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Fear of being perceived as misers runs deeper than our pockets

IF you were in Dublin city centre this weekend, you'll have been aware that the full-on Christmas shopping offensive has begun.

Similar Santa-related spending was going on all over the country. Maybe you haven't heard 'Fairytale Of New York' yet, but stores are piled high with all we have come to associate with the largesse of the festive season, from novelty jumpers to bathtime gift sets that nobody is ever thrilled to receive.

Meanwhile, shoppers have that maniacal look in their eyes as they charge around buying monster tins of luxury assorted roasted nuts and mulled wine sachets. After all, it is only five weeks until Christmas, and God help the poor eejit who thinks it can all be done the week before.

The Irish know how to have a good Yuletide. That we take the Christmas period very seriously was proved by the recent survey results from accountancy firm Deloitte, who found Irish consumers spend more money at Christmas than any others in the EU. A lot more. The average Irish household spends €966 in comparison with the far more modest EU average of €591.

The survey says Irish consumers plan to spend less, but one can only suspect that this has about as much conviction as someone who says they're going for "just the one". It should be pointed out that this €966 spend is down from €1,300 at the height of the boom, but you'd have presumed that after five years of austerity it would have come down a lot more.

It would be an easy assumption to make that the majority of this spend is on imbibing, general carousing and consuming our body weight in Stilton. But in fact, the gluttonous aspect of Christmas is not how we're spending our money in the main. Break that €966 down and €499 of it goes on gifts while €288 is spent on food and drink and €178 on going out, although the last figure probably doesn't apply to those planning to do the 12 Pubs of Christmas crawl.

It shouldn't really come as a surprise that we are so flaithulach when it comes to Christmas spending. It's not necessarily that the Irish are more generous than our European neighbours, but the fear of being perceived as mean runs deep. It's the terror that any visitor would leave your house feeling anything but stuffed to the gills, even if they only dropped in for a cuppa. It's the panic of getting your round in and the anxiety that you'd ever be perceived as someone afraid to put a hand in your pocket.

Debt – fine. Being considered miserly – not so fine. And that the festive season should go unmarked without potentially developing gout, putting on half a stone and having the most miserable, financially destitute January ever goes against everything an Irish Christmas stands for.

If the survey demonstrates our dislike of parsimony, it also shows we are a literary nation.

BOOKS are what 46 per cent of adults would like to get, and while nearly half of all Christmas spending is on children, educational toys are the most popular. While we haven't reached the stage where we're exchanging homemade relishes or jewellery fashioned by our own hands, our desires are, in the main, practical. After books we want clothes, cosmetics, perfumes and vouchers. We might have the highest Christmas spend in Europe but we haven't lost the run of ourselves, as we're trying to keep a lid on things financially, with one in four of us planning to buy things in the sales and a third intent on buying less expensive gifts to save some cash.

Happiness cannot be equated with money. Are our Christmases twice as good as the rest of Europe's because we're spending almost twice as much? Probably not. But as we fling another bottle of Baileys and a luxury seafood platter into the trolley, it's difficult not to suspect that we must be having a better time than the Dutch, who spend only €257 per household on their festivities.

Irish Independent