The Case for a Simpler Christmas

When I look back on my memories of Christmas as a child, they are vague and happy. The opening of the living room door in the half-light and small cries of ‘Santa’s been!’ Trying to stay awake in the hopes of glimpsing red fabric or a boot topped with snowy white dusting. Paper party hats, church-going, Only Fools and Horses, advent calendars that opened up to festive scenes. Our little dog lying prostrate after a night-time excursion under the tree and the devouring of someone’s Yorkie bar (not so happy, but she bounced back eventually).

Laughter. Family. Christmas dinner.

And snow – lots of it.

This was the Eighties. It seemed to snow much more back then.

What I don’t recall from that time, really, are the presents. With a couple of notable exceptions – a Miss Piggy doll, and a toy chimpanzee called Cuthbert the Chimp. They were both endlessly coveted, and clutched to my chest adoringly à la limpet. I admired Miss Piggy’s glamorous gold locks, and Cuthbert’s ability to chat about things like his fondness for bananas, thanks to a string located on his side.

Sadly, they both came to grief, much to my juvenile devastation. Miss Piggy was torn away in the jaws of a neighbourhood dog – we found her later, woefully devoid of her beautiful gold hair. Cuthbert, for his part, was guest of honour at numerous tea parties and banquets before losing his voice in a highly traumatic episode. In the wake of this, I oversaw an operation performed by my dad and uncle to repair his vocal chords. Alas, it was unsuccessful.

Cuthbert still lives out a happy – albeit mute – retirement at my parents’ house not far away.

I suppose the point I’m getting at is that in the many years I was classed as a child I only truly remember two presents. I received more than this, undoubtedly, but in reality they didn’t add up to a huge amount. There wasn’t much money around, and one main present with a few titbits and a Yorkie bar (if the dog hadn’t eaten it) was standard. But those gifts were coveted, they were clutched à la limpet, their frailties had the power to devastate.

Quite simply, they were the kind of gifts that were adored.

Fast forward thirty years or so, and the scene on Christmas morning can seem a little different. Mounds of presents, so many to get through that we can need a break before Part Two. Finding homes for gifts from well-meaning givers, only for them to resurface around March, nobody having noticed, or really even cared about, their disappearance. That sickening feeling of it all getting too much, too over-indulgent, too wasteful. That sense of wanting to rein it back in to something simpler.

Laughter. Family. Christmas dinner.

Less presents, more of something else.

This year I’ve been taking a more mindful approach to Christmas, one that’s been evolving over the past few years now. Stripping it back a little with each year that passes, sending fewer cards, whittling down the Christmas buying list. It can be hard to explain to people sometimes, that this isn’t about being mean, or Grinch-like, it’s about being full of joy and wonder for the things of Christmastime that really matter. Shared experiences over unnecessary gifting. Shopping small over shopping big.

Our kids, we hope, will have some thoughtful presents they’ll adore – not just for the five minutes it takes to open them, but for much longer. Thankfully, most of those close to us have the same mindset, knowing that what the kids love best about Christmas is the time spent with their cousins and other family members on the day.

And it’s not just about the gifts, it’s about the whole season. Being a little kinder to ourselves in December. Finding joy instead of feeling stressed. This year, I’ve booked myself onto a wreath-making workshop, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m going to focus on enjoying it – instead of berating myself about how else I could have been spending my precious time. We’ll look for ways to give to others, donating to our local food bank and our local toy appeal. Offering kind words wherever possible. Being gentle – both to others, and to ourselves.

And when I think about the Christmas gifts that have meant the most to me in recent years, two again stand out – a second-hand typewriter, and a vintage copy of Little Women my parents bought for me in a charity shop. The thought of anyone rummaging around second-hand shops for a gift for me? Truly, that type of thoughtful gifting really has my heart for life.

And as parents then, perhaps the best kind of gift we can give to our children this Christmas is understanding. Understanding that thoughtfulness, care and attention should always win out over ‘stuff.’

The understanding that giving means more than receiving – giving joy and love and gratitude.

Laughter. Family. Christmas dinner.

The simple things.

This Christmas, perhaps less is really more.