Counting the cost of Christmas

Despite the recent recession, ewe are spending more than ever on Christmas.

Neil Hudson reports...

Once upon a time, children could expect to wake up on Christmas Day to find a stocking filled with nothing more than an orange, some chocolate coins and depending on whether you're a boy or girl, an action man or a doll.

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Not so today, when Christmas seems to be not so much about keeping up with the Joneses as keeping up with the Syngeon-Smythes.

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Peer pressure and something called 'pester power' are the two forces lined up against parents at Christmas time.

Children, especially those who have begun school, are desperate to keep pace with their classmates. Being bang on-trend is part of their identity, nagging parents obligatory.

But the Christmases of today are a far cry from those of 50 or even 20 years ago and it's not just the toys which have changed.

Pamela Wright, who has three grown-up children and three grandchildren, said the spirit of Christmas was slowly ebbing away.

She said: "We used to get a sock with various things inside, an orange, a Crunchie bar, some gold chocolate gold pieces and a comic.

"I was the eldest of four, I had two brothers and a sister and we would all go into mum's bed to open our presents.

"We would then go downstairs and there would be a main present, which was usually something like a watch.

"The presents weren't the main thing when I was a child, we were more excited by the fact Father Christmas had been. It was just the general atmosphere, really.

"We would go to church with dad and then go back home and have a lovely meal.

"Nowadays, I don't think children even know it's meant to be Jesus's birthday. They just see it as a holiday.

"When my own kids were growing up, I used to buy things all year round for Christmas and put them up in the loft. They would get a main present, sometimes that would be a bicycle and then some little presents, like toy cars and things like that, it never broke the bank,

we never bought what we couldn't afford."

"I have three grandchildren who have lived in Australia for the last few years but when I think back to what they used to get, it is a bit overwhelming, especially the larger presents, like TVs and computers.

"It must be horrendous for some families, because when kids start to go to school, they want what their mates have got and if the mother and father both have good jobs and money, that's okay, but what are you supposed to do if you don't have a lot of cash?"

Jayne Cook, 39, who has two children, Ellie, 12 and Jamie, 11, saves all year round in preparation for Christmas.

She said: "Christmas is lovely but it is expensive. Ellie is going-on 13 and all she wants at the moment is make-up but then not so long ago, it was Ugg boots, which are very expensive.

"I save 20 every week from my wage toward Christmas. It's a big chunk of my wage and it means that we all go without certain things throughout the year but it makes life a lot easier come Christmas time.

"My own childhood memories of Christmas are fantastic and that's why I want to carry that on for my children.

"People spend more on their children because credit is so readily available and they tend to go over the top.

"Because we go without throughout the year, I don't mind spoiling my kids at Christmas.

"In the past, it's been mainly toys I've bought for them but my son really surprised me this year when he said he just wanted clothes."

We may be at the tail end of a recession but market analysts Verdict are predicting high street spending will be higher than ever this

Christmas, which is not the kind of thing you expect to hear on the back of Government spending cuts, imminent VAT rises, job losses and a general malaise to do with all things economic.

Verdict predict sales for the fourth quarter of the year will increase by 1.9 per cent to 85.2bn, a rise of 1.6bn. The largest growth is in online sales, which are up a staggering 17.6 per cent to 8.1bn, an increase of 1.2bn.

Gary Grant, chairman of Dream Toys, part of the Toy Retails Association, which predicts the top selling toys of the year, agreed internet sales were up.

"They are up 50 per cent on last year, which is a significant change and means the sceptics of two or three years ago, who wouldn't put their credit card details in, now just do it because it's the norm.

"That said, we are not seeing a boom year, people are being cautious.

"I think generally people do spend more on presents now, compared to, say 1980. Sadly, one reason for that is split families, when you get two sides of a family chipping in with presents. Also, grandparents are more affluent.

"There are no boundaries any more in terms of what a child thinks is a reasonable amount of money to spend on a Christmas present. I mean, when in 1980 would you have a child asking for a TV, an iPad and a mobile phone – anything above a fiver and you'd have your ear clipped."

The must-have toys of today include things like Pumpaloons (14.95), a pushing-pumping race to blow up two 3ft high balloons, Lego city aeroplane (34.95), the FurReal Friends Gogo My Walking Pup (59.99), a toy puppy you can actually take for a walk, Kidizoom video camera (41.99), Monopoly Revolution (17.99), a new take on the old classic, with a circular board and sound effects.

Other top selling toys this year include Moon Dough (10), play-dough which never dries out, The Nerf Ultimate Full Auto (36.99), a toy gun, which fires foam bullets and the Mattel Mindflex game (85), which uses electrodes to read your brainwaves to control air cushions to guide a ball bearing around a maze.

Leeds, Sweet street, 28th March 1979'LIGHTING'Mr. Eddie Mullan, a lift engineer at the City of Leeds Public Works Department, Sweet Street, gives a last polish to one of the four old gas lamps that are to be sent to Germany.

Leeds nostalgia: Bits of old Leeds sent to Germany... in 1979