surinenglish

All I want for Christmas

The tradition of Christmas has changed greatly over the last one hundred years and the simple customs that many of us grew up with have long fallen by the wayside. In days of old, Christmas was defined by the custom of exchanging simple handmade gifts, yet today, it has become a multi-billion-euro industry synonymous with commercialism and consumption.

The tradition of gift giving was embraced by retailers, for whom the weeks and, eventually, the entire month before Christmas became a very profitable period. During the 20th century, retailers started directing marketing efforts at children in the hopes that they would entice the parents to spend more money. Up to the 1970s, the six weeks before Christmas accounted for 80 per cent of the toy industry's sales. Retailers in the UK predict 1.1 billion will be spent on toys this Christmas, while researchers found that it was normal to spend as much as 500 pounds on each child in the UK.

Although my own memories of Christmas include many of the traditional customs like being allowed to open one small present on Christmas Eve, I can't help but feel that the true meaning of the Christmas gift has now lost its direction. I grew up listening to stories of how my parents were lucky to receive "an apple, an orange and some walnuts" in their Christmas stockings. Although this may seem somewhat Dickensian, it is a fact that the presents me and my sibling received (or expected) were considered luxurious compared to the type of gifts given during the 1920s and 30s. During this era, if one was lucky, they may receive a Raggedy Ann doll or a Lionel Train, while those less fortunate would make do with Crayola Crayons or lead soldiers.

The Raggedy Ann doll was introduced by newspaper cartoonist Johnny Gruelle, who, after having one made for his daughter, decided to start selling them. The first Lionel Train was designed to attract shoppers using the power of animated display, although it was not long before they became popular with consumers.

Board games became popular during these decades, especially Monopoly and Scrabble, but the Second World War meant that there were fewer toys in production.

Some of the most popular gifts of the 1950s, 60s and 70s included the Hula Hoop, Play Dough, Etch and Sketch, and the Action Man or Barbie doll, which cost anything from a few shillings to a couple of pounds.

I was grateful to unwrap gift vouchers and record tokens, books, board games and puzzles: these would now probably be tossed out with the wrapping paper, because the style of gifts that most children expect today has changed greatly, as has the average spend per child.

While my generation were content with a new Cabbage Patch Kid or scooter (the kind that was foot propelled), today's Christmas wish list will include anything from designer clothes and accessories to an iPhone or a state-of-the-art computer system.

This obsessive desire to spend hideous amounts of money on presents at Christmas has destroyed the true meaning of gift giving and removed the chance of the younger generation having any appreciation of money.

I was brought up to "live within my means" and although my parents enjoyed spoiling me and my sibling at Christmas, they never, to my knowledge, got into debt in order to do so.

If we did receive an expensive gift, and occasionally we did, I would wonder how my parents had been able to pay for it. This is certainly not the case today.

It would be nice to return to the traditional act of gift giving, where part of the fun was finding practical, inexpensive presents that were truly appreciated.

Of course, today's generation would probably not know what to do with a Rubik's Cube or an Erector Set, or anything that does not have a USB socket, but I guess that's just a sign of the times.

It seems children have come a long way from simply wanting 'two front teeth' for Christmas.