London - Looking back, I couldn’t have been more than 14 when my mother announced she was cancelling Christmas - or at least Christmas presents.
“Your father is sick, there is no money coming in and we can’t afford to buy you girls anything this year,” she announced one Sunday evening in December. “I know it’s hard, but that’s life and it won’t do you any harm to go without for once.”
But I didn’t believe her. Instead I took this to be a new version of the annual Christmas lecture about how spoilt we were.
So I humoured her. “Fine,” I said, while mentally writing a list of all the clothes, toiletries and books I wanted - not to mention the CD player I’d been dropping hints about since September.
Until that point, my two sisters and I had been given everything we wanted. So were we grateful? Were we heck. Every Christmas morning there would be rows because one had more gifts than the other or the roller skates were not exactly the kind we’d asked for.
I shudder to think of how spoilt we were. But no more. A combination of the last recession (this was the early Nineties), Dad’s bad heart and Mom’s disgust at the little monsters she’d created meant that Santa was hanging up his hat.
That fateful Christmas morning there were no presents under the tree. At first we thought she was playing a trick. “Mom, where are the presents?” I demanded.
“I told you there would be no presents,” she said.
“You got us nothing?” I said.
My mother’s voice went very quiet as she folded her arms across her dressing gown and said: “You’ve got a clean house that I’ve been scrubbing all week, a turkey that I got up at 7am to prepare, a fridge full of food that your father paid for...I don’t call that nothing.”
And that was that. There were tears and tantrums, of course, and I think we may have threatened to call ChildLine, but we survived.
And we learned a valuable lesson: if you can’t afford it, you have to do without.
It’s 20 years since Mum made her stand and we haven’t really had Christmas presents in our house since. What started as financial necessity developed into a militant stance against Christmas consumption.
I was reminded of that this week when I read research about the huge pressure parents feel this Christmas.
According to a study from the Family and Parenting Institute, nine out of ten parents worry that Christmas makes their children more materialistic, while more than half worry that their offspring will be disappointed with their presents.
Dr Katherine Rake, chief executive of the institute, said that TV ads in particular are putting families under pressure to buy more than they can afford, at a time when many parents are already feeling “huge financial strain”. In fact, one in three Britons will go into debt to pay for Christmas this year.
Isn’t it time for all this madness to stop?
While I’m not suggesting people do as my mother did and ban presents, surely it’s time to rein things in?
By all means buy a few choice gifts for your children, but is it necessary to spend £500 in PC World for a 12-year-old?
Now FINALLY, it seems it’s not just the Power clan who are saying “Bah humbug!” to presents.
This month, financial expert Martin Lewis, whose website moneysavingexpert.com, has one million hits a month, has been mounting a campaign to ban Christmas presents, arguing that people should stop buying gifts they can’t afford and setting up an obligation for others to do the same.
His target is not children, but “the ever-growing range of people we feel obligated to buy for: teachers, colleagues, neighbours and more”.
“Call me Scrooge, but things have gone a little too far when it comes to Christmas gifts,” he says.
“I get the joy of giving; but we need to think about the impact on recipients, too. Generosity could hurt, not help. By giving to someone (or their children) you create an obligation on them to do the same, whether they can afford it or not. In these financial climes, sometimes the best gift is to release someone from this obligation.”
What’s more, he argues, most of the time we are spending our money buying things people don’t even want - which is wasteful.
My sisters and I sometimes buy each other gifts if we see something perfect, but more often than not we agree not to bother.
So are our Christmases miserable? Far from it. They’re relaxed, fun and hassle-free because we have escaped the tyranny of presents, not to mention post-Christmas debt.
I know this is easy for me to say because I don’t have three children who feel their lives will end without the latest trainers or iPad - but take it from me, the world will not end if they don’t get all they want this year.
Doing with less, if not without, might help them to appreciate the true meaning of Christmas - falling asleep during the Queen’s speech, eating too many Quality Street...oh, and spending time with loved ones.
That, after all, is surely the best present of all? - Daily Mail