How Christmas Has Changed Since We Were Kids (AKA Blimey I Feel Old)

Boden Christmas bauble

At the risk of sounding like your nan (“When I was small, this town was all fields, as far as the eye could see….”) there’s nothing like Christmas coming along again to make you realise how much life has changed since we were kids. Things seemed…. much more simple in the 80s and 90s when all you wanted was a Jem and the Holograms doll or a Gameboy to play Tetris on. Here’s how…

Meeting Father Christmas

Back when we were kids, we’d rock up to the local shopping centre, or leisure centre, with our mum, queue for ten minutes and then enter Santa’s Grotto. And by grotto, I mean a room with some glitter-covered cotton wool (aka the crappest snow ever) glued to the walls, a Christmas tree in the corner, Santa in a big chair and if you were lucky, one spotty-faced elf to help hand out presents. You’d sit on Santa’s knee (well that would never happen these days) and tell him what you’d like for Christmas. Then you’d be handed a gift from the pound shop, and off you went, happy as Larry.

Planning to take your little ones to meet Santa, this year? Better find out which date the tickets go on sale, cancel all plans and be by your computer at 9am, because these bad boys are going to be harder to get than Adele tickets. Our local garden centre starts selling tickets in August – AUGUST – and if you don’t buy them within an hour of them going on sale, the only tickets left will be for a Tuesday morning in November. Kids these days (a phrase which, in itself, makes anyone feel roughly 80-years-old) aren’t content with just having a quick chat with the big man, they expect a whole experience – whether it’s ice skating, festive games, making decorations, icing biscuits, making reindeer food or actually meeting the reindeer, if the grotto doesn’t feel like authentic Lapland (with a touch of Disneyland thrown in), you can forget it. And speaking of ice skating…

Ruxley Manor ice rink

Days out

The only ice rinks we had in the 80s were huge indoor ones that were open all year round and we could go and dream of twirling like Jane Torvill did in the Olympics. Now, most towns have an outdoor rink pop up in December, where you can go and skate to the sounds of Slade, then have a little overpriced mulled wine and hot chocolate. There are more ways than ever to part with your heard-earned cash celebrate Christmas as a family. Christmas markets, Christmas funfairs, pantomimes, plays based on Christmassy stories like Stick Man and The Snowman… And you’ve got to do them all, right? I mean everyone else is and they’re posting all those happy photos on Facebook.

Ruxley Manor Christmas Market

Sharing the joy

I reckon social media actually has a large part to play in how different Christmas is for our kids. Ask yourself this: would the Elf on the Shelf even exist if we didn’t have Facebook and Instagram, for sharing the photos of the “crazy” “antics” that your elf is getting up to? Yes, they’re a fun way to countdown to Christmas (did I say fun? I meant incredibly annoying) but that’s what we have advent calendars for. When we were kids, we were happy with opening a cardboard door every day, to see which picture was behind it (I’m so old that chocolate advent calendars weren’t even a big thing).

We’re all so desperate to share our Christmas joy on social media (I hold my hands up – I get sucked into this too) but are we just piling on the pressure – to ourselves and everyone else? We appear to have created a Christmas contest with parents up and down the country vying for first place: Hygge-style shot of you drinking hot chocolate with your children watching The Polar Express – 2 points. Your kids’ advent calendar – 2 points. Your kids’ BOOK advent calendar – 4 points. Your amazingly decorated Christmas tree that wouldn’t look out of place at the Rockefeller Plaza – 5 points. Ice skating – 2 points. Daily Elf on the Shelf pics – 100 points.

I’m pretty sure a wise philosopher once said: If a family decorate a Christmas tree and the photos don’t get posted on social media, did it actually happen at all?


blue bauble

Christmas music and films

We’re raising an ‘on demand’ generation, where children can watch/listen/do something at any hour of the day, and that means Christmas is all around us, 24/7. Right now, in fact, I’m listening to the (quite frankly genius) Heart Christmas radio station – that’s 24 hours a day of festive tunes – and I may or may not be planning to make a killer Christmas playlist on Spotify. It’s a far cry from when we were kids, and the only festive album to have was The Christmas Album (seriously, reminisce at the track listing, it’s like taking a lovely little mental step back in time to the 80s, sequin puffball skirts and all). I had it on cassette and remember fast forwarding and rewinding to get to my favourite track (Wham’s Last Christmas obvs).

Nowadays, children also have endless Christmas movies on tap, thanks to Netflix, but do you REMEMBER the excitement over the big Christmas Day movie? We’d all sit down to watch it, tin of Quality Street on our lap and you couldn’t even pause it if you needed a wee – you had to just hold it in or time your wee for a quiet part of the film, hoping you don’t miss an important plot twist.

Choosing presents

And remember how you decided what you wanted for Christmas? The Argos catalogue of course! The hours you could spend flicking through it, trying to decide whether neon yellow skateboard was better than a Girls’ World. And do you want the Game of Life or a Mr Frosty? My six-year-old decides what to ask Father Christmas for by watching her favourite YouTube channels (last year: Gooey Louie and Doggie Doo, this year: Pie Face Showdown) and by the time she gets one of them, she already knows exactly how it works and can tell the rest of the family how to set it up and play. I’m not going to lie, this comes in very handy.


So in summary: times have changed and I feel old. Now does anyone have some tinsel that I can wrap around my zimmer frame?




  1. December 11, 2016 / 4:50 pm

    It’s interesting that you say kids expect a whole experience when they visit Santa Claus and aren’t content with a quick chat as I don’t think this is true – I think it’s us as parents who put this pressure on ourselves and don’t think that the kids expect it at all.

    I took my three to see the free Santa Claus at our local shopping centre this year. It was a 2 minute chat in not the best grotto we’ve ever been in and they still loved it – they didn’t leave saying it was crap or anything and in fact said the opposite.

    I have still bowed to the pressure though and booked a ‘proper’ Santa visit at our garden centre too, although I’m not sure if I will next year.

    • December 11, 2016 / 7:29 pm

      I agree, any expectation must be parent driven because the kids, especially little ones, can’t yet drive it. And parents are probably driven by social media – I doubt my mother even told her friends what we did in the run up to Christmas and I never met Father Christmas as a child. We took the kids to Father Christmas at a National Trust house for the past three year because it was quiet and gentle but they aren’t doing it this year so it’s time to find something new – not the elf though!!!

    • Alison Perry
      December 11, 2016 / 9:30 pm

      I think loads of kids do expect it – but only because us grown ups have created the expectation!

  2. December 11, 2016 / 6:26 pm

    I agree with all of this (i’Lloyd line my zipper frame up next to yours) particularly the part about social media, it is all very keeping up with the Jones. My boys still choose from the argos catalogue though!!

    • Alison Perry
      December 11, 2016 / 9:31 pm

      Yay! Love that the Argos tradition is still strong in your home!

      • Anna White
        January 18, 2017 / 10:00 am

        Our children call the argos catalog “the Christmas Book”

      • Anna
        January 18, 2017 / 10:00 am

        Our children call the argos catalog “the Christmas Book”

  3. December 12, 2016 / 6:26 am

    tis all abig load of showing off methink – bloody social media

  4. December 12, 2016 / 12:33 pm

    It’s so true. Social media has a lot to answer for! It’s the consequences of living in the digital age. Harder, faster, more pressure etc. The only answer is doing what’s right for you and your family and sod what anyone else thinks!

  5. Lady Chappers
    December 12, 2016 / 3:33 pm

    Circling things in the Argos catalogue. Happy memories :).

    Great post, Ali Bing, and I mostly agree, but I firmly believe children only “expect” things that you have led them to expect. As such, if you* have a screaming brat of a child demanding a fully-immersive Santa experience (in Lap Land, obv.) then you have created that monster.
    (*the royal you, not YOU you, obv.).

  6. December 12, 2016 / 6:51 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this Alison – so funny and I had actually completely forgotten about Cassettes – I had a few Christmas complications on tape and loved listening to them. I do wonder about Elf on the Shelf – I don’t really get it or do it but it’s all over social media!

    Laura x

  7. December 12, 2016 / 7:00 pm

    Don’t forget the competitive wreaths making. Every person in my Facebook feed is showing off their hand made wreathes. Who in the name of holy hell has the time to make a sodding wreathe??

  8. December 13, 2016 / 4:21 pm

    It’s madness isn’t it? We don’t visit Santa because hes magical and visits us instead… on christmas eve!

  9. December 16, 2016 / 12:42 pm

    This post really made me smile. Just the other week we travelled 20 miles to our nearest Argos store to pick up 2 catalogues for the kids, just because that’s also how we also planned out our Santa lists. I also smiled at the social media bits – I admit I’m guilty of having done the book advent calendar….. I’m still holding firm on Elf on the Shelf though 🙂

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