Grant Woodward: Remind me why we do all this Christmas stuff again?

Is Christmas really worth all the stress, pressure and sheer hard graft?
Is Christmas really worth all the stress, pressure and sheer hard graft?
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Ho ho hum. If you’re anything like me your Christmas spirit is in danger of running out – and no, by ‘spirit’ I don’t mean that pricey bottle of gin stashed in the sideboard, that’s for Christmas Day, naughty.

No, I mean that it’s right about now that you remember the old cliché about Christmas being a marathon not a sprint.

The self-checkouts at Tesco have been ho ho hoing at me since late November, my Amazon account’s been taking a hammering since mid October and my calorie count isn’t likely to return to normal until the end of Jan.

The food’s just about all in, although I do still need to replace the Twiglets and dry roasted nuts I bought when they were on offer and then munched my way through because I just couldn’t help myself.

To be honest, the only reason that gin’s still intact is because I can’t remember where I put it. And yes, I have checked the sideboard.

But although it’s Christmas Eve there’s still a ton of stuff to do.

Brussels sprouts need criss-crossing, there’s half a ton of meat to be defrosted and looking at the pile of presents in the wardrobe, me and my wife will be wrestling with the wrapping paper and sticky tape long after Santa’s been and gone.

So why do we do it? Why do we invite this stress into our lives every 12 months? The rows over whether we stay one night or two at the in laws, the pressure of getting the right gifts for people who don’t need anything, the sheer bloody expense of it all.

I asked a friend this very question the other day. He said we go a bundle on Christmas because there is no natural cycle in our long, slow march from cradle to grave.

It’s why we invent constructs such as Christmas to engender an artificial sense of renewal to make the whole process more palatable.

Once I’d stopped crying I asked him what he’d be doing on Christmas Day.

“Probably go to McDonalds,” he shrugged. “Then watch some DVDs.”

And it was at that point I realised that, actually, for all the moaning, I really do love Christmas and wouldn’t want it any other way.

Ok, so not every Christmas Day has been completely magical. The year our twins were born, my wife decided she wanted us to spend the day as just the four of us.

So instead of being able to let my parents or the in-laws entertain the kids for a few minutes while I sneaked in a cheeky Bucks Fizz or vol au vent, I found myself in our flat with a pair of five-month-olds who only stopped crying for another bottle of milk or to poo themselves.

I’d bought some party food for us to snack on ahead of our Christmas dinner, but I found myself having to keep taking it in and out of the oven as another baby-related emergency presented itself.

We eventually ate the party food at 9.30pm, decided to forget Christmas dinner completely and went to bed early to prepare for the sleepless night ahead of us.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a very special Christmas and one I’ll never forget, but now the twins are four it’s a lot more fun (not least because they don’t poo themselves nearly as much) – certainly fun enough to put up with the stress, pressure and hassle that’s part and parcel of this time of year.

Because actually I like spending time with my family. I like seeing my kids for more than an hour a day. I like finding presents that I know my son and daughter will be excited to open on Christmas morning.

I’m even looking forward to cooking the Christmas dinner – as long as I’ve found the gin by then.

There are two reasons for this. When I was a kid we had a lot of very happy family Christmases and I want my children to have the same.

Secondly, no matter how stressful it is, and as much as I really do love my job, it’s a lot more fun than being at work.

So happy Christmas. And whatever Christmas Day has in store for you, I hope by the end you feel it was all worth it too.

Priced out of the panto

WHEN I was growing up it was a festive tradition to go to the panto as a family.

It was always great fun and served as a good introduction to live theatre.

These days it seems you need to take out a second mortgage to afford a trip to see the Ugly Sisters.

In Birmingham, this year’s performance of Cinderella has ticket prices that start at £27.70 and rise up to £46. There’s no discount for children.

It’s officially Britain’s most expensive pantomime – and I reckon it’s shocking.

The organisers say the cost reflects the quality of the show, which comes complete with acrobats and 3D effects.

But since when did the panto feel it needed to compete with The Force Awakens?

What’s wrong with a simple, traditional panto that delivers laughs and a feelgood story for the kids?

In Leeds the prices of some Christmas shows were hiked up by a few more pounds in the last week or so.

And for us to take our four-year-old twins to see Aladdin at the Carriageworks in Leeds it would cost us £70. An adult ticket is £18.50. Our four-year-olds get a discount of just £2.

Theatres will say it’s where they make their money for the rest of the year, and that lots of performances have been sold out for weeks.

But equally the annual panto is a family favourite, an ideal way to appeal to children and so grow the theatre-goers of the future.

As such, shouldn’t it accessible to all?

Kids throw a festive curveball

JUST when I thought we’d got all the children’s presents sorted, they go and flummox us.

They announced that they were asked to write letters to Santa at school – and both included things on their wish list that they hadn’t thought to mention until now.

At this eleventh hour I told my wife that there was nothing we could do.

The presents have been bought (and as usual we ended up getting more than we said we would) and that was that.

“But what if they stop believing in Father Christmas because when they wake up the presents they asked him for aren’t there?” she said.

They’ve probably already forgotten what they asked for, I assured her – only for the pair of them to promptly repeat on demand exactly what they’d stuck on their new lists.

The upshot? I’m about to head out to try to source a pocket-sized Transformer and a small toy plane.

Wish me luck.

Tony Yeboah scores in the 1995 Christmas Eve clash between Leeds and Manchester United.

Rob Atkinson: A very Leeds United Christmas Eve