As I stood in a cash machine queue yesterday, my gaze wandered around and settled on a Christmas window display. It was a typical scene of snowflakes in a swishy pattern encircling a stylised tree stuck to a window, surrounded by notices of what you could buy from them and for how much. Inside the shop was much the same; lots of ‘Christmassy’ signage, advertising Not-To-Be-Missed deals on things you’d never usually buy but are made to feel like you ought. I looked at the other shop windows and saw that they are all variations of the same theme – stylishly decorated trees, wrapped boxes, fake snow/icicles, and lots of products carefully arranged with a bow on top, sometimes with a photo of a smiling group of wholesome looking people with money to burn.
Despite the unusually ambient temperature this year, Christmas has indeed arrived.
This got me thinking. If I were to have emerged from a hole and had no prior knowledge of Christmas, I would be lead to believe that Christmas is some kind of celebration that is marked by the buying of many items including flashing toys, electrical goods, rich food stuffs and themed alcohol. If I were to probe a bit, I might find out about some kind of ancient festival, or the birth of a baby somewhere in the Middle East, but my overriding belief would be that this ‘Christmas’ thing is all about spending money, and being darn cheerful as I do. Ho ho ho.
This is entirely untrue and wrong.
Firstly, Christmas is the amalgamated celebration of the birth of Christ (the clue’s in the title) and various Pagan Winter Festivals. Not everyone marks Christmas for either of those reasons and that’s ok with me. Neither of these indulges in excessive giving, receiving or consuming.
Secondly, Christmas is a time to be spent with family and friends. Yes, it’s been said a million times before, and hopefully it’ll be said a million times again until our consumerist culture gets it – Christmas isn’t about how much you spend on whom, or how much food you can put on the table: it’s about taking time to slow down, relax and enjoy the company of your family and friends. Especially more so now, as we live in a 24 hour plugged-in world of instant and constant communication.
I appreciate that we’re fighting our way out of recession, and so businesses need to bang their drum, but the problem for me is this; they have been banging the same drum for years and years, to the tune of ‘Buy this! Buy this!’ and so I have little sympathy for the plight of the high street, when what we are really in need of is a serious cultural rethink. Spending our money may save the economy, but it will not save families from falling apart.
If there is anything to be learned from the recession it is the fact that there are more important things in this life than money. And it’s time that this line of thinking is implemented by every person who values the relationships in their life.
No doubt my children will ask me for a huge number of toys they see advertised on NickToons, which like any parent, I’d love to buy them, but what I know is that which they are unable to articulate – their biggest desire and need is time. Time with me and their mummy; time with each other; time to rest and time to play.
One of the many things I’ve learned as a parent is that children translate TIME into LOVE. You can spend £250 on the latest gaming consoles and dolls and feel like you’ve done a good job as a parent by fulfilling your kid’s desires, giving them what they want. But give it a few months, sometimes even weeks, and you will see that those items so desperately wanted at the time, will be casually discarded in favour of an old favourite or a new yearning for the latest must-have toy. And none of this will add up to your children feeling secure and loved.
You can spend hours of your time playing, interacting and talking with your children, living life with them. Take a bike/sled to the park, go for a run (yes, my boy loves running with me) or a walk in a forest. Make a load of treats out of melted Quality Street and Rice Krispies; build a fort out of the sofa and a bed sheet, pretend to be a monster, read a book together or even sit and watch a Christmas DVD. Just spend your time on them.
I’m not saying that you should become miserly with your cash, but I am saying you shouldn’t be splashing it about without thought. A few well considered gifts will be received far more gratefully than a room full of toys bought to appease.
There is a saying that roughly goes “Nobody on their deathbed regrets not spending more time in the office.” I can pen something similar in that “No child reaches adulthood and regrets not getting that toy for Christmas.” My best memories are when my dad spent his time on me: I can hardly remember the toys and games I was into, but it’s the time that sticks in my memory.
Your minutes are your most valuable currency; you have a daily allowance that cannot be rolled over or saved, only spent. Make sure that you spend them wisely this Christmas. And for every day after that.
(This post orignally appeared on the website dadzclub)