It’s just over a week to go until Christmas and the great Santa Claus charade I am playing with my five-year-old continues. The letter she wrote to Father Christmas was sent long ago, but every time she sees one of the many jolly bearded men in red (no, not Jeremy Corbyn) in grottos or at children’s Christmas parties, she asks him if he is the “real” Santa or just one of his stand-ins.
When he replies that he is the real one, she asks whether he knows what was at the top of her list. And are the elves real or are they just ordinary people brought in to help? If they are real, why aren’t they smaller? How long does it take him to get around the world? The questions continue, and I am not sure how long I can keep this up. Maybe parents worldwide can agree on a new story: that Father Christmas is a sort of franchise, like McDonald’s, and there’s one for each postcode?
What I do know is that on the top of her Christmas list was a purple kinetic sand set and, when I tried to buy one online yesterday, everywhere had sold out – apart from Amazon, which wanted to charge the same amount in postage as the cost of the actual toy and couldn’t guarantee it would be delivered by next week. After years of shopping online, I have had – if you can forgive the momentary reference to Christianity in an article about Christmas – an epiphany: going into an actual shop is so much better, and, in the end, cheaper.
The main reason for this has been set out by the boss of Net-A-Porter, Alison Loehnis, although I’m sure she didn’t intend to make it sound like a drawback, what with running a multimillion-pound internet fashion store. Women, she says, become more adventurous in their online shopping when it reaches “wine o’clock”. The kids are in bed, it’s the end of the day and after a couple of glasses of Malbec they hit their iPhones or laptops and spend money on glamorous dresses or extravagant gifts. This rings so true, especially when I think back to my online shopping adventure last Christmas – when the Santa list was all Elsa from Frozen skating doll, Frozen dressing table with a singing mirror, and Olaf cuddly toy. I ended up indulgently adding more Frozen toys to her list. It is too easy to spend money online, particularly when sites like Amazon have your card details stored and so you don’t even think you’re spending money.
By contrast, it’s really hard to go high street shopping after a few glasses of wine. You’d get extra scrutiny from the security guards after you’d sailed past them into the shop in a cloud of Sauvignon, and you’d cause a kerfuffle at the till when you couldn’t remember your PIN. It is also much more difficult to buy all those extra indulgences when you are there in person. By evolutionary design, I am sure, humans are not equipped to carry more than five bags of shopping – a fantastic profligacy inhibitor that Darwin would have been all over if Westfield had been around in the 19th century.
Last week I went to Peter Jones, the John Lewis branch off the King’s Road in Chelsea, to buy nearly all of my Christmas presents. (This is not because I have pretensions to be posh; it is just much, much quieter than the John Lewis on Oxford Street, although obviously not as quiet as my sofa.) It turns out, according to Monday’s papers, that the Duchess of Cambridge was there the same day as me, looking for stocking fillers for George and Charlotte. Did they ask her to pay 5p for her bag? Did she see me wandering around in circles in Electronics? Was she there when I was queuing up in Haberdashery? Anyway, according to some newspapers, Kate apparently looked a bit tired when she emerged from the store. I can confirm that four hours in a major department store is utterly exhausting – in any case, isn’t everyone tired at Christmas?
When I got home with my five bags that somehow survived being bashed on the Tube, I wanted to cry with exhaustion. But as physically tiring as high street shopping is, I have saved enough money on extra delivery charges and superfluous gifts to buy a crate of wine. Glad tidings indeed.
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