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Peter McGahan: What matters more at Christmas - presence or presents?

' I thought about my magic at Christmas and it was watching the Wizard of Oz again, while the smell of the food wafted around the house from mum who sang away in the kitchen.'

'When I asked my children what they remembered about their Granny (my mum), they never mentioned presents, ever.'
Peter McGahan.

CHRISTMAS is quite something. I’m no humbug, unless you speak to my daughters who might have a different view. They know where I’m coming from. They understand my thoughts.

I always had a ‘no present’ policy for me because I wanted them to leave behind nuts consumerism that didn’t really have a value.

Before you throw any uncooked sprouts at me, let me explain. Oh, and I do get that there is a lot of joy in the giving as well.

There are many who will be going through extraordinary pain, stress and discomfort now, and, with the cost of living and the issues that go with that, Christmas is their superb release, escape and excitement that makes it all worthwhile.

I love the feeling, the bringing together of families, the time with each other, the expectation, the travelling home to be together, the laughter, the presence, but not the presents. Why?

While now in a very comfortable position, my childhood didn’t involve the flashy presents everyone in the street had.

All I observed as a child was that my amazing late mother went through everything to make sure her children did everything to look their best and have what they could.

It was that desire that often meant debt, and that debt would sit for many months after.

Quietly, I would observe every tiny piece of the impact on her, so much so that I began to resent presents at any level, despite her clear aim to make me happy.

At the age of 10, she asked me if I could wait until the next week for a birthday present and I told her that I didn’t need a present. She was relieved and I reiterated it each year until I didn’t need to.

At the age of 14, I had a part time job and I flipped it around and bought her a present on my birthday - a plan I did each of the next 22 years until she passed away at age 59. It was the greatest gift to me and still is.

That is why each year, I never recognise Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day or any other consumer led twaddle. Every day is Mother’s Day, except that day.

The gravitational pull to Christmas is like a black hole, and if you know anything about black holes, when you are in it, that’s it. Christmas is like a black hole with a hoover and fan.

It appeals at so many levels, but for those around who cannot afford, I wonder the impact, on balance, when the expectation of the presents passes, and the onset of the debt repayment ensues. On balance?

Breaking away from insane, meaningless consumerism is hard, as it touches the emotional need of our sense of status in society: “Is that all you got?”; “Is that all you gave your children?” Children can be cruel, we know that, but, that passes.

Instead, I talked to my girls, substituted it with holidays and just went away so I didn’t have to listen to Cliff Richards’ next poncy Christmas song. Then, I didn’t need to bother, as the habit was broken.

It wasn’t about money or presents anymore, it was about presence - laughter, looking out for each other, watching a film together.

Presence, not presents. I thought about my magic at Christmas and it was watching the Wizard of Oz again, while the smell of the food wafted around the house from mum who sang away in the kitchen.

The joy of sitting together, the pride of my mum, the taking time out to just be. To stop and just be, and to tell your mum she was indeed the best cook in the world, and the best mum. Priceless!

When I asked my children what they remembered about their Granny (my mum), they never mentioned presents, ever. They said it was time, ‘she did stuff with us’, she made spiders out of these black things (pipe cleaners).

Presence, and it was free. I’d run up a big credit card bill to get her back! That would be nice.

Regular readers of the column will get where I am coming from, and while I know the answers to most stuff about money, haemorrhaging it and trying to replace it isn’t a great strategy, especially when it’s on a credit card.

Remember, Today (being present) is a gift. That is why it’s called a present.

Peter McGahan is chief executive of independent financial adviser Worldwide Financial Planning, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. If you have concerns or queries about your debt or credit cards contact info@wwfp.net or call Darren McKeever on 028 6863 2692.

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