We all know that the true magic of Christmas is the joy of being together, the delicious food, the ever so slightly extra tipple and the fact that many of us don’t have to get up for work the next day.
As we grow older, we realise more and more how little the material side of Christmas matters, and nothing hammers that home quite so hard like a pandemic-induced lockdown, where we realise just how much we took things like hugs, having Nan over for dinner and going out for a Christmas Eve mulled wine, for granted.
Parents across the UK and the world are now facing the dilemma of wanting to spoil their little angels more than ever seeing as it’s been such a rubbish year but also keeping the wolf from the door when things are so financially unstable.
With Rishi Sunak extending furlough payments until March, that may provide some relief to some families, but it also creates uncertainty over how long rolling lockdowns could go on for.
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Splashing out on laptops, bikes, consoles and phones for your kids this Christmas seems like a risky move when the economy is in disarray and job losses continue to be announced.
As a nanny, teaching assistant and child psychology enthusiast, I can assure all parents and carers out there that you won’t be destroying your children’s Christmas by being more frugal with gifts this year.
While they may not articulate or realise it, children love the magic of the time of year and presents is just one part of that.
But of course, for younger children, the issue of Santa’s naughty and nice list is something that needs to be broached.
How to talk to children about Santa this year
No parent will deny that Santa can be a handy bargaining tool across the year when the kids are playing up. Warning them that Santa is watching or making a phone call to the North Pole is enough to turn a savage whirlwind into a puppy-eyed angel.
What this instils in children – and why I don’t recommend overusing this particular technique – is that if they are good, they will be rewarded with gifts.
So if they are going to get less this year, like many children are then they may start to think they have been bad.
When children are making their lists, you need to lower expectations while still maintaining the magic of Father Christmas.
Tell them that Santa has had a very tough year working through the pandemic and he has decided this year that it is all about the magic and the joy. If he drops less down the chimney, you haven’t been badly behaved – he just has to work on a budget.
Praise your child’s behaviour and explain to them that it is not the quantity of gifts that they receive that makes Christmas so special.
When it comes to opening the gifts they do have, make a great deal about how Santa must have thought they had been really good this year – the fact he has managed to do this while the North Pole is in the same lockdown as we all are means he really wanted to gift you something this year, because you’ve done so well.
Rediscover what Christmas is actually about
With more of us at home, this is the prime chance to get the Christmas spirit high – and, don’t let any Scrooges discourage you from starting early during this lockdown.
If you fancy getting the tree up and getting the kids to help make decorations, then nothing is stopping you. Get those Christmas tunes on and play little games with the children. Cosy up as a family and watch a wintry film, bake some Christmas goodies, design Christmas cards, get the boardgames out, rediscover Christmas presents from previous years from the attic. These are the memories children will recall.
I couldn’t tell you what I opened when I was five or six. But I remember the smells, the laughter, the hugs, the games, the joy and the family time. And it will be the same for your children. Any toy tantrums will be fleeting.
What about older children?
Your older children might wonder why they have got less from you – but depending on their age, treat them like adults with a frank discussion about how Christmas is still going to be great.
Children never want their parents to struggle. Sure, they might throw strops, but long term, they’d feel awful in the knowledge that you splashing out on an Xbox One meant that by February, you were struggling to make ends meet.
Have a discussion about the year it’s been and how the key to Christmas this year is being a family, loving and supporting each other and ending the year on a high – expensive gifts or not.
You’ll be surprised how mature older children and teenagers can be and feeling they are part of the discussion brings the whole family onto the same page.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, please don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you must overspend on your children this year to make up for the year that has passed.
It’s always nice to see the excitement of children opening presents but honestly, the thrill of these gifts lapses so very quickly – just take a look at the attic for evidence of that.
The real and warmest joy is playing with the kids, getting Christmassy yourself, doing things together, watching movies with a hot chocolate and just making it feel like a special and normal time.
You might be amazed how little it matters to them that Santa has had to be a little more careful this year. And who knows – it may even set a much needed precedent for the future beyond Covid, when we maintain the reality of what Christmas really is about and what actually matters.
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