Christmas sweet box is losing its sparkle. Should we just call the whole thing off? – Aidan Smith

Should Christmas be cancelled? I ask because an integral part of the great Christian festival won’t be happening this year. No more will the Quality Street twinkle like the star in the east – bringing, as the Bible says, “exceedingly great joy”.
Barbie, pictured with a companion, before her Margot Robbie makeover (Picture: Mark Lennihan/PA)Barbie, pictured with a companion, before her Margot Robbie makeover (Picture: Mark Lennihan/PA)
Barbie, pictured with a companion, before her Margot Robbie makeover (Picture: Mark Lennihan/PA)

There will still be the sweets, vying for your attention in their tubs and boxes, but they won’t rustle and, tragically, they won’t sparkle.

Manufacturers Nestle are disposing with the double-wrapped tradition – silver foil and a second layer of vividly coloured see-through plastic – which has carried them joyfully through the entire reign of Elizabeth II and 16 years previously – in favour of environmentally kinder waxed paper.

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All very laudable, of course, but don’t forget that this Christmas you will be commemorating the birth of the baby Jesus while wearing two coats and three fleeces over your festive jumper – unlit because you’re saving on batteries.

Your turkey will come from a tin, from a food bank, which you could serve hot via the microwave... but that would mean no telly so entertainment will have to be confined to the singing of madrigals.

Your tree will also have no lights – in fact, you’ll have chopped it up for firewood during that cold snap the week before. And in the dank gloom, candles fast running out, if the Quality Street won’t glisten like in all those happy Christmases regaled by Morecambe and Wise and Slade, how on earth are you going to scrabble around and locate your favourite soft centres?

Even for hedge fund managers who successfully bet on the outcome of Kwasi Kwarteng’s first and surely last budget, the cost-of-living crisis is going to impact on Christmas. For them as well as us, the BBC’s upcoming winter schedule is being stuffed full of “very British” programmes designed to improve resilience and see the nation through tough times.

Sir David Attenborough, instead of venturing far and wide for amazing footage of exotic animals, will front a series about UK wildlife. It’s hoped, if you can afford to switch on the TV, that the show won’t seem cheapo and dully regional; rather that it be comforting and encourage the belief that “we’re all in this together” – though don’t even think about knocking on my door on the 25th hoping for a raw Brussels sprout. And there’s the promise of a chase equally as thrilling as racing snakes hunting down just-hatched iguanas when giant leeches pursue baby toads across the “killing fields” of Somerset.

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This Christmas, we will all feel like baby toads, but resilience is also a feature of the toys the big stores trust mums and dads will still be able to afford for the weans. Hopes are being pinned on sturdy, well-made, enduring playthings which evoke snuggly nostalgia for having seen the country through hard times before and which can be passed down to younger kids because, well, there ain’t going to be any more money for new goodies for some considerable time.

I’m surprised, though, to see Play-Doh described by Hamleys as “retro” because it hasn’t been absent from our house for more than a decade now and there’s always a chance blobs of it will be found in the fridge or down the back of the sofa while ferreting for pennies for the kids’ lunches.

Barbie also dates from the 1950s when there was still rationing but she seems to have undergone cosmetic surgery to more resemble Margot Robbie who’s bringing the doll to life for the big screen. And while last Christmas the oldest toy store in the world could get away with a £310 Barbie Dreamhouse as the most expensive gift on its top-ten list, the priciest this year is an ice cream van in the Play-Doh range costing £100.

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The van is equipped with a “realistic soft-serve machine”, which makes me smile. And Hamleys’ upgrade of Buzz Lightyear comes with a “realistic jetpack vapour trail” which, alongside the roller-disco version of Peppa Pig, provokes slightly deranged scoffing.

I bet these functions really do work. They’ll provide hours of endless fun. Unlike the toys of my youth which were never as exciting as they were in the hands of those irritatingly clean-cut kids featured on the packaging. My childhood was almost exclusively “Made in Hong Kong”. Stuff broke, quickly malfunctioned or protruding wires threatened to take out an eye.

At one time I did have toys of more robust construction but for some perverse reason decided to bury my Dinky, Corgi and Matchbox cars in the field beyond our garden and despite my father’s heroic search bids they were lost forever.

All of my children have grown up with this cautionary tale about looking after your toys and being grateful for them. Possibly I’ve exaggerated for comic effect my Spartan early years by commandeering their Lego to assemble grim, windowless carbuncles (“What’s that, Dad?” “A jail. It was all I could think to build with the bricks available when I was your age.”). But really, I don’t think I’ve properly recovered from the disappointment of those dismal attempts at accessorising my Action Man.

How much did that flame-thrower cost? A lot of saved-up pocket money. And how far did it actually shoot fire? The kit strapped onto the back of the stupid, expressionless figure with his ickle, tough-guy facial scar and… that was it. I don’t know why I thought there was a thrilling risk of burning the playroom down. Even though for kids these were the 1960s, a gun-crazy, gobstopper-heavy era when the manufacturers’ motto seemed to be: “Safety last.”

As I tell my children most days right now, it’s lucky I’m here at all and able to bore them about how, regarding crises and hardships and the risk of rooting around in the Quality Street and pulling out the dreaded toffee penny, they don’t even know they’re born.



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