Christmas not about the presents, but the presence



The build-up to Christmas, despite its joy and celebration, can be an expensive time as banking figures annually show. Despite it leaving large holes in many pockets, we yearly throw caution to the wind with the quip, Sure feck it, it’s Christmas! And nowhere more so than the fact that this Christmas is the first we get to celebrate in a normal fashion following two Christmases in lockdown.

The norm has been one in eight people saying Christmas will leave them in debt as they typically pay their way through loans and credit cards, with one in four confessing that their festive spending causes endless worry.

Consumers are expected to spend an average of €1,200 on Christmas this year, a 20 per cent increase on 2021, says the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).

This year, too, will be a new and different worry for so many, with inflation and surging energy costs.

A staggering almost 900,000 people have been forced to go without basic necessities this year, of whom 250,000 are children, according to figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). One in six of us has experienced “enforced deprivation”, with 876,125 people affected — an increase of 184,538 on 2021.

A damning indictment of our State

The Income and Living Conditions Deprivation Rate 2022 survey reveals 249,696 children in Ireland are experiencing deprivation — an increase of almost 45,000 since 2021

Social Justice Ireland’s research and policy analyst Susanne Rogers says the figures show that so many people still struggle to achieve a basic standard of living. And then there’s the 11,300 plus and rising homeless.

St Vincent de Paul’s Rose McGowan says this is the “worst year” she has witnessed for hard-hit families going without food and heat to cut down on costs. The charity is receiving up to 1,200 requests for help every day and this figure will continue to increase in the run-up to Christmas.

“It’s at that stage where we find people start to panic. Even though it’s Christmas, everyday stuff still goes on. Food, energy and rent all still has to be paid for and now we have the stress of Christmas on top of that,” she says.

“People are cutting back on food and certainly parents are going without food in order to make sure their children are fed,” she says. “It’s affecting their health and mental health. Every call is either for food or energy and, in a lot of cases, for rent.”

And this is not just about social welfare recipients. People on low income, people on disability, single parents, it’s everybody. There’s no spare cash for any crisis in people’s lives.

The Credit Union says rampant inflation will knock as much as €3,000 from the average household’s spending power this year, making for a leaner Christmas. Their Consumer Sentiment Index, published the other day, shows that 61% of people will have less money to splash out this festive season, with just 5% reckoning they will have more. This marks a substantial deterioration compared with last year’s results, according to economist Austin Hughes, and is even worse than in 2020, when Covid was affecting the income and outlays of many households.

As Rose McGowan puts it: “Parents will always go without to make sure their children are fed. However, children shouldn’t have to bear that.”

When I was boy, money for most families in Ireland was tight. My parents fervently looked after the pennies, in the hope-to-God the pounds would look after themselves. I know this from personal experience.

In recent years, for many the family income is not what it used to be, and many parents worry about not having enough money for Christmas. Down the decades, an increasingly consumerist society has had us all believe that the more presents under the tree, the happier the festivities will be, and the bigger they are makes it that much more significant.

This is utter nonsense.

Christmas should not be about how much money gets spent on presents, but about cherishing the few days spent with family and friends. It should not be about the number of gifts given or received but rather the meaning behind the gift itself. We remember this time of the year for the gathering around the table, playing games, the wide-eyed joy of a child on Christmas morning after Santa has visited.

Let’s be kind to ourselves and remember: Christmas is not about the presents — it’s about the presence… of you and your loved ones.

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