The Gift of Giving

With December comes the stress of choosing that perfect gift and making all of those dreams listed in the Christmas list to Santa come true. However,while my children now come with a handy guide in the guise of their letters to Santa – although sometimes there are ridiculous requests that cannot be entertained, such as a pet panda – my husband is not as easy to please. He doesn’t read books, listen to any particular music or play computer games. He does indulge in extreme sports, but gifts in this category are well and truly out of my price range. So what to do when it comes to choosing something clever, interesting and – dare I say – romantic?

I was out with some girlfriends last week for Christmas cocktails and our conversation turned to the topic of giving at Christmas. They were all adamant that they have learnt not to expect their husbands to buy them anything any more. After years of watching their husbands’ tortured faces in the shops on Christmas Eve buying anything they can get their hands on, they have all decided that the best idea is to buy something for themselves and then get their other halves to wrap it up and put it under the tree. I get that this means you receive something you really want and like, but it is too easy for my liking. Surely my other half should be spending as much time agonising over the perfect gift as I do for the entire family? Why should it be easier for him when he doesn’t have to think of interesting gifts for the children, extended family, neighbour or old Mrs Beatty down the road?

I expect a surprise under the tree every year – something that shows my other half has thought about my likes and dislikes, and that he may occasionally listen to what I am saying when I am dropping enormous hints over our morning porridge. Some years he gets it right – especially when throwing money at the problem and going for the small and sparkly option (she hints in case he happens to be reading this before Christmas) – and other years he has missed the boat completely. Our first Christmas together was a case in point when he decided that two porcelain pigs were a good idea. For sentimental reasons, I still have them – and to remind him of what not to buy.

I recently overheard my mother complaining to my father about this very topic. When she asked if she would have anything to open on Christmas morning, his prompt response about his trousers elicited giggles from her and retching from me as I hastened from the room. Too much information.

So in the spirit of giving at this festive time of year, as I frantically organise next-day deliveries and battle the hordes of women elbowing through John Lewis, I hope you all get something you really want, as well as a little surprise on Christmas morning that reminds you that Christmas is more than the receiving; it is seeing the joy on their faces when you get it right for a change.

*please let it be small and sparkly… please let it be small and sparkly…*

So here it is… Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again – and the older I get, the less I seem to enjoy it, which saddens me a little. When I was a child – and even into my early twenties as a newlywed – I loved everything about Christmas: the shopping, decorating, singing and shameless gluttony that makes it the most special time of the year. This is partly due to my childhood when Christmas was an “all or nothing” affair, with everything sparkly thrown at it in abundance, so I learnt early on that if you hadn’t reached a point of near hysteria from excitement on Christmas Eve, then you weren’t doing it properly.

Then I had children. Many say that Christmas gets better when you are a spectator to their excitement. Not me. I remember my first Christmas after having my oldest daughter. The house was decorated within an inch of its life, I had bought every conceivable plastic pink toy there was for my three-month old, we had the in-laws visiting and a turkey that was bigger than the baby. I was beside myself with joy at the thought of my daughter’s first Christmas and couldn’t wait to get stuck into the present exchange. However, half an hour later, my angelic child was playing with the wrapping paper and had shown no interest in the actual toys; the dog had eaten half of the chocolates under the tree and been sick on the carpet; my in-laws had repeatedly expressed their disapproval at the extravagance of the gifts; and the oven wouldn’t heat up. The final straw came when I noticed my measly little pile of gifts – substantially smaller than other years – and I opened them to find that the most interesting gift was a neon-coloured potato peeler from my mother in-law. I remember standing in the shower, sobbing and repeating to myself, “Christmas is all about the kids… sob sob… Christmas is all about the kids.” Yes, I am well aware that this makes me sound incredibly spoilt and selfish, but the realisation that Christmas now meant that I had to be the grown-up in charge of the food, buying presents, writing cards, writing thank-you cards, and inviting random relatives so that no-one feels left out came as a bit of a shock. That was my mother’s job, not mine!

Nine years later and I have embraced my new role with reluctance. For the last two weeks, I have helped with the Christmas Bazaar at school, and contributed various bits and bobs for nativity costumes and school decorations. I have braved the parking nightmares and teeming shops to finish 90% of the gifts (a risk considering that only one child has written a list for Santa so far – including an iPad, which has been conveniently ignored as Santa is in a recession too – and who knows what the other child will come up with). I have started writing the cards and booked my online grocery delivery for 23 December. I think I have covered all the bases. Oh, and on top of all that, it is my wedding anniversary next week, so I have arranged an evening out, complete with babysitter.

But most importantly, I have endured all of the year-end exams and gradings – three dance presentations; two karate gradings; one nativity play; one orchestra concert; and one carol concert – and made myself available (with a fair amount of blagging out of work) for nearly every single one – and trust me, my daughter piled on the guilt about the one event I did miss. Someone asked me yesterday if I am feeling festive and, thinking about it, this is when I am most in the Christmas spirit: when I am sitting in front of 240 five- and six-year-olds dressed in various costumes – from lopsided angels to dodgy donkeys – belting out “We wish you a merry christmas” with glee while I sit in between two bleary-eyed, hungover dads suffering from their Christmas parties the night before and intoxicating me with their stale alcoholic breath, and my daughter, with her front tooth missing, is waving from the stage. That’s when I realise that Christmas is about the children and how proud we are as parents.

Even the mom who’s toddler farted really loudly during yesterday’s ballet presentation.