Sarah Todd: Ready for Christmas? If you are, your smugness just leaves me cold. Here's why...

IF ONE more person boasts about having all their Christmas presents wrapped and placed under a tree decorated to department store standard, this correspondent will not be responsible for her actions.

What is the correct etiquette for Christmas cards and presents?

The smugness of modern-day Christmas preparations are enough to make a vicar – never mind someone who hasn’t bought so much as a single present – swear.

Every year the social media posts about “last present wrapped” get earlier. They were a daily occurrence by the beginning of November and were soon followed with the equally infuriating “all the decorations up”.

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Tomorrow, with the last post deadline looming, this family’s Christmas cards will be written. The Husband will fluster into the kitchen (with no festive food in the cupboards until a big shop the day or two before December 25th) and ask “have we written one to …?” and get sent out with a flea in his ear that no “we” haven’t but “I” have.

In spite of this relatively last-minute signing session, each card will contain a few chatty words. It’s an interesting fact that the earlier cards arrive the fewer words they seem to contain. These early doors missives seem to be either pre-printed or plain perfunctory. They don’t make the receiver feel special, just somebody else ticked off the to-do list.

It’s all a bit of a headache, but there is something about the sending and receiving of a card that no email or posting on the world wide web can ever replicate. It’s maybe a bit cynical, but how many people say they’ve “given to charity” but never get around to it?

One thing’s for sure, it would be wonderful if those who no longer send cards made an exception for their older relatives and neighbours. They never see text messages or internet explanations of “we’re not doing cards this year” and must often be left feeling forgotten.

The children finish school next Friday, so we’ll send you-know-who up into the loft for the Christmas decorations on the Saturday. There will be no tree until then and – shock horror – it will be hung with bits and bobs of mismatched baubles and funny-shaped decorations from primary school days. There is something about the perfection of the modern day tree that makes me want to push it over. Gosh, that’s not a gesture full of seasonal goodwill.

There is no right or wrong way to do Christmas; it’s probably plain stupid to leave it all until the last minute. But hell will freeze over before this writer joins the ranks of pre-planned perfection. Don’t people realise they are being sucked into what my grandmother would call a right racket? The Money Advice Trust, a charity which runs the National Debtline, polled 2,000 people and found 37 per cent are putting Christmas presents on credit – up from 33 per cent last year.

When the children believed in Father Christmas they often used to ask “Did we do something wrong?” when they returned to school in January and heard all about the televisions and other expensive electrical items many of their classmates had received from the man with the white beard.

“No,” we’d reply. “They’ve just got stupid mummies and daddies who put out extra presents – Father Christmas wouldn’t bring anything like a television or a mobile phone…”

For once, the residents of Yorkshire and Humberside have something to learn from those who live in London and the South East. Analysis by BBC 5 Live’s Wake up to Money podcast showed that up here, families spend five per cent more of their disposable income (a sizeable 25 per cent) on presents compared to southerners.

It’s a sad fact, backed up by figures from YouGov, that it’s often those who can least afford it who spend the most at Christmas. There’s something wrong with a society that makes the people with the least feel they have to get into debt and spend more than they can afford.

Straw polls seem to reveal a spend per child of £100 to £300. Our now-teenage offspring usually turn off their phones over Christmas because a) they would get a clout from their mother for having them on and b) they can’t stand the nauseating fashion for lining up all gifts and photographing them to post online to show off about the value of their haul.

Remember the humble book
token? They are now like plastic credit cards and if godparents and grandparents, aunties and uncles opened their eyes and realised how little today’s youngsters read, they would surely become familiar with them. When was the last time you saw somebody under 21 reading a book? They’re either tapping into a phone or sat with earplugs in listening to music.

So if a book would be shutting the door after the horse has bolted, what about a magazine subscription?

On Thursday night The Son is going late-night Christmas shopping with a group of Scouts. His handful of gifts, financed from the proceeds of a few boxes of eggs, will mean more than any amount of eggstravagance (sorry).

Finally, there is no point piously pretending to be deeply religious. With each bad thing that happens in the world it’s hard, on a personal level, not to lose a little faith.

But it cuts to the core to see so many gathering at the altar of conspicuous consumption without so much as a bat’s whisker of thought for Him upstairs. So many schools have cast aside the traditional nativity play and instead joined the rest of Britain in trying to recreate a John Lewis advert idea of secular perfection.

Forget the politically correct “happy holidays” and embrace the true (less than perfect) spirit of a merry Christmas.

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.