Matchbox’s Race and Chase has always been my seminal Christmas present. I still marvel at how the Big Man got it down the chimney. Our fireplace was blocked up and we had a portable Calor Gas heater in the living room – it was the 1970s after all! Things were a bit easier then. Simpler too.
The task of every retailer, manufacturer and marketer was a lot simpler as well. But time has passed and we find ourselves waiting with bated breath to see how this year’s very different Christmas ad wars will play out. They’re supposed to capture a mood, define our sentiments and inspire us to dig deep and spend well, but, after a turbulent and somewhat subdued Christmas 2020, this year might be a bit of an ask. It’s likely that we won’t want anyone to do that for us anymore, we want a bit of control back. So maybe, just maybe, Christmas this year is going to be unlike any other.
Christmas is all about the experience we have – the one we make for and receive from others. And although we’re told it’s better to give rather than receive, if you’re six and waiting to see whether your list got to the North Pole in time, it’s a fair bet that receiving is front of mind. And that’s OK because you’re six. The light in a child’s eyes at Christmas time brings with it true meaning – magic can and does exist.
The disdain at over-commercialised Christmas has been growing louder and louder, and having been robbed of Christmas in 2020, 2021 is about to reset in a bigger way than perhaps any of us expected.
Take a trip around the internet, do a little social listening, chat to mums, dads and kids and you’ll harken a very different herald to the one we had pre-pandemic. There seems to be three kings, I mean things (sorry!), driving this… Sentiment, Restoration and Tradition.
Small (and perfectly formed) stuff has got to be much easier to get down the chimney and the days of that cheap trick of oversized air-filled big boxes is now a thing of Christmas past. Whilst it does require a little more thought, it appears we’re heading that way. And the elves are well chuffed.
Twenty-two per cent of people surveyed by eBay said they were going to buy something ‘more considered’ this year. The good news is that this doesn’t mean spending less or that they will be channelling their inner Ebenezer; quite the opposite. Sixty-one per cent of shoppers are expecting to spend the same as last year or more. Optimism is rising. People want to shop sustainably and locally, buying good-quality gifts with more meaning. They want the recipient of their gift to know that the thought really does count.
There’s never ever much good news, it seems; the virus is resurgent, fuel non-existent, it’s a challenge to buy some pasta and inflation is limbering up for the biggest jump in our lifetimes. But we’re British, we’re stoic and it’ll be alright in the end… and none of these pesky problems is going to get in the way of our Christmas this time around. We’ve been resilient.
The very core of Christmas, its DNA (if a pagan festival adopted by Christian Church can have DNA) is family: spending time together playing a board game, building a new doll’s house with the kids or creating their own Christmas decorations as a new family tradition. After grinning and bearing it for 18 months, after demonstrating Herculean resilience, it’s time for a restoration. And what can be more restorative than sharing the most magical moments with those wide-eyed children?
The partner of restoration at Christmas time is Tradition. Whenever we feel a little lost, it is human nature to return to what we know. And the Christmas report from eBay indicated that 49 per cent of people think that Christmas 2021 will feel traditional, as they plan to do what they always do. This is up from 43 percent in 2020.
Tradition gives us a chance to experience the familiar, to anchor in something, and there’s simply no better an anchoring point for families of the Christian traditions than Christmas. It’ll be a bit retro, certainly nostalgic, and the importance of taking time to make precious memories will be at the forefront for many, and not because we’re advised to be this way by John Lewis, Argos or Tesco. Instead, it is because we know, deep down, that this is what we have to do.
This pandemically-induced trinity is not only holy, but important. Our values might just be realigning for real with what we’ve always been told was the true meaning of Christmas.
Whether this new way of being is the reality of Christmas yet to come or merely a glimmer of what could be, we’ll have to wait and see, but for me (and it might be my age), Christmas will never be the same again.
Gary Pope is the CEO and Co-Founder of family-focussed strategy and creative agency, Kids Industries.