Christmas Complex

English: A Christmas Tree at Home

English: A Christmas Tree at Home (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again – Christmas – which seems to come round faster every year.  Is this perhaps yet another sign of ageing?  I think not, more a reflection of the fact that with each year the Christmas season creeps forward by a day or so as the shops start blaring Slade et al and shoving tinsel in our faces from early September.

Let’s get one thing straight – I love Christmas. Nothing can transport you more readily back to childhood than the magic of Christmas. Only the most miserable of individuals can fail to be swept up to some degree into the jollity and frivolity of this season.  However, it is not without its complications and of course it will come as no surprise to you my observations.

The advent calendar.  Or in my house, plural. When I was a child an advent calendar was a very simple piece of card which depicted a traditional nativity scene (yes, kids – “nativity” – the central word for Christmas in case you had forgotten) and some badly perforated windows to be opened each day where you would find some random supposedly Christmassy object – always a robin and a bell and often a cat (why a cat?).  The biggest challenge that the advent calendar presented in those days was opening a window without causing the other windows either side to open inadvertently.

The biggest challenge nowadays is actually to find an advent calendar depicting a traditional nativity scene rather than some bizarre mixed up Christmas scene with Santa, Jesus, a snowman and some carol singers vying for centre stage.  This year my children have got two calendars each – one traditional nativity scene which I hope will serve as some small reminder of what advent actually is and one chocolate calendar.  I would cheerfully throttle the person/people who thought putting chocolates in an advent calendar was a good idea.  It is hard enough to persuade my children to brush their teeth in the morning without all my efforts being wasted on a stale chocolate which has probably been sitting behind that calendar window for most of 2013.  All pretences of the meaning of advent also go out of the metaphorical window when it comes to chocolate advent calendars.  My daughter’s chocolate calendar is a “Hello Kitty” calendar – I am not even going to bother to pretend to her that “Hello Kitty” has got the faintest association with advent or indeed Christmas.

As usual in our family, the school nativity play has not been without its fraught moments.  My daughter, like every other girl in her class, was completely convinced she had landed the part of Mary.  I could only watch on knowing that never making Mary is one of the burdens you have to carry with you for the rest of your life.  To be fair, I didn’t even get close – I didn’t even make head angel. Predictably my daughter’s confidence that she had secured the role was misguided and she is a King.  This is not good news – not only has she not made Mary, but she is playing a “boy” part so no tinsel, sparkles, wings etc. For me there is a silver lining however, as I am not expected to provide a King costume as apparently the school have already got one.  Although I am not going to pretend that in the past I have slaved over costumes for school plays – I find that the big supermarkets do a great budget version of almost any character you could wish for and who cares that all around the country in every school nativity, the shepherds are wearing exactly the same £7.99 nylon, highly flammable, shepherd’s tunic and carrying a rather unusual plastic crook?

My next complication with Christmas is my middle son’s obsession with the technicalities of Father Christmas’s itinerary over the festive period.  It is without doubt very good for his mental maths but not very good for my sanity that daily, soon to be hourly, he is calculating FC’s speed per hour, houses visited per minute etc and inevitably always concluding its impossibility and then requiring some sort of rational explanation from me.  This is very very tiring. This is coupled with his new line of attack: he will say “So and So got an X-box from Father Christmas last year, how come I got a satsuma?”.  Explain that one.  How I would love to shout at So and So’s parents and tell them how hard they are making it for the rest of us but also I would love to tell my son how lucky he is that Father Christmas comes at all as there are millions of children around the world whom he won’t visit.  Only, of course, I can’t do that without ruining the magic of FC for him.

One thing that I am sure is a sign of ageing is my new obsession with completing my Christmas shopping weeks before the big day.  This year I am feeling smugger than ever (not because I have finished the shopping) but because I have yet to set foot in a shop – I have done it all online. Christmas shopping brings out the utter worst in people.  Normally sane and rational people become persons possessed as, list in hand, they hunt down their targets with a single-mindedness not seen at any other time of year.  All this is done to a backdrop of over-heated shops churning out Wham!, Slade, Shakin’ Stevens and friends on an interminable loop, nodding Santas saying “Ho! Ho! Ho!”, reindeers with flashing antlers and harried shop assistants with tinsel in their hair – and this is mid-October.  I am sure it must contravene some sort of human rights law to have to wear tinsel (which incidentally I absolutely hate) in your hair for a period of 2 months or more.  No, shopping in shops is no longer for me, I am an internet Christmas shopper.  One word of warning, make sure you shop in the morning with a cup of tea rather than in the evening with a glass (bottle) of wine – you can get rather carried away with the latter in your hand.

With that in mind, it is time for me to do some more Christmas shopping online now.  I’ve got to buy presents for the school teachers.  I am not sure whether this year I shall be contributing to what I call the candle economy – a booming industry in which 20 children in a class give their teachers a candle so that said teacher ends up with enough candles to open a chandlery (in its original meaning) and then re-distributes the candles to others as presents through the rest of the year before the whole cycle starts again.   I am not knocking it – everyone loves a candle and you can never have enough candles, can you?

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Half-term – cash and capers…

Posh & Becks Waxworks

Posh & Becks Waxworks (Photo credit: reveriewit)

Help! Help! I’m haemorrhaging…CASH – yes, it’s half-term this week and next – yes you read that correctly, my little darlings have got 2 weeks for half-term – twice the time to fill, twice the money to spend, twice the number of tantrums, twice the amount of alcohol required by me each evening.

Yesterday it was the turn of Madame Tussauds – or as Boy 2 calls it, “Madame Twoshoes” (which Boy 1 corrects to “Madame Twoswords”).  Facts first – it cost me £55 to get in (after queueing for 40 minutes) – that was the cost for one adult and one child (one child was free because of age and one because I had a voucher).  Approximate time required in the attraction – 1.5 hours. By any mathematical equation that seems to me to be daylight robbery. Enter attraction.  Guess what we are met with….yes, the popcorn and sweet shop – £10 lighter we finally get to see the world-famous waxworks which of course my children are not remotely interested in now that they have a large tub of popcorn to stuff in their mouths and with which liberally to litter the floor.

The waxworks are good – some are very good.  But is it just me who thinks it is deeply weird for adults to be posing for photographs with a waxwork model of a celebrity?  Somehow it is OK in Disney World when your kids clamour for photos with Mickey and friends and at least they are moving, talking, dressed-up people.  Not so here…and most of the people at Madame Tussauds yesterday were adults – maybe I’m missing something here but I can’t think of one reason why my husband and I would choose to spend enormous sums of money going to Madame Tussauds without the children and then take turns to take photos of each other with the likes of Posh and Becks, Boris Johnson, Usain Bolt etc – except, remember, people, it is not Posh and Becks, Boris Johnson, Usain Bolt etc – they are waxworks…sorry, but I think it is very, very odd behaviour.

People walk around “Madame Tussauds” saying in a surprised voice, “Look, there’s so and so…” – again, strange, because there is no-one there that you wouldn’t expect to see in a museum of waxworks of famous people.  Except, perhaps, that is, one Mohamed Al Fayed lurking in the corner of the room dedicated to world leaders – still trying to work out why he was there amongst Obama, David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher…have I missed something?

Today, I tried to keep the costs down – well, relatively – and we went to the cinema to see “Madagascar 3” with some friends.  We had lunch in M&S (cheaper than the pizza places) but unfortunately you need a degree to understand their children’s meal deal – apparently, 2 of the 5 pieces your child chooses have to be “snacks”,so to fulfil the criteria my children were forced to swap their relatively healthy smoothies for  considerably less healthy biscuits and in my daughter’s case some frankly disgusting disturbingly bright pink “yoghurt” (I don’t think so) coated “Hello Kitty” raisins, which we promptly renamed “Hello Sicky”.

Next stop the cinema – having spent a small fortune on popcorn (another bugbear of mine is the daylight robbery that is popcorn/sweets purchasing in cinemas) and bought 3D glasses for the film, the cinema management then informed us that due to technical difficulties, they were unable to show the film.  Tense negotiations followed and I’m pleased to tell you that we got a full refund plus free tickets for future use (if you don’t ask, you don’t get!).  We promptly spent the money we saved on a quite ridiculous “hurricane tube” experience in the cinema lobby – 90 seconds of your children being buffeted by a “hurricane” force wind (basically, a giant hairdryer) – sounds strange, it was strange, although strangely amusing too (mainly for us adults) and it made me return to the thought which I often have – what on earth goes on in some people’s minds that results in such a bizarre product as a “hurricane” experience? Whenever you think people are all the same and we all think the same sorts of things, you come across something so bizarre that you realise that in fact we are all very, very different.

After a quick cup of tea and 8 donuts in Krispy Kreme, I totted up the nutritional intake for my children so far this half-term – popcorn, smarties, McDonalds (at a service station on the way back from Madame Tussauds – classy), “Hello Sicky” raisins, and Krispy Kreme donuts.  I’m not proud of this by the way and I can already hear the audible gasp from you Annabel Karmel types but once in a while it doesn’t hurt and the last two days have been quite amusing and I don’t often say that about half-term with three children under the age of 8.