1890 (On December 20th at the earliest):
Father: What about the presents for the children, my Love? Are you shopping soon?
Mother: Yes, I thought I would drive into X tomorrow or Thursday and buy two dolls for the girls. I fear if they are nicely dressed they most cost as much as half-a-crown each.
Father: Dear, dear! When I was a boy we should have only spent that on useful gifts. What about the boys?
Mother: The two elder ones want penknives, but I am so nervous about them. Unless you could pick up very blunt ones tomorrow?
Father: What about wooden skates? It looks as if the frost would hold: they’re not expensive.
Mother (admiringly): What a good idea! And I have got two nice gay picture books for the little boys. I have got red flannel petticoats for all the maids, so if you tip John and the postman that will be all, till the gifts at the Parish Tea at the New Year. I’m afraid I may seem rather extravagant after your Mother, but after all, Christmas comes but once a year.
1930 (About December 18th):
Papa: What have you been doing? You look a wreck.
Mamma: Quite, quite too dreadful. the shops were all crowded, though it is so early, and I got so depressed that I went all extravagant. A. wants a wristwatch, and you know those cheap ones aren’t very reliable, so I got him a silver one – for £2.00!
Papa: I had a five shilling one until I was twenty!
Mamma: I hadn’t one at all till I was his age. Then B. wanted a model aerodrome because a boy at his school had one. I had to go all the way to Holborn, and don’t ask me what it cost. And as for C, well I hoped to save by getting some nice ordinary boxes of soldiers, but he’s longing for a set of Romans and Carthigans, and they were rather expensive because of the elephants. So tiresome of Hannibal to use them!
Papa: What about the maids?
Mamma: Oh they were very little trouble as they wanted fur ties, so I got them al in the High Street for £2 each, and they really look more. But then afterlunch I began buying presents for our relations (so many!) and friends too! It would be heavenly if we were rich, but as it is one does get a sortof squint from seeing nice things for seven and ninepence when you are determined not to spend more than three and elevenpence! I seem to have got through about £10.00 on silly little gifts they won’t care for.
Papa: Then why send them at all?
Mamma: Because they send to me, and it’s so sweet of them. But somehow more people seem to give each other more expensive presents every year!
Papa: (without conviction): Why not make a stand?
Mamma (ignoring this): So you see though I calculated on only spending about £15, I’ve blued £25 already and I still haven’t got anything for Uncle.L and his gardener- (Like al bad shoppers by nature I was always obsessed by a wild search for the most difficult recipients; the two in question were non-smokers, non-drinkers, had no gramophone and liked no books but those of a mildly theological flavour. My eldest son always declares that he spent Christmas Eve with me, wandering up and down Bond Street in a last desperate search, but this is acrocryphal).
Papa: Well what shall I get for you?
Mamma: Oh lets cancel each other out and wait for birthdays. We maybe richer then and anyhow it’s no fun to shop just now, and – and- we must economize somewhere.
1950 (to judge by the advertisements), November 1st:
Daddy: Well, well! Only thirty more shopping days to Christmas. what about it?
Mummy: I’ve got the lists ready, and here are the advertisements and the catalogues. I’ve marked this cocktail cabinet to give to you.
Daddy: Splendid! And this mink coat is for you, I suppose. Have you got Toby’s toy motor cars yet?
Mummy: Yes, I’ve seen one and it’s quite perfect. Good tyres and splendid brakes and the batteries are charged. And it’s only £25! I must get this baby doll for Angela. It walks and talks and sleeps, and I don’t think it should matter spending so much less on her- only £5.00, and she’s so tiny.
Daddy: Good! What about our respective parents?
Mummy: This advertisement recommends Mediterranean Cruises- tickets for them I mean. And I thought perhaps this Christmas hamper for old Aunt Jane.
Daddy: Aren’t you being a bit lethal all round. the journey would finish off our old ones and Aunt Jane would die of indigestion.
Mummy: Well the hampers have a special line for the Not So Young, and the advertisement says Southern Sun Prolongs Life. But there are lots of other ideas of course. For cheaper gifts for friends and business acquaintances they recommend cases of whisky.
Daddy: I wish I could think anyone would take the hint for me.
Mummy: Or a demand subscription on a Library or if you want to be an original, what about one of the electric gadgets that make tea and shave you in bed? Or this little bookcase full of Forest Face preparations. They are all in the five-guinea line and I’ve only about a hundred names on my list.
Daddy: (coming out of Advertisement Land with a sudden burst of realism): I say, what can we afford to spend on presents this year?
Mummy: (joining him): Twenty pounds at most.
Daddy: Well then, one way and another, don’t you think we’d better start again!
Winifred Peck, Home For The Holidays, 1955.