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Elf on the Shelf, Christmas Eve boxes, advent calendars stuffed with toys: it seems like Christmas means more stuff, more spending, and more spoiling kids than ever. Katy Salter shares why she won't be giving into these Christmas 'traditions'.
Am I the only parent who hates these new excuses to spend passing themselves off as festive traditions? We won’t be doing any of them this year, and I refuse to feel guilty about it.
Take Elf on the Shelf. That creepy sprite isn’t a Christmas essential, he’s a marketing gimmick. The gurning Elf hasn’t been keeping a watchful eye on children since time began. He was invented in 2005. 2005! Elf on the Shelf is the same age as the iPod Mini, the Arctic Monkeys and the second series of Strictly. He’s a teenager, not a tradition.
Elf on the Shelf began life as a US children’s book written by mother and daughter, Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell. It was sold with a toy elf, and the concept soon went viral in the US, and then the UK. The idea is that the Elf is essentially Santa’s spy. Parents place him in a different spot each day (yes, more work for parents) to check whether kids are being naughty or nice. Some parents like to reward ‘good’ children with a little present sitting beside the Elf each day.
Not only do I not want this sinister undercover agent from the North Pole anywhere near my house, I hate the thought of all these ‘top-up gifts’, too. Christmas Day is fast approaching, do kids need more toys just to tide them over? I find the concept of a character watching over my kids and reporting back to Father C disturbing, but the idea of constantly drip-feeding them stuff worse.
It’s the same reason I didn’t fork out for an advent calendar stuffed with toys. Where did those come from? My Instagram feed was full of targeted ads trying to sell me Lego and Brio calendars. Some of these toy advent calendars cost £20-£30. A needless expense that most parents can’t afford.
But the more we see these types of products around, the more parents feel the pressure to stretch the budget so their kids aren’t missing out. Plus, kids get accustomed to a new treat every day, and by the time Christmas Day rolls around, they’re jaded and surrounded by plastic. Each to their own, but I don’t want to spoil my kids like this.
When did Christmas become a month-long festival of presents? What’s wrong with waiting until December 25th? And yes, I do mean December 25th, and not the day before.
Christmas Eve boxes are another ‘tradition’ that has appeared from nowhere. Unless everyone else was doing this when I was a kid and my parents cleverly kept it quiet? Christmas Eve boxes have been all over social media in the last few years.
They usually consist of goodies like books, a Christmas movie on DVD, marshmallows, hot chocolate, slippers and a pair of Christmas pyjamas. The cost of those items all adds up.
On Christmas Eve night, our tradition is the same as the one I had with my parents: put the Christmas carols CD on. Leave a mince pie and a sherry out for Santa, and a carrot for Rudolph. No boxes, no novelty pyjamas, no ‘starter’ presents just to tide the kids over until the morning. It’s perfectly lovely, and costs practically nothing. The kids even get a thank-you note from Santa the next morning.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. LOVE it. When it comes to the festive season, my spirit animal is Buddy the Elf, not Ebenezer Scrooge. But what I love are the customs, the family traditions, the build-up to the Big Day. Opening the advent calendar (a paper one, with pictures of sleigh-bells and robins inside). Carol singing. Making Christmas biscuits with the kids. Hot chocolate and snuggling under the quilt to watch a Christmas movie (who doesn’t like a bit of Colin Firth in Love Actually at this time of year?).
When it comes to Christmas, I want to keep the magic: not let it wear off by overdoing it before Christmas Day has arrived. It’s not because I’m a Grinch that we won’t be doing Elf on the Shelf, toy advent calendars or Christmas Eve boxes.
It’s because I love Christmas that I don’t want to spoil it. For me, or the kids.