Not so merry ding dongs

3rd January 2014 at 00:00

"Do you think we should watch Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz or take a stroll through the park to see the children fall off their new bicycles?" It is Christmas Day and my wife and I are chatting over a leisurely breakfast. At least I'm chatting. "Is something wrong, dear?" I ask.

"Christmas mornings aren't what they used to be," she says, sighing.

"It's because our children have grown up and moved on," I reply. I pause to spread a thick layer of diabetic-friendly marmalade on to my toast. "Do you remember the good old days when they bounced up and down on our bed at four in the morning in celebration of the fact that Santa had been? Do you recall how it felt to be knee deep in wrapping paper two hours before dawn? Do you recollect how we used to fall asleep shortly after Christmas lunch and not wake up until Boxing Day?"

"I remember you falling asleep after Christmas lunch and not waking up until Boxing Day," my wife says. There is an edge to her voice that suggests the season of goodwill to all men might be a little less inclusive this year. I wonder if it's because my interpretation of what constitutes a token gift turned out to be different from hers. The Alfie Boe CD I got for her from an online retailer looks a tad miserly next to the hand-picked Jasper Conran sweater she bought for me.

To maintain festive harmony, I decide this is not the best time to remind her of how we had agreed to be restrained when buying each other presents this year. We had been shocked to learn that personal debt was likely to soar in the New Year with the average UK family spending #163;868 on Christmas.

It is well known to all those agencies called upon to deal with incidents of domestic violence that Christmas doesn't always bring peace on earth. Often once the glossy packaging has been stripped away, what remains includes intense levels of family stress, debt and alcohol-fuelled aggression.

Take Jake's Christmas. The popular view was that it would be happy. His house rippled with pulsating lights and more illuminations than Blackpool. Then there was the fat Santa on his sleigh, beaming from the roof extension like the Spirit of Christmas Present, a beacon of joy in a landscape of austerity measures.

For several weeks, Jake had regularly told everybody about all the presents he was going to receive this year. If only half of them turned out to be true, retailers looked to be in for a bumper Christmas. This would be followed by a happy New Year for several major credit card providers, a few good months for a number of payday loan companies and a busy spring for bailiffs and debt-collection agencies.

Twenty minutes after the end of the last day of term, Jake sat outside the school office wondering where his mum was. He was just one of a dwindling band of unreclaimed children. He didn't know it then but Christmas had come early to his house. Already he was statistical evidence of a festive upsurge in family breakdowns.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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