In my family we did away with Christmas presents for adults many years ago. It was ridiculous, buying presents for people who could afford anything they wanted for themselves throughout the year. And all that rigmarole of looking for something, and then wrapping it up, and finally the hackneyed ritual of presenting it on Christmas Day. Everyone knew the package given to them (sometimes it was 'packages') would contain nothing that they would treasure. It was all a waste of money, time and effort. And as Mum and Dad got ever older, and shopping became physically harder for them, the natural time came to stop the show and agree that henceforth adults would get just a nice Christmas card.
Children were of course quite another thing. But by the time our no-presents agreement came into force, there were no longer any young children. And even now there is only one child to consider (three year old Matilda).
Birthdays were also quite another matter. Birthdays are individual. It's important to mark them with not only a card, but something else. For my parents and myself that 'something else' meant being treated to a nice meal, or a nice day out somewhere. For my niece and nephew, a small but symbolic cheque.
And that's how things have stayed for many years now. I gave Tilly a toy last month, when I went up to visit, and I'll give her Mum a decent cheque for Christmas, to help buy clothes and shoes for her. And then, apart from writing and sending off fifty-odd Christmas cards, that's all I'm doing for Christmas.
I know that many will be appalled to read that. And will think me a mean-spirited Scrooge. Well, bah humbug. I am appalled at the way Christmas has over my lifetime degenerated into The Archetypical Formula Occasion, when buy, buy, buy is the rally cry, and High Street and Online sales figures dominate the news. When you hear of how children's expectations have been ramped up. For example, Christmas Eve presents, for goodness sake. I'm not tut-tutting from any religious point of view. But I do think that Christmas has become an irredemable commercial circus, a frenzy out of control, and the most stressful time of the year. I'm not saying that it's become impossible to enjoy a Happy Christmas. You can still make it so if you wish. But a serene, thoughtful, warm-hearted winter celebration is at odds with what the marketing people want you to do.
Every Christmas people break down, and lose their way; and relationships fail under all the pressure. All because Christmas has to be done 'properly'.
You know, I'm minded to select a stone circle, or high chalk ridge, and go there on or near the date of the Winter Solstice, whether frosty or not. At dawn, of course. Just to stand still and silently commune with the sky, the wind, the landscape, and the forgotten spirits of stone and soil. Ideally there would need to be fire, and ritual words murmured with arms outstretched towards the infinite; but these are embellishments. And then, having experienced something elemental, to have a cheerful breakfast somewhere. And then a long walk through whispering woods, or along a shoreline, lapped softly by the sea. I reckon Salisbury Plain and the New Forest will between them provide what I want.
And not John Lewis, nor Marks & Spencer.