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Friends, I have some terrible news: It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. This will come as a shock to many – those who kick against the pricks of artificial pine needles, who see the elastication of the festive period as cheapening it – but you can’t deny that with the dark evenings rolling in and the desire to eat all around us rising, our loins have been girded for the epicurean implosion of Christmas.

There are those among us – country folk, people of the soil – who believe Christmas doesn’t start until they roll their combine harvester into the local town on December 8th and do all their shopping in two hours of panic buying in the local co-op. There are also those among us – specifically Brown Thomas management – who would start Christmas some time in August, when their festive shop opens to great fanfare in the middle of a heatwave, with excited children in shorts and flipflops being greeted by the spectacle of sweaty reindeer using their big brown eyes to plead for death, whilst Santa slumps to the floor of his fibreglass sleigh after succumbing to heatstroke.

There are however, us sorry souls who start their Christmas season even earlier than the high-net-worth individuals that shop in BT – the breeders. In fact, if you have more than two kids, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas from about December 27th last, when your forward planning for the following year kicks off. If a toy didn’t get opened in the morning melee, it is quietly shuffled back upstairs into the attic, and goes back into the pot for the following year – once more with feeling kids, maybe next time round you will appreciate the 2,000 piece jigsaw of the Basilica at Knock. With a large family, Christmas shopping is not just for Christmas, but for life, because if you don’t spread the cost across 12 months, your January healthy eating plan will involve not being able to afford food.

Central to the success of this year-long shopping is a North Korean-style campaign of persuasion, propaganda and outright mind control. As you find cheap toys on special offer during the year, you need to start training your kids to want them for Christmas: ‘Oh my, look at this clearly rubbish Lego-knock off that doesn’t click together right, wouldn’t you love a massive tub of this garbage for Christmas? What about this Chinese knock-off of the Paw Patrol, Honourable Dog Warriors?’

The under tens are easy to manipulate, with their poor pliable minds open to any and all bargain bucket buys. It’s the older ones that present the real challenges. The 15 year old wants an iPhone; no, not an android phone that is every bit as good as an iPhone, she wants an iPhone and nothing else. Why? The camera is the best, because somehow photos are now used instead of words, much like hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt. No, don’t show her the various articles online that proves there are better cameras on better phones for better value, she is not interested. Give her Apple or give her death. She is, however, willing to make some slight concessions by not demanding the most recent iteration of the world’s worst tech investment, and will accept the second-most recent. Meanwhile the ten year old has decided he needs another games console, because two isn’t enough. He is succumbing to the true meaning of Christmas – believing things you don’t have are better than the things you do have.  

In between all this is my need to try and give them something of true value. My parents were conservative when it came to music, films and culture in general, but they had an open-door policy on almost all books. If I was reading, then it couldn’t be a bad thing. When I started getting into Stephen King at 12, they bought me his best works. For Christmas 1990, at my request they bought me works by the Charles Bukowski and William S Burroughs, two of the most pretentious deviants you could ask for. Almost any book I asked for, I got, and while Morrissey once crooned that there’s more to life than books, part of me still believes that there really isn’t.  So the daughter gets an iPhone – and the book Steve Jobs’s daughter wrote about him, so maybe next year the brand won’t be the apple of her eye. The ten year old gets whatever I can throw at him, Tolkien, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, CS Lewis, if it has an elf in it, he is getting it, along with the weak pitch of ‘this is a games console of the mind’. The smallies will get whatever is on special offer in the bookshop – pages missing? Who cares. Soiled cover? Sher it was going to end up that way anyway. Written in Mandarin? Hey, it’s the language of future business. And for us, another few books on personal finance and parenting, because at some point in the distant, utopian, empty-nested future we may actually have time to read them, in between finally completing that Knock Basilica jigsaw.

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