter celebration, where family activities, games and good food can be enjoyed, without worrying about how you’re going to clear your debts in time for next Christmas.
This is what one of our members (the mother of two young children) wrote about Christmas last year:
Christmas is invariably a challenge with small children, particularly if you aren’t Christian. For the past few years, my halcyon days of totally ignoring Christmas have been entirely forgotten. I got away with not celebrating when my eldest was one, but as she turned two, I couldn’t hold out any longer. Once my youngest came along, I had no choice but to rethink how I’d manage over the festive season.
I work very hard in the run up to Christmas to keep the kids focused on the people they love, and who love them. Part of this is making almost all our gifts and cards, and I try to make something for each of the children too. I occasionally let the kids buy something very small, but usually my response when they ask is “Do you have any money? No? Well we’ll have to make something then.” Gifts have ranged from sponge-painted underpants (my particular favourite) to hand-painted flower pots with bags of compost and chilli pepper seeds inside them. We’ve given pine cone bird feeders, decorated oven gloves and lots of truffles, biscuits and cakes. Occasionally, I have to remind the kids to think about what the recipient might like, rather than their own likes.
I do various things to keep consumerism down in my household, and to try and limit the number of toys the children have. Don’t get me wrong … they have unlimited craft materials and access to creative toys like puppets and Lego. It’s the nasty plastic rubbish I try to keep under control. My avoidance tactics are pretty stern; the children are allowed some TV, but it’s almost always one of the BBC channels. On the rare occasions we watch commercial TV together they know I mute the adverts. My daughter has even started muting them for me. Nevertheless, she knows exactly which brand of dolly she would like from Santa, after a brief exposure to TV ads elsewhere! One thing we never do is go shopping as a leisure activity; partly because I can’t see the point, but also because children can’t help but ask for almost every toy they see, even if they know the answer will be “No”. There’s no point in showing them all the things I won’t let them buy for themselves or other people.
We spend the festive season having fun. We eat every meal together round the table (often food we’ve all helped prepare). We sing carols and Christmas songs loudly and at every opportunity, sometimes with my daughter playing them on the piano. We drive around in the dark with a flask of hot chocolate, looking for the most outrageous Christmas lights. Most of all we spend time together (and remarkably little money). It’s during that time together that I talk about why Christmas is celebrated, and what it means to some people, while making it clear that it’s not what I believe. We talk about which traditions pre-date Christianity, and why our friends are having a celebration on the shortest day. I stop short of explaining Santa wears red because of an highly effective Coca-Cola advertising campaign … that one, I’m keeping for when they’re older.
Illustration (c) M Nelson 2005 – please don’t use without permission