Christmas is conflated with a lot of things these days, but perhaps the most fallacious of all the Christmas myths we blindly buy into is the one that proclaims that it’s all about the children.
No, it isn’t. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Children ruin Christmas. I know this because I’ve done it myself. As a small boy growing up in the early 1970s I had my heart set on an astronaut outfit. On Christmas morning the garish wrapping paper failed its raison d’etre and I recognised the space helmet among the modest pile of gifts under the tree immediately. Shredding the wrap I tore through the rest, frantically racing to get to the silver foil outfit and the pretend oxygen backpack. Where were they? A wooden toolbox and a Spirograph set would be useless on my imaginary voyage to Mars. Turns out my mother had left it too late and all she could find in the toy shop, spaceman-wise, was the helmet.
The fury of a disappointed petulant child knows no bounds and I screamed, then cried, then threw the helmet across the room and made my family’s Christmas utterly miserable. My parents were on eggshells for the rest of the day. My sisters opened their presents in embarrassed silence. Even the dog looked depressed.
The traditional and, let’s face it, slightly sickening, Christmas image of the whole family joyously opening presents around a real tree, grateful for the gifts they receive is woefully outdated, if it ever existed in the first place. The reality of the modern Christmas nightmare is more like this; you bought the wrong Xbox game for your 10-year-old son and the trainers you bought for your daughter, the apple of your eye, were fashionable last year (that’s why they were so heavily discounted but you do like a bargain). As for the mobile phones you thoughtfully got for them despite their tender years because everyone else in their class has got one, don’t even go there. Your delightful progeny are now weeping with rage at your ineptitude and hate you for ruining their day. You don’t know anything about anything. You are an idiot.
As you reach for the sherry you wonder to yourself why you even bothered, and reflect that your kids have got it wrong; you haven’t ruined their Christmas, they’ve ruined yours. The only possible consolation is that this sorry farrago of consumer tat and infant psychopathy is being repeated up and down the country.
The idea that parents these days are time-poor and over-compensate for this by indulging their offspring is so familiar as to have become a cliche, but it’s true. We seem to be hell-bent on creating our own versions of China’s “little emperors”, and all this over-pampering and over-indulgence means that children are unable to cope with not getting what they want. When they grow up these traits grow up with them leading to an inability to deal with disappointment compounded by an unshakeable sense of self-entitlement. We aren’t doing children or ourselves any favours with the craven inability to utter the word “no” to the selfish little monsters we’ve created.
The merits or otherwise of deliberately not having children have been debated endlessly. Suffice to say that my partner and I do not have children, do not want them, and are looking forward to Christmas immensely. For those who desperately want children but can’t have them, Christmas must be intolerably sad, given the emphasis that society places on putting children at the centre of the festival. They have my deepest sympathy.
For the rest, the great mass who have offspring and have almost bankrupted themselves to keep their greedy-eyed child-emperors happy whatever the cost, well, I hope you have the Christmas you think you deserve. But I can’t help thinking you’ll be disappointed.