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Read an extract from Leeanne O’Donnell’s debut novel, Sparks of Bright Matter
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Image / Self / Parenthood

A parents’ guide to Christmas spirit (and toy-hungry children)


By Kate O'Dowd
23rd Dec 2023
A parents’ guide to Christmas spirit (and toy-hungry children)

Are you a parent to little ones? Here's Kate O'Dowd on how to balance your festive fantasies of calm relaxation with the plethora of battery-operated plastic (which will no doubt invade your home soon).

I don’t need to spell out what Christmas means to the average child. It’s not the warmth of a festively decorated home, filled with happy family and comfort food; nor the celebration of having traversed another long, harsh year; and it’s certainly not the birth of Christ.

It’s the acquisition of more miniature, plastic, battery-powered things to add to a collection so rapidly-growing that you end each day wishing a sinkhole would swallow the lower floor of the house. And what about you, the foster parent to this child of materialism?

Well, a certain mania takes hold of you, too; namely glittering over the hunk of stewing beef you’ve been calling family life, to ensure the only world-view-forming moments that make it into the long-term memory banks of your precious creations are those carefully curated during the latter part of December. Otherwise, they could grow up to be serial killers.

Of course, the easy thing, for you, would be submission. Buy the rubbish they’ve set their merchandise-grubbing little hearts on. Let your seven-year-old eat a selection box for Christmas dinner, in front of a massive telly, wearing an Angry Birds onesie, surrounded by every item on the Christmas toy hotlist. Sure, they’ll love you today (you’ll know by the lack of whining), but you’ve just fed the beast and next year it could be addicted to crack. Oh no, Christmas is a time for enrichment – or at least photographic evidence to this effect.

Obviously, you’ll want to transform your home into Instagram’s chicest winter wonderland, complete with the Design Love Fest floral Christmas tree (if you didn’t see this all over Pinterest over the last few years, then you’re not on Pinterest enough, or maybe that’s just the right amount; I’ve lost touch) and serve up an organic, paleo, vegan, cooked goose for the dinner banquet. Your efforts will be just about noticed.

But the present struggle will be all too real. Unless your child is a baby, in which case, it’s jackpot time; they get wooden toys from Designist and picture books like Marion Deuchars’ Bob the Artist. If they’re verbal, but “dolly” is about as articulate as it gets, you need to interpret that as a custom-made cloth doll from Etsy; not the demonic Baby Wow Doll whose open mouth resembles far too closely that of an inflatable sex mannequin.

It’s when they’re old enough to tell you exactly what they’re after, that you’ll need to employ your parental genius. “Yes, Santa’s coming and knows you’re a good boy. Of course he’ll bring you the exact Paw Patrol Lights & Sound Air Patroller you asked for in your letter.” But let’s say Santa delivers his crass offerings the eve before, leaving your selection of Swedish genius puzzles to dazzle for the main event.

Finally, garnish your perfect Christmas with a sprig of no batteries for the flashing noisemakers and I think you’ll find it looks like an idyllic childhood. At least until St Stephen’s Day.

Photography by Victoria Emerson. This article was originally published in December, 2019.

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