The frenzy is finished. No more wrapping paper, no more Mariah, no more botch-job homemade cards cluttering your living room. The festive season is done and dusted.
In some ways it’s a relief; it’s bloody exhausting trekking the country visiting everyone. In other ways, it’s a sad time; no longer are we socially obliged to dole out good will to all men. Now everyone is free to be the grumpy, miserable old gits they really are, with no mulled wine to lull them into a sense of communal festive cheer.
There’s another downside to the end of Christmas: post-Christmas guilt.
There are the obvious reasons: too much food, sneaking the best chocolates behind the cupboard when no one was looking, too much booze, secretly putting the handbag your mother-in-law bought you on eBay the day after she leaves. But I’m not talking about these. I don’t consider these valid reasons to be guilty; you’re supposed to overindulge at Christmas! I won’t worry about whether I can do up the top button on my skinny jeans until at least the spring, when I can no longer get away with big baggy jumpers to cover it up.
This is a more specific kind of post-Christmas guilt. Parental post-Christmas guilt. Otherwise known as ‘Dear God. How did my child end up with so much crap and will they grow up to be a spoiled brat?’ guilt.
Despite all pleas for restraint, our living room now resembles a small day centre. There is a big electronic dinosaur, complete with flashing eyes and hideous roar, teetering precariously across the gap between an old battered jigsaw box and a brand new fire engine. Just in front, a wave of tiny wooden trains lie scattered: any moment now a man in a battered hat and waistcoat will stroll into our living room, slip on a stray wheel and fall promptly and comically on his arse, grabbing the shelves and bringing mountains of books on top of himself in the process (thinking about it, I really should clear up). Not to mention the books, clothes, plastic food, toy cars, DVDs, Mr Tumble Annual, baking sets, spelling boards, bingo and god knows what else.
Our boy is lucky, with a big family who love to spoil him. He loves his new toys, and one day I’m sure he’ll learn to appreciate them. Still, the greatest response to a present on the day came as he delved into his stocking to pull out the obligatory Christmas orange. He peered at it carefully, his face lit up and he held it aloft above his head like he had just discovered the Holy Grail, screeching ‘An orange from Santa! An orange from SANTAAAAAA!’ before promptly ripping off the peel and eating it on the spot, savouring each piece like it had been hand crafted by Saint Nick himself.
The only other presents to receive such adulation were a single sheet of stickers and a box of second hand jigsaws, handed to us by family members clearly more experienced and aware of the need to clear out before the annual present onslaught. So it is that, despite having a living room which currently resembles a floor of Hamley’s, our son will mostly be found completing the same jigsaw 10 times in a row.
I’m not complaining. I’m really not. He does love his other toy and plays with them. Still, he has far more than he needs. That’s what causes my post-Christmas guilt. Try as I might, I failed to stem the ever-growing tide of materialism sneaking into our home and his life. Not only did I fail to stop it, I propagated it. I introduced the idea of Father Christmas, I insisted on making a stocking, I oohed and aahed at everything he opened in a manner so enthusiastic it rivalled Louis Walsh for unwarranted excitement. I am the one to blame for my post-Christmas guilt.
Shelter reports 90,000 children are likely to have spent this Christmas homeless. It’s not a case of whether they would have any presents, but whether they would have anywhere to open them. Here, in one of the richest countries in the world, thousands of families had to rely on food banks to provide a meagre Christmas dinner, unable to find money to provide it themselves. This, of course, says nothing of the hundreds of thousands of children across the world who will have been sheltering from violence, war and abuse this Christmas.
It is neither feasible, nor desirable, to imply we shouldn’t enjoy Christmas because other people can’t. But it is selfish and ungrateful not to recognise how lucky we are.
I made no New Year’s Resolutions. I won’t swear off chocolate or wine (come on!), nor will I join a gym or set myself arbitrary targets about learning Spanish by April. Neither should you. None of us will keep them and they’re all, ultimately, pointless. Instead, whenever we’re enjoying spending time with our families, or playing with the new train set, we should be a little more aware of how lucky we are and think about what we could do this year to help those who are less so. Maybe that will alleviate some of the post-Christmas guilt.