Is the Rise of Internet Shopping Making Santa Claus Redundant?
by Hayley Doyle
The world is full of believers and non-believers. Whatever side you lie on, it’s your choice.
This morning, my kids posted their letters to Santa. I was keen for them to get this done because Royal Mail have made it very clear that letters posted after 10th December cannot be guaranteed a personal reply. And who doesn’t want a personal reply from the man himself? Well, non-believers, I guess.
Last week, I hopped aboard the Polar Express. My five year old son wore his PJs and onesie. We both ate giant cookies and drank hot chocolate. The steam train took us on a mysterious journey through bleak countryside, and eventually, a small section of the North Pole (the main hub is invisible to the human eye, right?). Later, when my son talked about our adventure, he matter-of-factly said that we hadn’t been on the real Polar Express. It was just a pretend one. I couldn’t argue with him. In the famous book/movie, The Polar Express goes immensely faster, veers off tracks and endures vertical drops. I guess I could’ve invented some modern-day excuse; Oh, the train can’t go that fast anymore due to Covid… But there was something about what my son said that filled my heart with joy. He knew that we didn’t go on the real Polar Express. But he still believes the real one exists. He rings his souvenir bell. He says, in all seriousness, that if you can hear it ring, you believe.
For many, Christmas is a magical time of year. Whether you believe in Santa or not, and whatever your reasons for celebrating this season might be, there is something in the December air, making it simply feel different to the other eleven months. However, the way we approach Christmas has certainly changed since the evolution of internet shopping. Once upon a time, we would nip out to the shops during our lunch breaks or put a whole day aside to physically go Christmas shopping. It would be the one day of the year when I would quite literally shop ’til I dropped. That seems bonkers now, doesn’t it? For a start, how did I carry it all? But now. Oh now. As if we needed to be spending anymore time glued to our phones, our average daily screen time use suddenly sky rockets. Our shopping baskets no longer act as a muscle workout, but send our blood pressure through the roof and our bank balance screaming for help. Yet, we scroll, we tap, we add, add, add to basket.
And the kids. Come on. Surely they know what we’re doing?
Of course, most adding-to-baskets happen when they’re tucked up in bed. But kids today know how stuff appears in their homes. The bell goes ding, a brown paper box arrives, whatever your heart desires is inside. Even if it’s an extension lead for the bedroom or some extra tough bathroom cleaner. One click is all it takes. Getting stuff is as easy as A-B-C to our children because the whole phenomena kicked off before they were even born. Yikes! You forgot to get a birthday present for that little girl’s birthday party tomorrow… no fear, Amazon is here. A pop-up dinosaur book falls through your letterbox less than 24 hours later. Less of the, yikes, please.
I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I started to figure out how Christmas and all it’s trimmings worked out. I know that my sister and I would flick through the Argos catalogue and write lists of toy wishes, but I can’t recall ever thinking that Mum and Dad would just order that stuff themselves. It was a guide. Maybe Santa made those Argos catalogues to help us decide what we would like from his workshop? Coming towards the end of primary school, I questioned the whole process, as did my friends. We would discuss possibilities. We started to eliminate the really silly stuff, like, Rudolph. That’s clearly just a kiddie song and not a real reindeer, because he doesn’t appear in the original line-up; Donner, Blitzen, Comet, Cupid, Prancer, Dancer, Vixen and Dasher. You see? No Rudolph. As the years went by, Christmas eventually became more of an exciting reality than a high-energy whimsical dream. But nowadays, some children stop believing altogether from as young as five years old, perhaps once they start school and engage in the Santa chit-chat amongst their peers.
So why is this happening? I’d like to point my finger at the internet; oh, how dare you rob our kids of their sweet innocence, you’re on the naughty list! But how can I blame an invention that makes things appear at the speed of light to our screens and doorsteps, things that would have blown our minds as children? Being a child of the 80s/90s, decorating our house meant going to Woolworths and buying a few strings of tinsel. Now, you can order Santa’s entire grotto to be delivered directly to your home, and the festive scale ranges from tasteful to traditional to tremendously tacky. Stocking fillers are no longer a tangerine and a selection box. You could pretty much invent a small gadget in your mind, search for it on Amazon or Etsy or Not On the High Street, and it will likely appear before your very eyes… with your name embossed on it! Hmm, a personalised musical lemon-scented notebook? Voilà! Add to basket. Magic. But by making everything become so accessible, has the mystery been lost along the way?
Now I’m all about keeping the magic alive. Some folk are cool with not believing or having children who choose not to believe. Whatever makes you happy. But believing makes me so happy. I’ve always lived my life open to all possibilities and keeping cynicism at bay. Let’s face it, there’s enough realism hitting us in the face daily anyway, isn’t there? So, when one of my son’s little pals told him that you can only get a Miles Morales Spiderman costume on Amazon, my stomach did a 180 degree flip.
“Of course you can,” I told my son. “But the elves can make costumes, too.”
It didn’t wash.
“No, they don’t,” my son replied. “My friend is telling the truth.”
Obvs. Eye roll. I didn’t have a leg to stand on, did I?
Then my son said, “So can I get the costume for my birthday instead?”
Yes!!! I performed a secret air-punch. My little boy still believes, despite this very real conversation he’d had with his mate as they no doubt hung off a climbing frame convinced they were invincible. However, I didn’t want to break the news that his birthday was a whole seven months away, which translates as 7000 years to a five year old. So, I suggested he should test it out; put the Spiderman costume on his list for Santa, and see if he gets it. Then I went on to explain that I had an old friend from drama school who was excellent at making costumes and I’d heard they got a job at the North Pole working with the elves and… What can I say? I have a wild imagination. (Then again, there is also a great deal of truth in that story.)
A close friend of mine recently told me that she feels uncomfortable telling lies to her kids about Santa. We heartily agree on most things, but with this, I didn’t. You see, to me, it’s not a lie. I love the idea that once you grow out of believing in Santa, you start to become Santa. I love what Santa can symbolise. Every family has their own unique version of the story, personal to them, and isn’t that just brilliant?
By the way, if you’re on the fence, I’d recommend you watch Santa Claus: The Movie. An 80s Christmas classic with a stellar 80s cast, I like to think of this movie as the biopic, the true life story, with a bold message about the chaos caused when greed and ambition go too far. I believe you can easily get it on Amazon Prime, Netflix, Sky, Now TV….