I've never been a great fan of Christmas - I hadn't been able to put my finger on why until the kids recently asked "Dad, what was the best and the worst Christmas present you ever had when you were a kid?". After a few minutes of thought on this, I could only think of "worst presents" and "average presents" :-(
(I think there could be a whole blog's worth of material there so I'll save that one for another day!)
I now find myself a single dad with three kids, facing my annual "ascent of Everest"..... doing all the Christmas present shopping and wrapping. This will be the third time without my wife and I can't say I've found it gets any easier with practice. I have the same feeling of dread about the task every year. What to buy them? How much to spend? Will they be happy with what they receive? Am I overdoing it and spoiling them? Will I have enough time to buy everything? Will I be able to get hold of what I'm after?
I know I overspend and I know I'm trying to compensate for their Mum not being there with us on Christmas morning as they open their presents. I also know that no matter how many presents they have, it will never fill that painful space left in our lives. But despite all of this, the last thing I would want is for them to be disappointed with the one aspect I can actually affect - the material one.
On top of all this mental and emotional angst, there is the issue of the pure logistics of the task. I know there is the option of on-line shopping (and I do this for a fair portion), but its not ideal, especially when deliveries turn up when the kids are at home.
Obviously I can't drag the kids round the shops with me while I buy "Santa's" presents - so that means weekends and evenings are out. This leaves the times when the kids are at school, but as I'm (supposedly) working full time, there isn't a lot of spare time to go trailing round the shops. This year I booked a couple half days in late November and spent the time shopping (and punching numbers into the Argos self-serve computer for what seemed like hours). Though I managed to buy about 70% of the list in those two half days, it has taken several lunchtime trips and on-line orders to complete the job (and for a birthday present/card/cake etc for my youngest who very inconveniently was born in early December).
I try to start the ascent of my personal Everest well before December to help save me from the panic attacks I would have if I left it any later. As I slowly work my way through my list I can tangibly feel the pressure lifting and my mood lightening (and my bank balance emptying).
I've now more or less cracked the shopping part for 2009 and everything is stowed out of the way in the attic. So that just leaves a few hours (probably about 3 or 4) to bring it all down, wrap it and put it all away again and I'll be sorted until Christmas Eve. The question of how I covertly transfer it all down again and put it out under the tree sometime between the kids going to sleep (which was about 2am last year) and them waking up (at about 6am), is another matter.
I suppose all of this is a bit of a pantomime as my older two (11 and 13) have come clean that they know the score about who Father Christmas really is. But my youngest (9) is still clinging onto the belief - I remember her saying last year "don't worry Daddy, I've asked Santa for all the expensive presents so that you won't have to pay for them". Sweet darling :-) Sadly I don't think this will last many more Christmass before the influence of her elder siblings takes effect.
I know this probably reads like a moan and a groan about me trying to cope with Christmas. Having read it again it has made me reflect that there won't be many more years before the magic goes altogether and the kids just want cash for Christmas (or a car like a friend/neighbour's 17yo). Maybe I should try harder to make the most of it and appreciate the kids being at this age.
Anyway - soon it will be all over and the lounge will be a pile of opened presents and ripped wrapping paper. I will then be able to pat myself on the back and think that, good or bad, the job is done and my ascent complete... well until November 2010 comes around!