If the festive season is causing you too much stress, it’s time to stop spending and start enjoying yourself says Jane Bradley
It is that time of year again.
Tesco has been selling mince pies for weeks, the Pogues are assaulting my ears every time I enter a shop and my email inbox is filled with press releases about how much Christmas is going to cost.
“The average British household expects to spend £753 on Christmas festivities this year!” screams one survey, from GoCompare.com.
“UK adults are budgeting an average of £463 each for the festive shop!” proclaims a “survey” from money lender Sunny, perhaps, one might cynically believe, rubbing its hands with glee.
Short-term recruitment company Coople is also cashing in on the population’s potential financial woes, pointing out helpfully that by working in a temporary job at the average wage for three Sundays in the run up to Christmas, people who are planning to spend the typical £200 or so on their children’s presents could fund the excess.
House of Fraser has helpfully filled me in on the nation’s “decorating habits”, revealing that 11 per cent of women admit to purchasing new Christmas decorations as early as January, while more than a quarter of men apparently “strive for their decorations to be more impressive than friends and neighbours”.
But all of this spending does not happy festive elves make.
On Mumsnet, that bastion of all things middle class and first world-problemesque, the discussion boards are already rife with chat about whether tree lights should be coloured (“shudder”, says one Mumsnet user) or white and queries as to how to wangle it so that the in-laws are uninvited for Christmas Day. People are already spoiling for fist fights over who cooks the Christmas turkey, where the children should sleep at relatives’ homes and if they’ll agree to cook chips instead of roast tatties for picky visiting relatives.
My own Facebook newsfeed is filled with posts from panicked parents unable to get their hands on furry robot toys which breathe mist or like being tickled, hatch from an egg or have glowing antennae to tell the under tens that they should be looking at their iPads - and which will be inevitably forgotten at the bottom of the toy box by Boxing Day.
Stop. Just stop.
It has become ridiculous.
A few years ago, we all did our Christmas shopping in a fun but panicked rush on Christmas Eve. We only bought presents that we could carry home in one go on the bus, in our own hands, rather than amassing so much stuff that there would be no way to transport it home, if it weren’t for the capable hands of the Amazon delivery chap.
Meanwhile, this Christmas madness and debt nonsense was saved for a select few who just had a thing about the festive season. Everyone had someone like this in their family - perhaps an aunt who would stash hundreds of presents into a giant Santa sack for every family member, adults included - containing such gems such as foldable plastic scissors and an eyebrow shaping kit or reindeer slippers for your 89-year-old grandmother. They were regarded as well-meaning, but slightly eccentric. Now we’re all at it with the growing piles of junk, our souls drowning under mounds of wrapping paper.
Black Friday marks the start of the festive cash splashing, with the British public racking up sales of £200 million at department store John Lewis alone in one day.
The event, nicked from America, where they do Christmas as if their lives depended on it, is just the beginning of a frenzy of Christmas shopping which now lasts a month.
The irony is that we do not even need to rack up debts to enjoy a festive time.
A report out from Good Housekeeping magazine showed that the eleven ingredients deemed necessary for a typical Christmas meal are now 10.8 per cent cheaper than they were in 2009 - thanks mainly, to discount supermarkets such as Aldi, which, according to the GH index, boasts the cheapest Christmas dinner in the UK.
Christmas does not have to be expensive. The GH survey aside, why not just buy a big chicken (£4.80 at a leading supermarket) and cook a couple of sausages (£1.60 for 12) wrapped in bacon (a couple of quid for six rashers) with a few pence worth of veg. Put the carols on Spotify (free) and stick an orange (20p for your typical satsuma) and a Lego minifigure (£2.49 from Argos) in the kids’ stockings.
Or go off-piste: make a huge vegetarian chilli and stick it in the middle of the table with a pile of holly pilfered from the bush in the park around the corner.
Of course, if you want to spend more and have the money to do so, then feel free. Just don’t get yourself into debt for one day - and think about why you are spending and what on.
Christmas is not a competition. Whether we see it as a celebration of the birth of Jesus or a chance to catch up with friends and family, enjoy some magical traditions and fall asleep in front of the TV after a glass of sherry, it should, for most people, be a pleasant experience.
For the majority, building it up into a time of stress and commercial excess makes us miserable, not happier. Don’t waste your time trying to buy bigger and better fairy lights than next door, or adding up, Scrooge-style, whether the scarf you bought for Great Uncle Seamus, who has a gigantic house and three holidays a year in the Maldives, is worth more or less than the dusty looking bath salts he put under your tree.
Frantic shoppers fighting to get the best toys, the biggest Christmas decorations and the fanciest turkey need to remember the people who are spending Christmas on their own - or those who are spending the end of the year, religion aside, watching their homes being blown apart, or freezing in tents in a refugee camp.
Those of us lucky enough to be in a more fortunate position need to stop spending, stop moaning and start enjoying ourselves.