All they want for Christmas: Santa's sack will be bulging this year, even if Britain is sliding into slump. Dina Rabinovitch talks to three generations of the Darling family about Christmas shopping past and present

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The Independent Online
THE CHILDREN

Tara Darling, 11: I want a Game Boy, but it's a bit expensive - pounds 230 or something (actual price: about pounds 80). Most people in school have one, but I want it because I just like playing computers. I want the Game Boy even though there's others on the market now, but the colours on it are good, and all the buttons are in the same place so it's easy to play with. But Mum and Dad have said it's too dear, and I can't have one.

I also want some horse-brushes because I go riding, and I'd like a head- collar, to take the horse out with. My friend shares a horse, but I don't want to share a horse yet because I'm not old enough.

Any of the Forever Friends or Country Companions would be good. Also an organiser, a round alarm clock with a picture of a horse on the front, and a new radio-stereo because my one upstairs eats up the tapes.

I've written two lists already, but they got lost, so I have to do that again. I usually get what I want, although I know I won't get a Game Boy. Last year I wanted Fila trainers, but I got Reeboks - but I didn't mind too much.

I've already bought presents for Nan and Grandad, Mum and Dad. I went with a friend's mum to the market and I spent ten pounds altogether: gold earrings for Mum and diamond ones for Nan, a diary for Dad and an organiser for Grandad. I don't get these (pointing to brothers and sisters) anything, but I'll give them a card. And I made a car for Adam in technology class.

Adam, 6, is deaf so he points to what he wants in a catalogue: Santa's got a beard - he's coming in two weeks. I want Playdoh, a Lego airport, and torches.

Katie, 5: I want Barbie, and clothes for her and for Ken. Barbie needs a white dress with gold jewels, and pink high-heeled shoes. I'm not that bothered with Ken's clothes. Also I need a post office and I want Postman Pat. I also want a big troll, a little troll and troll slippers.

Holly, aged 4: Last year I got a kitchen and pretend food. This year I want a pretend fire. Also, crayons, paints and stickers. Oh, and a pretend shower.

THE PARENTS

Peter Darling, 36, self-employed builder: I finally bought Debbie, my wife, an eternity ring last year because I couldn't think what else to get her. Men are always a little bit green - if you had a mistress you'd buy something a bit special, but after a few years of marriage you don't know what to buy.

Frankly, this year, I'd just as soon give it all to charity. I've always felt people spend far too much on Christmas. When I was little, we used to get puzzles and a stocking full of sweets. I did get Scalextric one year, and I've still got it.

We spend about pounds 500 on presents at Christmas - it breaks my heart] This time of year I have to go round the big companies that owe me money and make sure I collect it. The banks aren't helpful, apparently it's because I'm a builder, but come Christmas you need the money. Luckily, I do all right.

If I get Debbie anything it will be a silk dressing gown and underwear from Pearsons in Enfield. I don't get embarrassed buying underwear. I'll have a look in one of her drawers to check the size. For me, I'd like a pounds 700 set of golf clubs which I shan't be getting. Anyhow I wouldn't let my wife buy them because she wouldn't know what she was buying. However, they do nice thermal waterproof jumpers now - they're pounds 60 - the colour doesn't matter.

I shall probably get the odd bottle of spirits off the companies I work for, but it's not like it was: everyone's meaner in the recession, aren't they? Oh, and I always get new socks and underpants, of course: Auntie Jean special every year.

Debbie Darling, 28, part-time school helper: We spend the most on Tara. The list of what she wants could just go on and on. Last year she wanted a pram, and I thought she was too old, but I did buy it, and she never played with it. I haven't promised her to buy the Game Boy, but I can't think of anything else to get her] I did say no to the Game Boy previously, because she'll take it out at school and play with it, and it will distract her from her work, and it'll get stolen at school, but I don't know what we'll do in the end. Adam's more difficult: he can't play computer games because he's deaf, so he can't hear voices telling him to do things. He has a train set we add to every year.

I normally buy them one big present each and then a few small things. By the time they've had their presents from uncles and the rest of the family, it's too much. We go to Toys 'R' Us because it has the best selection and they're really a lot cheaper.

I'll do all the shopping in one day, and I won't spend much under pounds 400 - about pounds 100 a child. They always get new slippers and pyjamas in their stockings, and Body Shop bits for Tara. We've got about twelve trolls upstairs - the kids saw them when they came back into the shops last year - but I shall be getting more.

I like Peter to come with me, because I'd like to do it all in one day.

I shall get Peter a golf game for the Sega, and a new dressing gown. I earn my own money but we don't have his and hers money, it all goes in the same pot.

My mum only has the one sister, so we all go there, to my auntie, for the whole Christmas. She has a big house, so we all fit in there. After dinner we all give our presents. Then we play games and cards till the early morning.

It's very different from the Christmases I remember. When we were young we had quiet Christmases - now it's different. There's more of us, for starters. Also when you don't have children it's very different; Christmas builds back up because of the kids. You see them enjoying it, so it's enjoyable for you. But it's very hard work.

The presents are so much bigger now - it's all computers, which cost a lot. And the stocking fillers from the Body Shop cost a lot more than the raisins we used to get. I don't really enjoy the shopping, or the constant demands from the kids. I don't think it's a good thing the way kids today expect so much. I was satisfied with what I got when I was a kid. Today, the more they get, the more they want. There's so much advertising on telly, and they just see more and more stuff, and they're never happy.

I remember getting a dolly's high chair one year, and I shall always remember getting a laughing bag and my dad sitting on it by accident when he tried to put it in my room, and then trying to smother it.

It'll take me about 3 1/2 hours to wrap everything. Last year I did it in one go; never again.

I don't know what I'll be getting from Peter; last year he finally bought me this eternity ring, which I'd been asking for for ages. So this year there's nothing I particularly want; I'd prefer him to spend the money on the house.

Mum's easy because she's an avid reader and collects hardback books, and this year she also wants 'Beautiful' perfume. Dad's lost weight, so I'll buy him new clothes. And I always buy myself something new to wear for Christmas Day and for each of the kids. I have to ask Peter for the money come Christmas time: I don't save up, though I should. But he just gets it in time for the present-shopping.

THE GRANDMOTHER

Barbara Scowen, 51, Debbie's mother: There wasn't the same money about years ago - my biggest present was when I was 14. I got a silver locket. We always got an orange and sweets in the stockings. But we were satisfied. it wasn't the presents, it was the excitement and the parties. The presents I don't remember, but I do remember the family fun.

All the houses in those days had a piano in the front room and you had a singsong and a dance, with the furniture cleared away. The family stayed for three days; the kids got the beds and the adults slept where they fell.

Debbie always wanted clothes when she was little - just like Tara in fact, always top of the fashion. My boys got robots and Scalextric. For the grandchildren this year I've bought the Sega Mega Drive, which I bought off my son for pounds 50. I spend about pounds 300 on everybody's presents. As for me, underwear and perfume are always acceptable; M&S undies; I don't wear silks a lot. I would like a nice pendant - I've sort of said to my husband.

I'm not one for travelling up to London for my Christmas shopping. I don't like rush hour and the Tubes, and what with the bombs I shall give London a miss. In fact, it's six years since I last went to the West End to do Christmas shopping.

I still buy for my kids and their partners. Debbie wants a dressing gown and night-dress. We get a rough idea of what everybody wants - we don't ask outright, but we discuss it. I haven't got a clue what my husband wants, but he's a builder like Peter so I normally buy him something he can use at work, a tool, maybe.

(Photograph omitted)

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