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Having moved back home and started to enjoy all the Christmassy, homely loveliness on offer, reading Trevor Mitchell’s attack on Christmas in the Guardian is like a cold shower. His derisive depiction of petulant children and his own childhood Christmases couldn’t be further from the truth for most of the population. He argues that children can ruin Christmas if they don’t receive the presents that they want, and that spending the season without children is wholly preferably. It’s true that as technology has advanced and has progressively become cheaper, children’s Christmas presents of today are far more extravagant than the ones us nineties’ kids received. I was happy with a Furby and a selection box, but nowadays kids are receiving everything from mobile phones to iPads and iPods from a young age.
However, does this really turn them all into demanding children who could ruin Christmas as soon as their parents’ gifts dissatisfy them? Mitchell’s claim that his parents “were on eggshells for the rest of the day” after not providing him with an astronaut’s kit beggars belief. It can’t be said that all children are “greedy-eyed child-emperors.” There may have been the odd Christmas where we were severely disappointed and ungrateful, but to the extent that our parents were on eggshells? If I’d been ungrateful for a gift as a child, I would have had a severe telling off instead of being treated like an explosive bomb.
If you’re going to argue that children demanding more and more presents each year ruins Christmas, then surely you have to place the blame on a society that materialises a Christian festival instead. Children aren’t born petulant and eager for an iPad; the whole aura surrounding Christmas – toy adverts, Argos catalogues, Christmas decorations, advent calendars – is the issue that Mitchell is too afraid to confront, instead placing the blame on children who simply want to revel in what a material Christmas has to offer.
But one thing about Mitchell’s article really gets me wound up. He claims that: “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image of the whole family joyously opening presents around a real tree, grateful for the gifts they receive is woefully outdated, if it ever existed in the first place.” What sort of miserable Christmases does he have? The festive period is a time for family get-togethers, good food, and the selfless exchange of gifts. Mitchell’s article clearly gives the impression that presents are only good for receiving, and only then if they are actually presents that you want. Part of the Christmas fun is giving rather than receiving. If it turns out that your mother doesn’t really want a bright pink dressing gown, then asking for the gift receipt and taking it back is part of the fun.
The point is, Mitchell’s opinion is the one that is outdated and all his article has achieved is to make himself a new embodiment of Ebenezer Scrooge. If Christmas isn’t about children, then it wouldn’t be half as enjoyable as it is. Though with my very poor memory I don’t remember any childhood Christmas particularly vividly, I do know that my Dad was often more excited than me and my brother when it came to Christmas morning. The expectation, the looks on our faces when we saw Santa’s sack waiting for us, and the happiness when the gifts were unwrapped; who wouldn’t be excited by that, regardless of your age?
It also seems that most of the readers of Mitchell’s article are completely in agreement that his piece demeans what Christmas is about. One commenter hit the nail on the head with a simple anecdote: “We bought a few simple gifts that the Salvation Army will distribute to children via social services. We may have ‘only’ spent a few quid on a few toys, but don’t diminish the sense of belonging and hope a small gesture will give to a child who may be having a Christmas from hell… It isn’t the monetary value of the gift that matters. It is the thought.” If everyone were that way inclined, Christmas wouldn’t be ruined by children – it would be made by them.