Stephanie Smith: Mums of Britain, children need pianos, but most of all, your time

It's not Christmas for me until I've burst into tears watching the John Lewis advert.

Sir Elton John stars in this year's John Lewis Christmas advert, The Boy and the Piano, which flashes back through his career to the inspirational gift he received when he was three. Picture: Greg Allen/PA Wire

This year’s offering is a proper heartstring-tugger. A whistlestop reverse tour through Sir Elton John’s musical career, from grumpy Bagpuss-lookalike, back through the decades and a gallery of hair and fashion atrocities, until we see three-year-old Elton unwrap his first piano as doting mother and generous grandma look on. Cue the final tagline: “Some gifts are more than just a gift”.

True story. And what did my children get for Christmas when they were three? I can’t even remember – huge plastic tractors, Disney outfits and Barney the Dinosaur videos, I should think. Anyway, they haven’t grown up to be gifted pianists or huge global superstars (not so far) or farmers or paleontologists, so clearly their Christmas gifts really were just that.

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Emotion-kindling, guilt-trapping Christmas TV adverts have become a festive tradition in recent years. I’m not complaining because I love them and, while they encourage me to spend more money, at least they also suggest that I spend it wisely. From now on, every gift I buy a child of any age will be something creatively or educationally inspiring. No need to thank me, I know what kids are like these days.

Ironically, this year’s most emotionally charged festive TV advert isn’t about guilting us into buying the best-ever turkey or sparkly dress or rose-gold Bluetooth headphones. The BBC Christmas ad begins with a familiar family breakfast table scene, so chaotic that the teenage son actually has to text his mother, who is also in the kitchen but on the phone, to ask, “you still coming tonight mum?” (the minimal punctuation is a nice touch).

That’s me in bits right there. By the time I’ve watched the poor lad disconsolately skim pebbles into the sea, play slot machines and kick around Cromer Pier, all interspliced with scenes of mum battling with technology at the office, I’m an emotional wreck. Thank heavens for time, standing still so she can come to her senses, creep out and join her boy for some quality time, riding dodgems, eating chips and having a chat. “Christmas time together” is the final message here, because your time – and they’re talking to you, mums of Britain – is the most precious gift you can give your family. Never mind that most teenagers would rather go to the dentist than spend any meaningful time with mum (and in public) or that dad and the baby haven’t been invited.

TV adverts have become a bit like family at Christmas. They drive you insane, but you wouldn’t be without them.