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Ian Bowie on Christmas
'What parent would not load their credit card to its absolute limit, remortgage the house or sell the family silver to ensure their offspring receive all their little hearts desire?'

Excited children everywhere are preparing themselves for an important visitor. He comes but once a year and his visit is always preceded by much preparation and expectation. Santa Claus is on his way and the kids can hardly wait to see what he has with him. They know they have been good and that the elves report must have been favourable so surely surely Sánta will be bringing the latest version of Play Station with him, or at the very least a personal television or portable stereo system. Perhaps he will, but what is absolutely certain is that he will also leave a very large bill behind, for Christmas is as ever the biggest commercial enterprise of them all. What parent would not load their credit card to its absolute limit, remortgage the house or sell the family silver to ensure their offspring receive all their little hearts desire?

A slight exaggeration perhaps, but for many, not so far from the truth. Every year the newspapers are full of the horror stories of the aftermath of Christmas with stories of overspending, by parents eager to please the ever more sophisticated needs of their streetwise kids. A book would be looked on with scorn, a wooden toy with derision and don’t even think about hand knitted socks. Clothes are fine so long as they are branded, toys no problem if electronic and you might even get away with a music CD provided it is by a hip band currently ‘in vogue’.

So where did it all go wrong, exactly when did we lose sight of the true meaning and value of Christmas?

Maybe we haven’t, perhaps we are just victims of easy access to money on credit and advertising that tells us what to buy. Or maybe the traditional Christmas is just a figment of our collective imaginations. Has the image, as depicted by so many cards, of families singing carols round the piano while a log fire crackles and snow falls gently outside a frosted window truly ever existed, or is it merely an illusion? Can present day reality be so far removed from this idyllic view so commonly accepted as a traditional family Christmas? More likely perhaps is the theory that Christmas is not much different today than it was a hundred years ago. After all the basic concepts are quite similar, the coming together of families, the giving and accepting of presents, enjoyment of good food and good will to all men. The main difference between the family of yesteryear and its modern day equivalent is one of form. The family that comes together to celebrate a contemporary Christmas is as likely to be a single mum or divorced parent as the more traditional mum and dad with two kids. The same can be said of the presents we continue to give and receive. At one time the old saying ‘it’s the thought that counts’ rang true, sadly today that very same ring sounds hollow, for in our modern consumer society ‘it is the cost that counts’ and little else.

Not even the food we traditionally choose to eat at this time of year has been spared from the wheel of progress. In Britain turkey is still widely served for lunch on Christmas day. The only difference between today’s turkey and that of its ancestor a hundred years ago is that where great great granddad was chosen fresh, plucked stuffed and roasted for several hours in a hot oven our modern turkey is pre packed, possibly genetically modified and cooked in minutes with the help of a microwave oven. And what about Goodwill to all Men? Well, in today’s climate of political correctness and equality of the sexes one is obliged to wish ‘Goodwill to all persons’ instead.

Despite the changes, Christmas still holds a magical excitement for our young children. Blissfully unaware of parental sacrifice they innocently write letters to Santa in the hope their every wish will be fulfilled. More often than not it will be and parents will be rewarded by the happy shrieks of delighted children as they rip off the brightly coloured wrapping paper to unveil the present it conceals.
‘Wow! A radio controlled teenage mutant killer teddy bear dressed in an original Tommy Hilfiger jacket. Thank you Santa, just what I always wanted’.

Merry Christmas everyone

© Ian Bowie 2001 (Who will be spending Christmas in Finland where Santa knows how to party...)

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