Christmas in the 80s seemed to be a far less complicated affair. I don’t remember my mum running round like a headless chicken, hiding elves on shelves and making life-sized advent calendars stuffed full of homemade toys. She never had a to-do list as long as her arm and seemed completely nonplussed by the whole event.
Her 1980s laid-back attitude towards parenting extended throughout the festive period with abandon. She was as cool as the Snowman, which in the absence of on-demand TV, we watched when it happened to on (unless someone had the foresight to video it.)
When I was a kid, I remember members of the older generation harping on about how Christmas was far too commercialised compared to the festive seasons of their youths. They were probably right, though I’d need to experience a 1950s Christmas to be sure. Thirty years on, however, I’m going to do some harping of my own. Christmas these days may be even more commercialised than it was in the 80s, but what gets to me is the amount of pressure we heap upon ourselves to provide our kids with the perfect Christmas experience.
Elves on my shelves, Christmas Eve boxes, all-singing and dancing advent calendars, handmade Christmas cards, credit card inducing trips to see authentic looking Santas (no polyester beards in sight)… I admit to trying and failing to do it all.
Who am I doing it for? Would the kids even notice if I stepped back a few decades and treated them to a Christmas from my youth? My advent calendars didn’t even contain chocolate. It didn’t matter to me – opening the little windows to find a new picture each morning was the highlight of my day. I was more than happy with a shopping-mall Santa, who we came across by chance while my mother was buying doilies in Debenhams. He may have been sitting in the most garish of grottos, framed by a few bits of tinsel and polystyrene snow. He may have dished out a truly crap present. Yet, in my childish state of wonder and excitement, I just didn’t care.
We left mince pies out for Santa on an ordinary plate from the kitchen and he didn’t even mind that it wasn’t a specialised Christmas plate containing a personalised message. I didn’t have Christmas pyjamas, a box full of yet more gifts on Christmas Eve or a specially delivered message from the North Pole. And I survived.
I did more than survive. My childhood Christmases were memorable and magical. They fostered a deep love of Christmas within me and it has stuck until this day. As an added bonus, my mother wasn’t worn out from staying up past midnight trying to potato print Christmas trees onto homemade cards.
In my vain attempt to strip Christmas back to basics and recreate a magical 1980s Christmas, I’ve decided on the following actions:
My mum never had the ‘highlight reel’ of Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to contend with. If little Patrick from down the road went on a sleigh ride with real reindeer, she wouldn’t have known about it unless she spoke to his mum. She didn’t have hundreds of other people’s Christmases to compare ours with – and I’m sure she was all the happier for it.
Yesterday I made gingerbread men with my kids. My son insisted on eating all the dough (despite being told not to) and then totally lost the plot when he realised it was all in his tummy and he had no gingerbread men to show for it. My daughter carefully prepared a whole tray of the little blighters. Unfortunately, I accidentally spilt Mr Muscle on them while they were cooling. In total, after an hour of misery, we were left with just two gingerbread men.
Had I uploaded a picture to Facebook of my (hastily baby-wiped) children grinning and holding up their creations, you may have been fooled into believing it was a wonderfully magical experience. However, such an image wouldn’t have conveyed their tears and tantrums, my flour-bombed kitchen and me losing my shit.
Social Media never shows the whole picture. This Christmas, I shall remember that.
I’m also going to remember to give the people in my living room my undivided attention. In the 80s, no-one was taking selfies or tapping away on their individual screens, oblivious to what was actually going on around them. There was a real sense of togetherness, as we all gathered around the same telly to watch the Christmas movie of the day or see who had made it to be Top of the Pops. I miss that.
Ditch the guilt
My mum never woke up at 3am in a cold sweat because she forgot to move the blasted elf. She didn’t felt guilty about the fact we weren’t going to Lapland. In fact, if she were here today to discover that Lapland UK is situated in the forest a few miles away from my childhood home, where we used to walk our dog, she would have roared with laughter. Until she saw the price of a visit, that is.
I can’t do it all. I have neither the money nor the inclination. This year I’m not even going to try.
Instead, in true 80s style, I shall get sloshed on Baileys, safe in the knowledge that Father Christmas has it all in hand. He’s the main attraction after all – the anticipation and excitement of his arrival was always enough for me as a child. I didn’t need Christmas Eve boxes, countless Christmas craft activities and personalised jumpers, pyjamas and crockery to make Christmas special. And I doubt my kids really need all that stuff to enjoy Christmas either.
Remember what it’s all about
We seem to put so much pressure on ourselves to buy the most expensive and sought after toys for our kids (Hatchimals last year anyone?!) only to marvel over how they play with the wrapping paper and the boxes.
I’ve watched my daughter ripping open presents, tossing one aside for the next without even really looking at the contents. The toys are soon forgotten as she plays games with her auntie and grandparents and wants to set the table and help in the kitchen. Even though she doesn’t know it, the presents are the least important part of Christmas Day for her. As long as she has some toys to unwrap, they don’t have to be the most expensive and I shouldn’t have to go into debt over it.
When I was about eight years old, I remember waking up mega early on Christmas day (about 4am), bombing downstairs and tearing open my presents. No-one else was up and nor were they going to wake at such an hour. Halfway through my present opening spree, I came to a realisation. Unwrapping presents alone in the early morning silence, without excited faces to share in my delight and my mother chasing after me to pick up the wrapping paper, was boring. So I wrapped up all the presents again and went back to bed.
When I woke later at a more appropriate hour, I unwrapped the presents alongside peals of laughter, the flash of my dad’s camera, Christmas music and my mum with her bin bag. I also delighted in seeing the others open their gifts. This was my first lesson on the true nature of Christmas. And you can’t put that on a credit card.
A few presents under the tree, which is glistening in the glorious imperfection of its haphazardly placed ornaments and a house full of laughter and love. That’s what it’s all about. My mum knew that and so did I. Somehow in the years between experiencing Christmas as a child and trying to create one for my children I forgot.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to ditch the to-do lists and pointless pressure to be perfect and enjoy Christmas as it should to be. An unplanned and non-colour-coordinated free for all, where the focus is on people instead of things. I don’t think my kids will be disappointed in the slightest.
Aimee Foster is a mum, freelance writer and social media manager, bookworm and sea lover. Find more of her ramblings over on her blog, New Forest Mum.