Let’s not put a price on a happy Christmas

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A news story out last week revealed that grandparents will spend £67.62 on gifts for each of their grandchildren this Christmas.

This story made my heart sink for a couple of reasons.

On one hand, I know that it should be taken with a pinch of salt. It was a story created by an insurance company, hoping to secure some column inches – and flog some insurance policies – before Christmas.

I used to work in consumer PR agencies and spent many hours working on similar ‘news’. I’d sift through survey results and carefully number-crunch in order to arrive at the juiciest, most headline-grabbing stats, which perhaps weren’t always fully accurate or representative.

So maybe the real figure is more like £68.63, or £97.52 per child, but the fact is that there’s some truth in it.

Grandparents – and parents, and all of us – will be shelling out a silly amount of money on Christmas presents this year.  

As I read the story, I wondered how it might make me feel if I was a grandparent on a tight budget. Perhaps I’d worry that I’d ‘only’ spent £19.99 on a doll or a soft toy or some LEGO for my cherished grandchild. Perhaps I’d feel under pressure to get on the bus into town again and go over budget and leave myself skint for the next few months, so I could match up to all the other grandparents.

It’s surprised me that there hasn’t been more said this year about how we ought to cut down on ridiculous levels of present-buying.

(Because £70 per grandchild IS a ridiculous amount, let’s face it.)

I’ve seen a few conversations on social media about buying local and/or supporting small businesses, which I am all for.

But considering how there has been so much emphasis recently on reducing our ‘fast fashion’ habits, ditching single-use plastic and generally buying and consuming less, I haven’t heard that many people pledging to radically overhaul their festive buying behaviour.

If anything, it seems we’ll be spending more than ever this Christmas.

It’s as if we hear Slade on the radio and that’s it: we’re in the Yuletide bubble and have to buy more, more, more.

More presents, more booze, more food, more decorations, more ‘tat’. Because we want to show our loved ones how much they mean to us, and because we absolutely must ensure we don’t run out of cheese or sherry by 7.45pm on Christmas Day. (Heaven forbid.)

Maybe it’s to do with not wanting to seem Scrooge-like. When I told my partner that I didn’t think we should buy Ted more than one or two things this year, he took the mick and called me a tightwad.

It’s Ted’s second Christmas, and he still plays with gifts he got last year – as well as the contents of our kitchen cupboards which entertain him more than any toy ever could. Plus, he’ll receive lots of lovely presents from lovely friends and family.

Yet we still went to Smyths and bought more than one or two things, although I drew the line at yet more In the Night Garden characters, and at more cars that look identical to the trillions of cars already scattered around our house.

As for Ted’s grandparents? They’ll spoil him, of course.

Because it’s what you do, isn’t it?

Personally, I’ve tried to buy from small businesses this year. I’ve stuck to a budget. I’ve bought gifts that my loved ones have asked for, rather than random tat. I‘ve also tried to buy experiences over ‘things’. But I’ll still probably panic buy a few last-minute bits and also go overboard at Aldi, even though we’re not hosting anyone this year.

Because it’s what you do isn’t it?

But it doesn’t have to be, of course.

That silly survey got my goat because it felt as if it was trying to put a price on a grandparent’s love, and on a happy Christmas – which left a nasty taste in my mouth a bit like my mum’s burnt sprouts. (My mum is the only person I know to have ever burned sprouts.)

Instead of letting it put me off my Christmas dinner though, I’ll use it as a reminder for the next fortnight. I’ll try to remember that being together with my lovely family and friends, rather that who’s bought what, is the most important thing. Perhaps you’ll join me in doing the same.

Merry Christmas X

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About Laura O'Donnell

Laura is mum to Ted and partner of Graham Norton (yes really, and no, not that one). Laura left a glamorous life working in PR – first in London, then Sydney, Australia – to return to her less glamorous hometown of Hull, Yorkshire. She set up a PR consultancy and writes a column in Hull Daily Mail, which used to be about culture and going out; it’s now about culture and attempting a social life with a sleep-averse one-year old. Laura blogs at Only Teethin’, loves good guitar pop music and can be bought with donuts. Find her on Instagram @TheLauraOD.

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