Monday, December 11, 2006


It’s probably a sign of advancing years, but I’ve become more Yulephobic. It was different when my children were young; there was the excitement of Christmas Eve, leaving out a carrot for Rudolph and a mince pie for Father Christmas, trying to get them to go to sleep, the joy on their faces in the morning, opening their stockings and tearing the wrapping paper off the presents.

As you get older it’s really difficult to buy people presents, if you don’t spend enough you look like a cheapskate or if you do buy or receive an expensive present, it’s not exactly what you wanted - if any relatives are reading this blog all presents have been gratefully received, even the fridge magnets…

What I really hate about Christmas is the commercially induced mass hysteria that seems to infect people, there’s a lemming like rush towards shopping centres and malls. I steer clear of them at the best of times but the weeks before Christmas they become a ‘No-Go’ area. I’m more of an outdoors type of person, instead you’re all cooped up together in one room watching those horrendous TV ‘specials’ or those films that have been on every Christmas from time immemorial (it’s ‘Groundhog Day’ as the ‘Guns of Navarone’ is repeated on a loop).

The rampant commercialisation of Christmas is all pervading, as parents have to buy those sought after branded toys, clothes and games. Some of them spend hundreds if not thousands of pounds on ‘educational’ computer games when the best investment in their children’s future would be to hear them read and recite stories to them.

Here’s an idea of how far the rising tide of commercialisation and ‘brand loyalty’ has reached-
· 70% of three year olds recognise McDonalds but only half know their own surname
· The average ten year old has internalised 300 to 400 brands
· It’s estimated that the average child in Britain and America watches 20,000 to 40,000 TV adverts per year
· Walmart’s website encourages children to choose items and enter their parents’ email address so they can “help pester your parents for you”
· An American professor has found 300 girls called Armani and others named L’Oreal

In school you’re filling the sandbags against the encroaching flood as Christmas seems to advance every year a few more days into the calendar. In the juniors we used to have the pantomimes or shows, sadly this has been edged out as preparation for the SATs test invade our time. Every year we used to do a pantomime, the most memorable was when four of the toughest boys were persuaded to dress-up as the four ugly sisters in ‘Cinderella’, they absolutely loved it and one of them it wasn’t so much finding his feminine side as exploring a different sexuality.

The infants still have their nativity play, one year the star character the ‘Grumpy Shepherd’ was taken ill at the last minute, I offered to stand-in, but our ex-head Erica didn’t want anyone to upstage her in front of the parents so another child was drafted in who was really nervous and forgot nearly all the lines. The infant staff did organise an alternative show with me as the star, the children loved it and it was remembered for years.

In every school there is fierce competition for the main roles of Mary and Joseph (usually from the mothers). An interesting piece of research would be: ‘Parent Governors and the allocation of main parts in the infant school nativity play’. I think there would be a high correlation.

For some teachers there’s that expectation of expensive presents from grateful parents. One teacher used to line up presents at the front of her desk with children’s names prominently displayed, as the week progressed children would be shamed into giving something. I’m not that cruel some parents just can’t afford it.

As practices for the plays, choir performances, fairs, visits and hysteria begin to invade the timetable I always make a booklet of word searches, quizzes and colouring to keep children occupied for short time intervals between the above events.

It’s also a time to show films, but not ‘stick the video on for the afternoon’. I find that 45 minutes is about the maximum, like the old movie houses I show them in two or three episodes. There’s the old version of ‘Scrooge’ with Alistair Sim and Bill Murray’s ‘Scrooged’ – not a patch on the original. You also have to survive Dickens’ sanctimonious moralising as Oscar Wilde noted, “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.” My all time favourite Christmas film is Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

Christmas everyone and if you’re short of a decent present I can recommend an excellent book written by a primary school teacher… Hell’s teeth this advertising creeps in everywhere!

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