Last Christmas I was totally skint. It was the first time I can remember admitting defeat and not buying anyone presents (apart from the new small child I found myself with). My mum made me a food hamper as a present. The Christmas before that I was skint. I was desperately saving for an impending baby while her hapless father spent all his spare cash on cigarettes. I bought everyone socks as presents. The Christmas before that… I can’t even remember. Something along the lines of being skint. And the problem with having no money at Christmas is that you feel somehow excluded from the whole thing. You can’t buy those 3 for 2 presents in Boots, or that Christmas jumper that’s suddenly (boringly) trendy, or all the cool lights for your garden, or the gingerbread men cookie cutters, or all the cheese. You feel sad. You love Christmas. But you feel like Christmas is a club you’re no longer a member of. So Christmas can pretty much just sod off.
This year the toddler will be 19 months old at Christmas time. Our current favourite activity is murmuring “woahhhhhhhh” at the Christmas displays in garden centres. She demands “more! lights!” every time we spot some Christmas lights on the 40-minute drive home from nursery. And as I thought about the scraggy 10-year-old tinsel I usually drape half-heartedly over pictures, I realised that the toddler and I are rapidly approaching the stage where I can no longer coast through the very early years of motherhood because she won’t remember any of it. I need to start thinking about the kind of childhood I want her to have and the memories I want to create for her.
I grew up with tradition and moderation at Christmas. We had a real Christmas tree that didn’t go up until a couple of days before Christmas and stayed up for the full 12 days. My mum picked greenery from the surrounding fields and tucked it behind pictures, although not until the 23rd for some other traditional reason that I’m not even going to guess at. Church on Christmas morning. Phil Spector’s Christmas album blasting out from the record player while mum cooked as I sat cross-legged on the kitchen side eating Pringles for breakfast (at the age of 22). No presents until after lunch (apart from stockings, obviously). A genuine belief in Father Christmas until I was 11. It was WONDERFUL. Christmas came to mean so much to me that I was fully prepared to break up with any boyfriend I happened to be seeing if he insisted we spend Christmas Day with his family instead of my mum and brother.
Because we live so close to my mum, her Christmas traditions will likely become the things my daughter remembers about Christmas. Which is fine by me, because as far as I’m concerned my mum has got Christmas spot on. But I am fed up with my miscellany of rubbish Christmas decorations that make the house look messy rather than festive. For a couple of weeks a year I want our funny little house to match the traditions that are so important to me. In five years’ time I want this little girl to come home from school, see the twinkling lights on the garland on the stairs and feel that frisson of excitement that Christmas is nearly here. I’m fed up of waiting to not be skint before I can do Christmas properly. I want to get it right for her.
The fact remains that I still have very little money. But I’m determined to make it work. I’m going to concentrate on buying things for one room each year. Not go overboard. Keep it classy. A few choice pieces. And after a couple of years of doing the same my Christmas collection will be complete.
I spent a whole evening Googling Christmas decorations. I walked around my living room. I made a list. Me and the toddler had one of my favourite days yet touring round The Range, Homebase, B&Q, etc, gazing at sparkly things, giggling and eating cheese sandwiches. I bought a wreath. Better tinsel. Some glittery twigs. Hanging paper shapes. GARLANDS. And I felt that frisson of genuine childlike excitement that has been missing from my Christmas for the last few years. Suddenly I was part of the club again. And I loved it.
And, yeah, maybe the toddler won’t remember this Christmas, or next Christmas, but I needed an excuse to spend money I don’t have on sophisticated grown-up decorations and this is the one I’m going with, okay?
This post wasn’t supposed to support the idea that money is everything at Christmas. I also have no handy money-saving tips to share. But I think that the most important thing about all this is that you create the kind of Christmas you want for you and your children. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or how they’re doing it. This is the kind of Christmas I want, and I’m going to do my best to make it happen on my own terms.
Anyway, I was so excited about my new decorations that all plans of being restrained and waiting until at least the 14th to put them up went straight out the window. Well. One garland, the wrong type of lights and a fight with some glittery twigs later and I was ready to opt out of Christmas all over again. It’s possible that being festive is harder than I thought…