Bio: Amy and Steve live in Manchester with their three teenage children Peter, David and Ruth. Steve is a telecoms engineer and Amy is a primary school teacher. I join Amy and Steve at their home on the first cold morning of autumn, the fire is their sitting room in blazing and Steve serves up freshly brewed coffee. I start by asking them how they plan to celebrate Christmas this year.
“With Gin!” laughs Amy “No, you have known us for a long time now (she’s right, 12 years and counting) and as you know we don’t go in for big fancy Christmases, we prefer a bit of booze and good company over big presents and expensive decorations.” Steve pops the coffee pot on the table and joins in “We have always been that way. Both of our sets of parents were pretty enthusiastic Christians, so whilst Christmas was always A Big Thing in our childhood homes it was never a big commercial shindig. Some people have said we’re pretty cold or my least favourite ‘Scrooge-like’ but in reality we don’t give into frenzied spending at other times of the year and we’re not going to give in at Christmas.
We have a simple tree, a few presents and a tasty family meal with a few drinks, which is what everyone seemed to have when I grew up but in the last 15 years or so ‘going all out’ has become the thing to do and Christmas isn’t a simple celebration anymore. Christmas seems to have turned into a competition to see who can spend the most money and brag about it in the office in the new year. I ask how they feel their Christmas differs from most people they know, Steve jumps into reply straight away “No turkey, no Santa and no shopping centres” Amy continues Not that we consciously opted out of all of those things, at least to start with, but not partaking in them saves us a lot of money and they weren’t decisions we actively made, they just sort of happened. I’m not the biggest fan of turkey and I’m definitely not a fan of the price hike on the poor bird when we get to the month of December.
We still have a big sit down meal but we usually have pork because we find it tastier and unless it’s ham the price tends to drop down a bit toward Christmas. And what of the no Santa and no shopping centre rules I ask “They’re not rules per say” replies Amy “No of course not,” continues Steve “we didn’t sit down and have a meeting about ways to save money over Christmas we just slipped into these habits. When the kids were small we took them to the Trafford Centre in December, I must have been about 35 but midway through I just wanted to cry. I’m not an anxious person but the amount of miserable people hurtling toward us at fast pace with bags and coats and desperate looks in their eyes totally overwhelmed me.
I never in my life want to go back to a world of finding a parking space in a jam packed car park, to walk into a jam packed shopping centre with inane music blaring and frustrated people seemingly on the verge of tears. Don’t get me wrong we still buy presents but we don’t venture into giant shops and shopping centres in December and I don’t think we are losing out by avoiding them. We still shop in chain shops but we actively chose to go to a more traditional high street setting where we can breathe fresh air between shops, seek out independent shops and the vibe is less pressured. We usually try to get everything done in October, it suits the way I’m paid and it also means we’re not confronted by jam packed shops, price hikes and ugly decorations.”
With a further nudge they spill the beans on the “no Santa” rule. “Are we evil? We told our children there is no Santa!” sputters Amy, “Some people think it is terrible. I don’t. I don’t think any less of parents who keep the Santa role active in their Christmas but it isn’t for us. Again, to start with it wasn’t a conscious thing, neither of us grew up with Santa being a part of our Christmases so it never occurred to us to even mention Santa. Then when Peter went to nursery he came back with a few questions about Santa, we had to broach it quite sensitively because obviously Santa is associated with children being good or bad and also we didn’t want to make enemies with the nursery parents with our 3 year old trouncing into the room announcing there is no such thing as Santa a week before Christmas day.
We told him Santa was a fairy tale and we could read books about him if he liked but that some children think he is real and we mustn’t laugh at their beliefs. David and Ruth were told the same as and when they asked questions and as far as we know they didn’t mention it at school or ruin Christmas for another child. They still did the drawings and Santa beards at school, it isn’t like we pulled them out of lessons relating to Santa or anything like that but he didn’t visit our house when the kids were small and they don’t seem scarred by it as teenagers.” “We’re not horrible parents, I promise!” exclaims Steve, laughing “But it has saved us a wedge of cash each year, we don’t have to take them to a grotto and there is one less present under the Christmas tree. In our world of relative opulence compared to the rest of the world, one less present isn’t going to sting. Our average Christmas costs a total of £250 including presents for the kids, presents for relatives, a good meal for 12-15 people, donations to charity and a some booze.