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Christmas stress - a gift for life

In the weeks running up to Christmas, some pupils would casually mention what they were getting - bedroom make-overs, televisions, computer games consoles, a hundred quid for clothes.

I would try to ignore it, or maybe mutter a warning that Santa Claus might not manage all that down a chimney. Their look of utter contempt would stifle the urge to shriek that he only came to good children and they'd be lucky to get a cheese toastie.

And now he's been. I know that some kids will have got very little, that others will have got too much and that quite a few will be lying through their teeth.

I also know that whatever largesse came their way is not a fair indication of the family's wealth. For some kids, the money earmarked for their gifts will have gone on alcohol or drugs, and they will have faced a somewhat hungry, bleak day. Some will have received gifts that had been nicked. For others, the "Clubby Book" will have come into play, with high interest repayments on things that could have been bought for half the price in a shop. Sadly, a few families will have borrowed money at an extortionate rate of interest.

I understand why. My kids are grown up now, but I have not forgotten how panic-stricken I became about not being able to give them what I thought they wanted. I don't envy parents trying to do their best.

Yet thinking back to our childhood, although there seemed lots of parcels to open, there wasn't a huge amount spent. The selection box and "annual" was always on the top of the pile at the bottom of our bed to buy Santa an extra hour's sleep. I don't remember minding what pals got - one year we got rollerskates and spent a riotous day out in the slush, quite unbothered that some kids got bikes.

Maybe the recession might force us into spending less on presents, and putting a bit more emphasis on the things that really matter. Yet I know, deep down, that it won't.

There will be a deluge of fancy phones, designer clothes, laptops and computer games consoles. There will be all the usual boasting and little gratitude, while at home the debts will be causing new stresses for downtrodden parents.

Happy New Year, folks.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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