Making Christmas Magical For The Kids: How Far Is Too Far?

5 December 2014

Christmas + kids

That’s been a topic of heated debate in the virtual office here at Playpennies this week.

Would you queue for hours at the crack of dawn just to lay your hands on a Snow Glow Elsa at a reasonable price? Do you draw the line at camping outside a department store overnight to nab this year’s must-have toy to make Christmas really special for your kids? Or do you laugh in the face of such desperate antics and consider it your job as a parent to teach your kid that Santa doesn’t have room in his sleigh for everything on everybody’s letter, never mind the means to acquire a pet marmoset from Paraguay?

Clearly, your answer to this question depends in part on how fervently your kids believe. After all, it’s one thing to overlook the request for an Xbox when your kid understands the value of money - not to mention has the capacity to earn his way towards such luxuries - but quite another to contemplate watching the wonder in your child’s eyes slowly die, even just a tiny bit, when he wakes up on Christmas morning to discover that Santa didn’t deliver the goods.

One of our team - we’ll call her Karen, cos that’s her name - agrees that the pressure is really on for parents whose kids have yet to question how one fat man can squeeze down the chimney of every single household on the globe in a single night. There’s just something about the innocent fervour of a child’s wide-eyed belief in Santa that compels many parents to push the boat out. Like, r-e-a-l-l-y far out.

“I go nuts at Christmas with everything - presents, food, decorations, board games, magic dust - I get the lot,” she admits. “I have fab memories of Christmases as a child and I want to recreate some of that magic for my daughter. Fortunately she appreciates it, and tells everyone her favourite thing about Christmas is spending time with her family, which makes it all worthwhile.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Luschka, although you won’t find her selling the family jewels just to pay over the odds for an in-demand Christmas toy that’s out of stock everywhere except in an online auction run by heartless extortioners.

“I put a lot of effort into food for Christmas Day, since that's the centre of 'family time' in my mind,” she says. “But I only tend to buy one or two presents for the kids, and generally only things I know they really want or need, because as the only children in the family they are spoilt with toys and clothes from everyone else, so there’s no need to add to the ‘stuff' they amass at Christmas.”

Luschka says she always thinks of that scene from the first Harry Potter movie when Dudley flips out because he 'only'  has 36 presents this year, compares to last year’s haul of 37. “I'm not keen on setting precedents like that,” she adds.

Similarly, Lisa feels no guilt about explaining to her children that they can't have everything they want for Christmas - but she admits to feeling like a bit of a Scrooge for doing so - so surrounded are we by parents who seem to think nothing of fulfilling their children’s every wish at Christmas.

“My son asks for all sorts and I just say no. He's been asking for Mario Kart 8 for a year and he just gets 'No'. He writes a Christmas list, but he knows that Father Christmas will just pick something off it, not get him the lot. But I'm a horrible mother…”

So are the rest of us just afraid to say 'No' to our kids?

Luschka says her reluctance to go overboard with presents for her kids at Christmas is less about saying No, and more about wanting to put the focus on something other than getting gifts. “Where I do spend more time and money for the kids directly is on our Advent calendar,” she says.

"We do a book Advent and an activity Advent, and marry the two together. So if the characters eat gingerbread biscuits in today's Advent story, then our own Advent activity will be to make gingerbread men. If the characters go ice skating, the activity Advent will include tickets for the ice rink. If it's not an activity day, we'll do an activity book, like the ones from Aldi, and make press-out scenes and so on. I love enjoying the build-up to Christmas, and the final 'celebration' of a family day together."

Fortunately, once the truth about Santa hits home there tends to be less reason to pull out all the stops when it comes to presents for the kids at Christmas. Laura says she’s been roped into going overboard in the past but hints that she's since seen the light. “I admit I’ve paid over the odds to import Ben 10 figures just so the kids would have a full set, but now? Nah, not so much.”

Even if we’re not afraid of saying 'No' to our kids, I wonder if fear still underlies the tendency of so many parents to go mad on presents for the kids at Christmas. Deep down I think we’re afraid of disappointing them - even if we don’t admit it widely. I reckon most mums and dads have known that ridiculous urge to panic-buy just one more present at the eleventh hour on Christmas just in case - God forbid - we’re met with looks of disappointment instead of eyes wide with wonder on Christmas Day.

But ultimately, isn't that compulsion to avoid disappointment at all costs at Christmas just a sure-fire way of setting our kids up for the biggest disappointment of their lives - the eventual realisation that the world beyond the front door isn't nearly as cushy and accommodating as childhood may have led them to believe...

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