Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmases past - and presents

Ten days to go - and I'm looking forward to it, as always. Our Christmases are growing, as the family expands. This year, the grandchildren are bound to be excited. Noah's now four, and the three little girl cousins, Caitlin, Alice and Kitty, are all between two and two-and-a-half. We now also have 'Baby Eva' who's five months old. And a couple of weeks after Christmas, grandchild No.6 is due to arrive! And so the dynasty continues ...

Recently I've been pondering how much Christmas has changed over the years since I was a child. We all tend to talk about having no money, these days, but the standard of living of most people is vastly different from that of the average family in the 1950s. Back then, very few families had cars, TVs, fridges, central heating, washing machines, fitted carpets, or many of the other things we don't consider luxuries anymore. My brother and I, and most of the children I knew, would normally receive one present such as a doll, a toy car, a teddy-bear or game from their parents for Christmas. For years I yearned for a rocking horse but I knew I'd never get one because they were too expensive and took up too much space. Then of course there would also be the stocking (never a pillow-case!) hung up for Father Christmas, which would contain sweets, crayons or pencils, perhaps a little puzzle or a rolled-up colouring book, and the inevitable orange and nuts.

Without wishing to sound old and boring, it's nevertheless true that we kids were just as excited with these things as our own daughters were with their Sindy dolls, 'Care Bears' and whatever else happened to be the fashionable toys each year during the late 70s and early 80s when they were growing up. To say nothing of the carefully chosen new Christmas outfits, of course. New clothes?! Back in the 50s we were lucky if our mums had knitted us a new jumper, darned our socks, and let down the hems of our dresses to last another year! 

And now there's more pressure on today's parents than ever - with the incessant advertising on TV  for the latest electronic or 'educational' toys. How long before our daughters are looking back misty-eyed to the days of their own childhood when 'all' they received were Sindy's house, car, caravan, horse, dog and barbecue!

It's lovely this year, hearing our four-year-old and two-year-old grandchildren saying they'd like a toy hoover, or a 'pink torch' or 'a star' (?) for Christmas ... and I hope it's a long, long time before they start wanting mobile phones, laptops, play-stations and their own TVs.  I don't want them to grow up too quickly and I'm sure their parents don't, either - quite apart from the costs involved in such extravagant presents.

When I read about parents fighting each other, or bribing their child's teacher, to get their little Harry or Lily a star part in the class nativity play, I really do wonder what the hell's gone wrong. I heard recently about a two-year-old whose mother said the child was 'desperate' to play the part of the Angel Gabriel. Quite apart from it being unlikely the two-year-old had any idea who the Angel Gabriel was, why was the mother herself so 'desperate' for this to happen? So that she could post a photo on Facebook? Show off about the child's acting abilities? Why are some people pushing their kids into things earlier and earlier, and where's it all going to end?  I suppose some mothers are fighting over whose baby gets to lie in the manger!

Back in the 50s, it was far more common for families to go to church, and for the kids to go to Sunday school, and the nativity pageant and carol service were woven into the fabric of the church year rather than being something put on in much the same vein as a fancy dress party. Of course it was always an exciting part of the season, but it was also treated with a kind of respect because most of our parents and teachers genuinely believed in the birth of Christ and were teaching us about it at Christmas, at the same time as buying presents and decorating the tree. I think, and hope, I did the same for our children and although I realise that lots of people don't share this belief, I feel sad that children aren't always even taught what Christmas is actually all about, even if only for the sake of carrying on the rich traditions involved.  How sad if their only understanding of a nativity play is their parents' 'desperation' to see them dressed up to play one of the main parts!

I hate to say it ... but how long before we see 'The Nativity Play' on TV as a new children's talent show, with toddlers competing each week for the glittering prize of playing Mary or Joseph in the final - and their parents in the audience screaming encouragement at them as they lisp 'I've just got to win, it's the only thing that matters to me'.  The really scary thing is that it wouldn't even surprise us, would it!

On a happier note - some things about Christmas never change, and I hope they never do. Being with our families, thinking of those we can't be with, wrapping and giving presents, enjoying the excitement of the children all over again with each generation - these things are worth so much more than having a new TV, an obscene amount of food and drink, new sparkly clothes or expensive gifts.

I never did get that rocking-horse, but NOT getting it has been a more valuable experience in the long run. Let's be honest - none of us can say it hurt us, not having the latest toys or technology when we were young - but if our parents stuck us in an Angel Gabriel costume and shoved us up on the stage, we're probably still having nightmares about it to this day!

Have a wonderful Christmas, everyone, whatever you do and whoever you do it with.


  1. hi Sheila,I organise my church's Gift Service and am really close to the business of gifts for a lot of late November and early December. Rocking horses wouldn't fit into most of their homes, but a gift, new and wrapped, is so important.
    Living in Scotland, the nativity play has never been the same high pressure issue it seems to be elsewhere, Thank goodness. Happy Christmas, Anne Stenhouse.

    1. Hi Anne. I agree - everyone loves to receive a wrapped gift. And to be fair, it's hard to resist the temptation to spend more than we should on those we love, if we can afford it - especially if years ago, we couldn't! Happy Christmas.

  2. Great post, Sheila, it really resonated with me, although I think I'm a decade or so older than you. I remember being thrilled with the gift of a Holy Bible (about 1947 I think) as they had only just started being reprinted after the war. I still have it but it's so fragile now, I don't use it. Christmas was much simpler then with more of the true meaning of Christmas - now sadly lacking in so many homes.

    1. Yes, you're right, Anne - it was simpler and expectations were different! But to be fair, I do still enjoy it today just as much, because the focus is always on my lovely family.