So this is Christmas…

It seems quite apt, as my first post is being published just before December begins, that my first post be about Christmas. It’s not deliberate – just a result of a few things I’ve noticed recently.

Like the fact that people are stepping  out in spite of the recession, keeping consumerism alive and well and ensuring this year’s Christmas is no different to any other. I spent yesterday in the Trafford Centre in Manchester, ticking off my own list of Christmas presents to buy, tallying up reciepts and trying not to go over  budget. But everything looks so tempting at Christmas – the decorations in the stores and in the shopping centre generally causes you to lose yourself in the festive spirit, and convince yourself that every window display you see contains a gift thats just perfect for x, y or z.

I’m not sure how to feel about seeing the hoardes out in force, clutching bags upon bags of shopping, spending left right and centre. Sometimes I’m glad that in the face of financial hardship, people are still willing to ration their money of gifts for their loved ones. People still want an enjoyable Christmas and will sacrifice financially to see it happen.I’m as guilty as the rest – the presents I have bought are sat in the office, ready to be wrapped.

But then…what if it’s not rationing? Or sacrifice? What if,  regardless of financial difficulty, the commercialism and consumerism of Christmas is unstoppable? What if the people flocking to the Trafford Centre on Sunday, filling the car parks within the first hour of opening and swarming around the shops are more focused on a perfect Christmas than they are on their own financial security?

The advertisements on TV at this time of year add to the pressure – the  ‘perfect’ Christmas is defined as lavish food and wines, lots of presents, huge Christmas trees, and cramming every last member of your family into your living room. Remember the M&S Christmas ad with Take That and the usual M&S faces? Gorgeous log cabin, roaring fire, amazing food and presents for everyone. People drive themselves mad planning, preparing, and most of all spending – for just one day of the year.

I thought people would cut back this year. The collapse of Borders is going to see yet more people unemployed by Christmas, unfortunately, and so I assumed people would be cutting down, holding back, starting the new decade with less debt, not more. My partner and I saved from September so that the Christmas shopping wouldn’t bankrupt us until January; a talented friend of mine, who is unemployed at the moment, is hand-making jewellry instead of buying presents. My younger sister, who is due her first child in March, has already advised us all that things will be tight for her this year – and so we’ve all told her to buy small, token presents, and keep her money for her and her baby. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything at all.

I’ve found as I’ve grown up, Christmas is more about spending quality time with my parents, and my in-laws. My Mum asks me every year for a Christmas list and as I get older, I find it harder and harder to make. I don’t want anything particularly, since moving out and gaining financial independence I simply buy what I want throughout the year, provided I can afford it. Christmas to me is more about hearing ‘Fairytale of New York’ in a pub on Christmas Eve; more about putting up my tree and writing cards; more about having a day of real quality time with my parents, my sister and my partner’s family too. I’m sure, if you asked, others would agree that certain traditions hold a lot more sentimental value than reciving Beatle’s Rockband or a DVD box set.

Yet to the shopping centres we flock, brandishing store cards despite the financial difficulties this year has seen. In our hearts, we’d probably be happy with a family gathering and a few Christmas cards – in our heads, we need a glamourous, lavish, M&S Christmas.

As much as I’d love to be in a log cabin with Take That on Christmas day, this year is not the year to live out the fantasy.

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