Monday 16 September 2019

Barbara McCarthy: 'Irish people are the champions of splurge at Christmas'

'Fun doesn't have to come with financial ruin'

'Young kids especially love the tree, the homemade Christmas decorations, the lights - the spell is potent without overdoing it.' Stock photo
'Young kids especially love the tree, the homemade Christmas decorations, the lights - the spell is potent without overdoing it.' Stock photo
Barbara McCarthy

Barbara McCarthy

The 'recovery' is in full swing so, as champions of splurge, Irish people will no doubt spend money accordingly this Christmas. International studies indicate that Irish people spend more at Christmas than other Europeans or Americans. In 2015, mummypages.ie revealed that the average Irish parent spends €254 on presents per child, while 16pc spend up to €600 on each child.

I was thinking more along the lines of spending €25.40 rather than €254 on my daughter. She hasn't asked for anything and has no lists. She doesn't fully know Santa brings gifts. She's three.

I do believe and have witnessed the old adage 'spoilt kids make spoilt adults' being mostly true, unfortunately.

Giving too many gifts can take the fun out of life. We have so few years where true magic exists, and a cornucopia of riches can cause indifference which occurs as we age anyway, so why speed it up?

Children have simple needs. They just want to play and be around their parents as much as possible - not teenagers, but the younger ones. If all they have is 40-year-old Lego, that's all they'll want.

Gifts coming from all directions can be bewildering. The enchantment of the individual gift disappears and they will come to expect them regularly, killing off novelty.

Those who canonised St Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop, famous gift-giver and patron saint of children, probably never foresaw the flagrant consumerism and consumption that would be unleashed each Christmas.

There was no precedent for showering children with presents.

In fact, St Nicholas's sidekick, Knecht Ruprecht, etched in German folklore, was a foil to the benevolent gift-giver and threatened to thrash or abduct naughty or disobedient children.

Thankfully, he's been written out of the script - all the same, we should spare a thought for Santa's benign but exhausted helpers.

Having to meet those ever more lengthy lists exacts a toll. In Germany, Santa comes on December 6, the day St Nicholas died, and kids leave their boots outside their room, only to find them filled with chocolate treats the next day. The innocent joy.

Then on Christmas Eve, the Christkind comes bearing some gifts - not a van-full mind. This is where the term Christkindl was born, in case you're wondering.

I favour the way my German ancestors do things, especially how to decorate a tree. Having invented Christmas, they conduct their yuletide affairs with tradition, dignity and taste.

German kids don't get as much spent on them as Irish kids do and they seem happy enough.

And then there's the waste. Twenty-five percent of stuff we buy ends up being returned, whatever about the stuff that gets chucked out. A lose-lose, hugely wasteful scenario for all, and especially for the environment.

I'm unaware of what goes on in school yards, where children may compare gifts, but instinct tells me sometimes less is really more. There is so much stimulation and excitement in the air already.

Young kids especially love the tree, the homemade Christmas decorations, the lights - the spell is potent without overdoing it.

Christmas is already magical to a child. Gifting them our precious time is probably the best thing we can do. It also helps if there is some old Lego to be dug out from somewhere.

I know I probably sound like the killjoy Nell from 'Wuthering Heights', but fun doesn't have to come with financial ruin and Santa is working hard enough to keep everyone happy.

Irish Independent

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