Woodward’s World: Is it just me or did Christmas used to be better?

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IT’S probably just a symptom of getting older, but I swear Christmas used to be better.

For a start there wasn’t the two-month lead-in. Supermarket shelves weren’t creaking under the weight of mince pies in October. The Christmas adverts hadn’t already done your nut in by the middle of November.

And again this could be down to misty eyed nostalgia, but there was still the semblance of Christianity about the whole thing.

Chances are you went to at least one carol concert – possibly two or more – and Christmas cards were definitely a thing. We even gave them to each other at school – and that was just the boys.

Having checked the price of a first class stamp – then rubbed my eyes, pinched myself and checked again – I can see why people are more likely to send a text or email these days. It’s not much fun bankrupting yourself before you’ve even bought a turkey.

But it doesn’t do much for Christmas spirit does it?

To me, the whole thing smacks of one big cash cow.

When I was a kid the sales only started on Boxing Day. In those days Black Friday was the day you had double maths.

We used to watch the news on Boxing Day evening and stare at these strange people who preferred spending Christmas Day night curled up in a sleeping bag outside some big department store.

It didn’t look much fun to me. Far better to be sitting in the cosy living room with Disney on Ice on the telly and a couple of treats still left in your selection box.

And now I’ve got kids of my own I find myself wanting to turn back time to when Christmas was a bit simpler.

I can’t help looking at the festive ads and thinking we’re heading in the wrong direction.

The most popular Christmas gifts seem to be ones that shut us off from one another rather than bringing us together, which is surely what this time of year is meant to be all about.

All these gadgets – from consoles that play violent video games to tablets and the latest smartphone – they’re all about the individual rather than collective experience and help put up barriers between us when really we should be tearing them down – if only for a few days.

We didn’t squirrel ourselves away when I was a kid, we all stayed together in the same room – whether it be working out our new toys (once dad had put the batteries in) or playing a party game.

It helped that there was no such thing as Sky Plus, iPlayer or +1, so when you settled down in front of the telly you all watched the same thing – and you knew millions of others were watching up and down the country at the same time.

It all added up to a cosy glow of shared experience, and meant you could yatter about Christmas Day Top of the Pops or the big movie to your mates in the playground after the holidays.

It’s why as I get older I’ve learned to appreciate all those intangibles we took for granted growing up which, when added together, made Christmas so magical.

So my children will walke up on Christmas morning to find a tangerine or two in their stockings, and there will be no gadgets waiting for them beneath the Christmas tree.

Instead they’re each getting a ukulele because they’re going to learn at school and we thought it would be a fun thing to start them off together. Yes, there are some toys in there, but ones they can share and enjoy together rather than on their own, along with a couple of family films we can watch curled up on the sofa.

We’re planning on going to the local carol concert and will be heading to church on Christmas Day to remind them it’s not just about presents.

Family will also be a big part of it and we will get around as many relatives as possible.

It could all be very different when they’re sulky teenagers, but while we can I’m determined to wring as much old fashioned festive cheer out of Christmas as possible.

Are we really all in this together?

HERE’S news to give you some Christmas cheer.

Leeds council bosses warn that we can look forward to a double whammy in the new year as they try to plug another big shortfall in Government funding.

That means they’re likely to take the nuclear option of a 1.99 per cent hike in council tax, plus bring in the new two per cent precept designed to shore up social care.

It’s the maximum they can impose without having to ask us to vote on it.

It just goes to underline how hollow George Osborne’s pledges in the Autumn Statement were.

Ok, so he left family tax credits alone but we end up paying anyway – and for many it will be money they can ill afford.

At the same time the council’s workforce is shrinking, so you have to wonder if the service we get in return for paying even more council tax is going to improve.

Actually, you don’t have to wonder for long. After all, how can it?

The council says it’s looking at every area of its spending in order to save money. Really?

I don’t hear anyone questioning whether we can still afford to have the full complement of 99 councillors.

And do local authorities really need chief executives, let alone deputy chief executives, who in Leeds are on more than £350,000 between them?

I’m not sure one way or the other. But we need to hear these sort of conversations taking place.

Why I’m not going to get on my bike

AFTER my column last week about the terrible state of public transport in Leeds, a few people have written in or commented online to suggest I should get on my bike.

They reckon that I could cut my journey time to work by half if I swapped four wheels for two.

It’s a valid point and I have given serious thought to ditching the car and becoming a MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra). But the truth is I’m nervous about taking the plunge.

I did a feature for this very newspaper a few years ago which saw me cycle through the city centre. It was a truly terrifying experience given the sheer volume of traffic and some of the idiots behind the wheel.

It’s why, unlike some, I welcome the council’s investment in a so-called Super Cycleway and hope it makes things safer.

In the meantime, protective helmets off to those who take their life in their handlebars by cycling around Leeds,