Tag Archives: Father Christmas

Christmas Kitsch and Family Arguments

Every year on 1 December, with great ceremony, we bring this creature out of the cupboard.

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We are Jewish but this doesn’t prevent us from embracing the spirit of Christmas. And what better way to do so than with a reindeer dressed up as Santa Claus who, when you squeeze its hoof, bobs about playing Santa Claus is Coming to Town?

Every year, as soon as it emerges, the same argument starts: is it a moose or a reindeer? Debating this point is at least as important as actually playing with it in the first place.

We are divided into two factions, with the older children on my husband Anthony’s side (in the moose camp) and the four-year-old supporting me (advocate of the reindeer theory).

Anthony argues that it’s a moose because it looks like a moose. It has a squishy flat nose like a moose, not a pointy one like a reindeer.

But obviously, it is a reindeer. Look at it. It has antlers. It has a Santa costume. It plays Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

I come from a family of scientists and, even though I’m not one myself, I’m a fervent supporter of evidence-based research and rational thinking.

But this isn’t a scientific question, and therefore an objective empirical approach is inappropriate. It’s all about context.

My late father-in-law, the excellent Bryan Reuben, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Technology, was a keen and very good cook. He had a baking tray in his house that he once mentioned had been used by his children, when they were small, to hold frogspawn.

I expressed concern over the fact that he was still cooking with a tray that had been formerly used to hatch tadpoles. (I don’t think I actually said ‘Bleeeuurrgghh!’ because I wouldn’t have been so rude – but that was the general gist.)

He said that the tray had been thoroughly sterilised and any amphibian organisms definitively extinguished many years ago. I replied that I completely understood that – but that it was the idea that it had been used to hold frogspawn that I found revolting. The fact that if you examined the tray under a microscope you would find no trace of its former use was simply neither here nor there.

Similarly, I don’t care how much, objectively, our jazz-playing reindeer looks like a moose. It’s obviously supposed to be a reindeer, and therefore it is a reindeer.

I canvassed opinion on the matter on Facebook and people were strongly divided.

My friend Gemma did have this key insight, though: ‘It could be a moose. They are great saxophonists. Reindeer are usually percussionists.’

Be that as it may, I feel the matter is finally closed.  I have discovered a hitherto unseen label on the reindeer’s back:

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Anthony has implied that I may have planted this message. I can’t believe he imagines that I’m so lacking in integrity and moral rectitude that I would be prepared to fake something of this nature.

Happy Christmoose.

***

Does your family like arguing for the enjoyment of it? And if so, what about?

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Porridge and Sweetcorn: the Psychology of the ‘Free Gift’

Filed away in my parents’ house I found this letter that I wrote to Father Christmas when I was 5:

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Why a little girl from a Jewish family was writing to Father Christmas in the first place is a subject for another day…

The paper is blackened with soot because it had been sent up our chimney (obviously the only way to communicate with Santa Claus) and, as my father has noted at the bottom, was subsequently retrieved from the garden.

The first thing that might strike you about this Christmas list is the paper it’s written on. It advertises:

ANUSOL: Soothes painful piles and anal irritation 

My father practised as a GP in a large Sunderland health centre and drug companies constantly tried to seduce him with freebies, including this branded paper.

Practically everything in our house seemed to have the name of a drug company on it: paper, pens, calendars, mugs…

My parents always welcomed these gifts enthusiastically. I’m pretty sure that we would have had a sofa with Amoxicillin-branded cushions or a car painted with the Nurofen logo, had they been offered to us.

I remember one of the free items was  a gadget that would cut through your seat belt if you found yourself entangled in it due to a car crash. I’m not sure what was written on it. Perhaps, “You’ll never feel trapped with Laxido”.

I think there’s a curious psychology surrounding the idea of the ‘free gift’. (Incidentally, the term itself is tautological: if it’s a gift, then you’d expect it to be free.) We have a tendency to accept things that are free, even if we have no desire for them whatsoever.

I re-entered office life last year after nine years of working from home. I was bizarrely excited about every aspect of the corporate world because I’d spent so long away from it. One day I emailed my husband Anthony in great excitement, saying,

“They’re giving away free porridge with golden syrup in every kitchen!”

“But you don’t like porridge…” he replied.

“Yes,” I said, “but it feels really good to know that if I did like it, I could have it. And for free!”

More recently, in my current office, these boxes turned up containing packets of microwavable ‘express’ sweetcorn:

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This photo was taken only about 5 minutes after they’d arrived and already the boxes are half empty. By the time the email came round saying ‘There are packets of microwavable sweetcorn in the kitchens’, the whole lot had already been snaffled.

Now sweetcorn is, admittedly, quite a useful thing. Most people like a bit of sweetcorn with their dinner now and again. But nobody could claim it was exciting. I’m not sure the fact that it ‘heats in 1 minute’ really made much difference either. I don’t generally think, ‘I would eat sweetcorn much more often if only it didn’t take so long to prepare…’.

No, the speed with which those packets vanished was, I’m sure, almost entirely due to the mysterious power of the ‘free gift’.

Anyway, back to the Anusol…

I can only assume that Father Christmas was not impressed with my choice of writing paper because, despite having requested it in my letter, I wasn’t given a Cindy (sic), and certainly didn’t receive ‘all the clothes and all the furniture’ to accompany her. Which just goes to show that presentation really matters: sometimes it’s worth ignoring the free gift and spending a bit of money.

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