It’s a Christmas tradition I have come to accept with resignation, trepidation and maybe just a tiny touch of reluctant gratitude.
Every year, on Christmas Eve, I join legions of other hard-bitten shoppers and battle my way through Primark, armed only with a huge hooped net basket, which I then fill with novelty sleepwear, T-shirts, slippers, face masks, hair bobbles, socks for every day of the week, about 30 pairs of knickers and, inevitably, underpants featuring wholly inappropriate motifs and warnings.
Every year, I vow I am not going to do this, but then I look at the piles of presents I have gathered for my two (grown-up) children, and decide there isn’t enough. They need more, more, more, and I need to hit the shops yet again on a mission to gather as much as possible while spending as little as possible.
The children don’t ask me to do this. In fact, they urge me not to do it, but it’s a compulsion. I want them to wake up to massive stacks of stuff in glittery wrapping paper, like they did when they were little. It was so much simpler when Father Christmas brought them toys bigger than they were, huge plastic kitchens and bikes and drum kits. How the elves used to laugh as they wrapped them. But as the kids have got taller, the presents they want have got smaller, yet far more expensive.
Mobile phones, laptop computers, tablets – useful, essential for school and uni work, but they don’t look like much when you cover them in gift wrap. They need accompaniments, and that means selection boxes, books they’ll never read, a wall calendar featuring Niall Horan, cheap fluffy sleepwear, and hundreds of pairs of slogan pants.
When it comes to Christmas shopping, we are world leaders. This year, UK households expect to spend an average of £473.83 on presents, making us far more generous (or daft) than the French, who spend £273.48, and the Germans, who spend £344.09, says voucher company RetailMeNot.
But this year is not entirely a tale of festive over-spend. The cost of Christmas dinner 2016 is 10.8% cheaper than it was in 2009, according to Good Housekeeping magazine. In fact, buying the lot, from turkey to pudding, could cost just £2.48 a head, bought from the cheapest supermarkets.
As for next Christmas? Maybe not so cheap. Predictions are that our food bills are set to rise as the post-Brexit cost of importing increases. So we must indulge while we can, on sausage roll garlands, king prawn rings and tiny hamburgers. Heck, a five-bird roast. It’s Christmas. Pull on your novelty pants and make merry. Winter is coming.