Oh no – Izzy has found out about Hanukkah gifts.
As my daughter is half-Jewish, we couldn’t really expect to keep it from her. But, seriously: 8 nights of presents? Whereas Santa’s flying visit happens just once a year, the Jewish equivalent takes eight whole evenings, on each of which a child is supposed to receive a little gift. Izzy can’t wait.
Naturally I was hoping to conceal this custom from her until at least her 18th birthday, but recently Jo created a mythical creature called the “Hanukkah Fairy”, who is 8 times more influential than Santa. I was impressed: “The Hanukkah Fairy won’t come” is an extraordinarily effective silencer of tantrums and late night chatter. But the flip side is that we’ve had to start collecting presents even earlier than usual.
The closer I get to my bus pass, the more anti-Holidays I become. Jo calls me an old “bah-humbugger”. It’s not just the wastefulness of wrapping paper and the pointlessness of Christmas cards that get me down (I mean, where do you put them? Strung over the fireplace like a row of laundry? On the piano, for the cat to knock down?). Nor is it my justifiable frustration with my local supermarket, which has already replaced aisles of food I actually need with promotions of Christmas party packs of mini roulades and cocktail sausages – I can’t imagine anything worse than a party serving up mini roulades to the sound of carols.
Like most men, who only register the passing seasons when they have to put on their car’s winter tyres, I hadn’t really twigged that Christmas was creeping up on us until yesterday, when Jo dragged me to a "Christmas Fare". Now that’s what I really hate: thousands of people jammed into a space with hundreds of little stalls stacked with items you don’t need at any time of year.
It was hard, but, with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town blaring from a ghetto blaster, I managed to resist the magic gloves (“one size fits all”), and the pink heart-shaped umbrella (whose design appeared to ensure that rainwater would cascade neatly down its owner’s front). I was sorry I didn’t need the services of a specialist dog portrait photographer, or a personalized Christmas tree bauble maker.
There was fierce competition between competing purveyors of “happiness bags” (“for when Christmas gets you down”), but nothing compared to the jam wars going on between sellers of home made seasonal preserves.
Next to the stall selling tiny papier-mâché fairy doors for £5 (“the magical way fairies and elves come into our world”) was one offering even smaller bags of “Magic Reindeer Food” (not for human consumption, but for throwing outside on the ground, apparently), and also boxes containing “Santa’s Magic Key”.
I picked one up and the stallholder immediately accosted me.
“Are you going to purchase that?” she demanded.
“I just wanted to see what it was,” I said meekly, whereupon she pointed at the label and snapped, “It’s Santa’s Magic Key.”
“What does it do?”
A pause, then she replied, “Nothing”.
Apparently people who don’t have chimneys in their homes buy them to placate children worried that Santa might have no means of access.
Meanwhile there was a stall selling knitwear with helpful labels like “I am a wrist warmer”. Next to this item was a tiny version, which ought to have been a baby’s wrist warmer, but instead read, “ I am a brooch”. Below that was something that looked like a knitted hot water bottle cover, or one of those things your granny used to disguise toilet rolls. The label proudly proclaimed, “I am an iPad cozy”.
I don’t know whether to applaud the entrepreneurial inventiveness of these stallholders or berate them for their unashamed cheek in trying to sell me such unmitigated tat. But their marketing skills clearly worked. After a short while I saw Jo sporting a furry new hat, then did a double-take.
“It has a big hole in the top,” I said.
"It’s supposed to – don’t you think it’s cool?”
“Cool? It’ll be freezing. It’s like wearing a doughnut.”
At least she’d missed the solar-powered dancing flowerpots and the Bow-Wow dog soap. I’m saving those for the Hanukkah Fairy.