In the pleasant sitting-room at Wickenden, after a delicious lunch, we were able to discuss practical matters in a constructive atmosphere, with some good ideas coming from busy families. How to cope with the modern lavish birthday party at which the birthday child is given huge quantities of presents that he can barely even acknowledge adequately, let alone enjoy and appreciate?I sometimes feel like we're the "damping down" family in our small network. Part of this reflects our personalities -- we rarely give or expect gifts, even with each other. It also reflects our experiences as children -- Darwin and I both come from modest backgrounds, and while we received presents at birthdays and Christmas, our family celebrations weren't the gift free-for-alls I've witnessed in other settings.But it's also a choice about how we want our daughters to think about family celebrations and especially holy days such as Christmas. I don't disapprove of presents, but it seems to me that they should never overshadow the event they commemorate. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ. Certainly one may give presents on that day in honor of the gifts of the Magi, but some parents seem to be of the opinion that they need to be as lavish as the Magi.
...What also emerged is that one or two families can have a significant impact on local network of family groups, eg can help to damp down a culture of ever-more-lavish parties by simply refusing to join in.....
It is interesting to note that most of the problems raised at this, and other similar discusions I have attended in recent years, always end up focusing on the problems of affluence. It's actually not porn, drugs, alcohol or involvement in weird cults that present immediate problems, but the deadening reality of childhoods threatened by massive consumerism and the destruction of innocent pleasures by the fostering of greed.....all this within living memory of an era when many parents in Britain worried about saving enough money to buy just a few modest gifts for the children and treats for birthdays.
I had occasion to enter a Toys 'R Us recently, and was reminded of Sturgeon's Revelation: Ninety percent of everything is crud. The shelves were glutted with tawdry, cheap (and not so cheap) junky toys of the sort that will almost certainly be cast aside within weeks and end up under the feet of hapless parents in the middle of the night. (That one's for you, Dad.) Many toys are so dinky and commonplace that there seems no incentive for children to cherish and care for them; if it breaks you can always get another. Who in his right mind would mend a toy from a Happy Meal? The things are so inexpensive to manufacture and so ugly that they're good for nothing but target practice at the nearest trash can. Likewise, when a parent feels that he or she is obligated to shower a child with loads of gifts at a time, most of those gifts are likely to be "filler" -- presents that have no value in themselves but serve to pad out the one or two gifts that are actually worth giving and receiving.