We don’t have a working television in our house, but before that annoys you too much, let me explain that we have been renting a house for a year that has no TV reception. So by necessity rather than choice, we’ve only had access to internet-based programmes like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. It wasn’t until we spent a weekend with friends recently, that it struck me what a profound difference it has made to the way our two girls interact with the world. And that difference is that they haven’t had access to advertising targeted specifically at children.

This is particularly noticeable in the run-up to Christmas. In previous years, their letters to Santa have contained lists of toys, which I like to classify as stinky pink crap. Formulaic cheap plastic girly toys are everywhere at this time of year – kitchen sets, dolls, sparkly stickers – that tend to encourage domestic role play and very little in the way of adventure. I wrote about those right here.

This year, the girls’ letters to Santa, with absolutely no interference from me, include the following – a microscope (yay – you go girl!), a sewing machine, stilts, roller skates and a robot dog. Apparently the robot dog was spotted in an advert at someone’s house, but who wouldn’t like a robot dog? I know I would.

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What a difference a year makes. Hot on the heels of this year’s more refreshing Santa letters, I noticed that Christmas adverts for the big supermarkets and stores seem to have gone viral. This is a thing now apparently, like the Superbowl ads in America. As we don’t currently have access to normal telly, I first saw the John Lewis Christmas advert about the Bear and the Hare popping up all over Facebook. It’s a beautifully-made animation with a soundtrack by Lily Allan, singing Keane’s ‘Somewhere Only We Know‘. Interestingly, for a major retailer, the key message is friendship, simple things and creating experiences, rather than buying a ton of stuff that no-one really wants.

For the last 5 years, for birthdays and at Christmas, my husband and I haven’t been buying each other gifts. Instead, we’ve been buying a joint ‘experience’ that we can enjoy together. Sounds very smug, but in practice, it’s usually a slap-up lunch with a load of booze, but we have also taken cookery courses together, been surfing and out to listen to live music.

So how, I wonder, can we apply that to our family Christmas and more importantly, to the kids’ presents? It’s a tricky one. They are expecting a Christmas stocking after all. I’m planning to fill them with all of the accessories for their main presents. ie. kneepads for roller skates, rather than the usual cheap disposable stocking fillers that get played with once and then abandoned. I’m also going to add to that, their annual winter hats and scarves, which I would usually buy them around now.

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But what about the experience factor? Firstly, I’m going to include a disposable camera for each of them, with a list of things they have to capture during our family Christmas break. And I’m going to make up pretty vouchers in little boxes they can redeem throughout the year for fun things such as a ‘family day out’, ‘breakfast in bed’ and ‘pizza and movie night’ and a trip to the theatre. I have no idea if they will be disappointed or thrilled, but even so, they receive so many gifts from family and friends, that in the grand scheme of things, I’m sure Christmas will be just as exciting a time as ever for them.

Are you having an un-Christmas this year? I’d love to hear your ideas!

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