The figures vary in every article I read, but they all agree that parents / carers are going to spend at least £150 per child on Christmas presents this year, and many will spend way in excess of this. When the year's hottest toy - the Hatchimal; a Furby baby in an egg, essentially - is being resold for more than that by anyone able to get hold of one, it's hardly surprising.
Kids are expensive anyway. Really expensive. They need clothing, and feeding, and no matter how grown up and sensible they are, it's kind of hard to fob them off with Pollyanna's 'Glad Game' when the mass media is constantly bombarding them with images of everything they need Father Christmas to bring them. Nobody's immune to that. I'm a grown ass adult and I still want every toy I see in the TV adverts.
So instead you try to talk about the real meaning of Christmas, the concepts of peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Except, in a family of atheists, rank commercialism actually is the real meaning of Christmas. It keeps the economy going and provides an excuse to eat way too much and not go to work for a few days. Not exactly a winning argument against overspending.
To help combat that I read about the sweetest idea in a blog post I found via Pinterest - because in the modern world that's where all sweet ideas originate - whereby you get your child to ask Santa for something they want, something they need, something they'll wear and something they'll read. By drilling down to these basics you don't end up buying mountains of junk they won't remember they own anyway.
Except I think I'm being overly optimistic, and even if they do stick to the plan, what if they want a pony and need a top of the range games console for when the weather's too bad to go out riding it? Then it would come down to willpower. My willpower. Would I really be strong enough to say no, even to the slightly less ridiculous option once we've discussed why we can't keep a pony on a council estate? I dunno, man. I can feel the mummy guilt building already.
Marianna is going to be almost two this Christmas and I had no intentions of buying her anything. Between my parents, Anthony's parents, friends, relatives, and the totally 100% real St. Nick in the grotto at the local shopping centre, she will have more than enough to be going on with. But then I started reading how much other people were going to spend on their pre-schoolers, on their newborns, even, and suddenly the solitary toy I won in a competition seemed like a really stingy gift to give my only child.
Intellectually I know that even if we had no relatives to spoil her, Marianna still wouldn't need more than that interactive plush turtle. In fact, the cardboard box it comes in would probably be just as exciting if I wrapped it up and stuck a ribbon on it. Maybe even if I didn't. Marianna doesn't really understand what Christmas is, nor her birthday which karma has decided should fall just six days later. If I spent more I'm the only person I'd be doing it for because, at the end of the day, what a toddler receives from the man in red is nobody else's business.
Whether you want to spend £0 or £1,000 on your toddler, on a child of any age, it's your decision. And if you want to spend more but can't, remember that Christmas is about more than presents - even in an atheist household. It's about spending time and making memories together, and if you can't afford to buy anything it doesn't mean you can't get crafty or write up a whole bunch of IOUs for fun things you're going to do throughout the year. (Or, for teenagers who'd sooner spontaneously combust than have to spend more time with you, get out of jail free cards which guarantee them a free pass from some family shindig or other...)
They might still be a little disappointed, but that's okay. That's natural. If it wasn't every house would be home to a couple of labrador puppies, a pygmy goat, and a pony. I know that it's going to a hundred times harder to accept that once Marianna works out that adverts aren't magical pretend things, like vans which sell ice cream and the idea that it isn't only grandparents who are legally allowed to buy babies sweets in supermarkets. But I also know that I have to.
Materially, my daughter can't have everything.
Love on the other hand, they tell me that's priceless - and it's something I can shower her with.