Spending time with family means more

PUBLISHED: 10:08 21 December 2007 | UPDATED: 19:20 05 July 2010

EVEN the Queen is cost-cutting this Christmas. No big party as celebrations at Sandringham are toned down, unnecessary expense shaved off and the Royals tighten their belts for frugal festivities.

EVEN the Queen is cost-cutting this Christmas. No big party as celebrations at Sandringham are toned down, unnecessary expense shaved off and the Royals tighten their belts for frugal festivities.

Even our very own Material Girl Madonna is reining in the family Christmas to only three presents each for her children and none for adults. But then she hardly needs a perfume gift set, new handbag and a foot spa, does she?

The two “queens” are reflecting a distinct national downturn in Christmas feelings this year and the lavish frenzy that has characterised the celebrations for the past couple of decades.

Nearly everyone I talk to is scaling down this year, on presents, outings, food and decorations. It's not that they're bah-humbug, miserable, penny-pinching or even living in fear of the talked up “credit crunch”. Even though most of us have felt the pinch this year and can ill afford to overspend.

Most people, for whatever reason, are rejecting the ostentatious frenzy of showboat gifts as faintly obscene and unnecessary - and opting for a very different type of toned-down Christmas.

Even my boys - aged 11 and eight - have caught the bug. There are no endless lists this year. They have “all we need”, they say, and just want to spend time at home, a rare treat in their point-to-point weekly schedule of sport, sport and more sport.

On the touchline and courtside last weekend, mothers swapped plans of a quieter stress-free Christmas. Everyone still wants to give, but give something more meaningful - their time, effort, friendship and support.

Most mothers I know, after years of driving themselves insane and exhausted trying to recreate a life-style magazine Christmas, simmering cranberries and peeling chestnuts, making every dish from scratch from Nigella or Delia, colour-coordinating decorations and wrappings, and over-indulging their children with presents hardly looked at, let alone played with, are thinking outside the box this year.

They just want something simple.

I felt this on Sunday when I took my younger son to a Christingle Service in a country church. We missed it last year because I was “too busy”. It was packed and my little boy sung his heart out and enjoyed every minute.

Those 90 minutes with his eight-year-old face lit up by his candle, his eyes bright with excitement at the nativity play at the front, was enough of a Christmas present for me to keep in my mind's eye until next year.

A friend of mine, a single mum, is really struggling this year. Her old car was broken into and vandalised weeks after she had paid hundreds of pounds to get it through its MOT. The insurers wrote off the car but because it was so old, offered her peanuts for it, despite her spending before the break in.

She can't afford another car and travels everywhere on the bus. She can't afford Christmas this year and is making homemade presents for everyone with her 13-year-old daughter.

Those gifts, made together, will be remembered longer than any high street merchandise.

So as the headlines predict gloom for Christmas because of under-spending. I'd say it was the opposite. The gloom was the years that people mistook spending for love.

Showering with gifts only shows you've got money to spend. It means nothing. Spending time with your children, listening and having fun with them, demonstrates you actually like them, value their place in your life and have belief in them.

What a better Christmas message.

Perhaps the tide is really turning. We live in a society where life feels cheap - two more teenagers were senselessly stabbed to death at the weekend - people have been disposable for far too long, families are fragmented and “caring” now seems to mean just looking after the sick.

Perhaps, after too long in the commercial wilderness, we might be coming back to what Christmas really means. And about time too.

A Happy and Peaceful Christmas to you all.

SINGLE mothers get so much stick for supposedly creating wasters, thugs and criminals, it's time to stand up and cheer when we hear stories that show the opposite.

Whether Leon Jackson was a worthy winner of the X-Factor or not - I don't think he can sing but I'm no expert - his mother, Wendy, who has brought him up single-handedly all his life deserves equal accolades.

Leon, 18, wants his first purchase with his newfound wealth to be a new house for his mum.

“I wouldn't be the person I am today if it hadn't been for her,” he said. She sacrificed so much for him and always put him first, he said. And he joked about being affected by the feminine influence of living with his mum and his gran.

Well it paid off, Wendy. A charming, devoted son with impeccable manners, humility and a strong work ethic. Her son's not the only winner here. Wendy wins hands down for Single Mother of the Year.

Why doesn't the Government sign her up quick as an ideal role model for all those young women struggling on their own with small boys and tearing their hair out about controlling them?

It'll be a job she's best qualified to do and change her life as well as her son's.

OH dear. Emperor's new clothes syndrome has hit the stars with too much money and no one to say “You look ridiculous”.

Kylie's black lace body stocking and big pants on the X-Factor on Saturday night. What was that all about? Someone was having a laugh. Had they hidden all the mirrors backstage? Probably Sharon Osbourne's last laugh at the Minogue sisters' expense

Kylie Queen of Chic turned queen of Cheap. She looked like Cheryl the saucy housewife at a suburban swinging party who had - tee hee, ooo! - accidentally-on-purpose forgotten to put her skirt on.

Her teeny weeny thighs looked like dumpy hefalumps. A total fright.

Then there was Nicole Kidman dressed up as a Christmas turkey for the Australian premiere of Golden Compass. Top to toe in Bacofoil-silver suit.

These women pay stylists to dress them and tell them they look great. Sack 'em.

PRINCES William and Harry are keeping a low profile in Norfolk this Christmas after Harry was quizzed by police when two rare hen harriers were shot at Sandringham.

Their annual shooting party is cancelled - a sigh of relief for the birds - as the princes stay away until Christmas. Pity they didn't use the same discretion in the clubs of London. There they appear not in the least bothered about people's respect or feelings for them when they're racking up whopping bar bills and falling out of doors pie-eyed.

WE live in a world where almost everything can be achieved by the touch of a button or flick of a switch. Except teaching the world to read.

Of all the crises and disgraces in our nation, the proportion of children and adults unable to read properly in 2007 is the biggest.

That many children spend 11 years in school and emerge with such shocking illiteracy is simply horrifying.

Gordon Brown's number one priority for 2008 should be to make every child literate. This might mean sacking a lot of teachers.

Not, of course, the many who do a wonderful job. But we've all met teachers who don't even like children let alone feel passionate about helping them to develop - and teachers so deadly dull and disinterested in their job they kill off their subject before they start.

Teachers are supposed to be inspirational, believe in their pupils, whatever their difficulties, and have the compassion and motivation to make a difference.

More than 500 authors are calling on Mr Brown to tackle illiteracy, among then Nick Hornby, Andrew Motion, Joanna Trollop and Tony Parsons. I'll bet that each of them, at some time, had a passionate teacher who believed in them and encouraged them to make the most of themselves and have confidence.

Teaching is not a job, it's a vocation and needs to be treated as such.

SHE loved him, she loved him not. What relevance and use has the Princess Diana inquest served? Apart perhaps to knock her off a pedestal and shatter all those Diana fans' illusions about their people's princess - and waste an awful lot of money.

CANCER patient Colette Mills has been told if she pays for an additional drug to fight her disease she will have her free NHS treatment withdrawn. If she pays £4000 a month for Avastin denied her on the NHS, her health authority is threatening to make her pay for her entire treatment for breast cancer - £10,000.

Some incentive for self-help. She's been a taxpayer and is entitled to her NHS care. If they won't fund a drug to give her extra hope why shouldn't she? It's callous, cruel and spiteful behaviour by an organisation designed to care and heal. National Health Service. More like National Heartless Service.

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