It's not just retailers who are guilty of 'Christmas creep'; I feel nurseries are too. There's enough of a build-up about the festive season without childcarers hyping up the children before they've even begun to open their advent calendars.
My friend was rolling her eyes in August when she read in her daughter's nursery newsletter: 'With the festive season around the corner: 16 weeks to be precise ...' They had only just returned from their summer holidays, to be confronted with plans for celebrating Christmas. Four months is a long time for anyone. It's an exceptionally long time for a child in their early years.
Staff at another local day nursery managed to hold back on preparations until after Halloween and then began rehearsing for the children's nativity play, which was performed at the end of November. Who was this to benefit? The carers and parents must get much more enjoyment out of this than the bemused children, who will hardly recall it when Father Christmas does eventually come down the chimney.
Which leads on to the thorny issue of who gets the parts in the nativity plays. There are many upset mums having heated debates on parenting forums about this. Some parents believe that certain children are always favoured for the main roles - this can border on racist, with some claiming that it's the blonde-haired, blue-eyed children who are always cast as Mary or Angel Gabriel.
Then there are the sulking mums who are upset that their child doesn't have a line to say and is stood at the back of the stage dressed as a tree or star. I'm not immune. I was secretly thrilled when DD2's (Dear Daughter 2) photo was used as Mary in the baby room's nativity wall display last year.
LIKE THE GRINCH
There's also the discussion among my friends about whether to give nursery staff presents at Christmas. One friend admits that she sounds like the Grinch by saying that she already gives enough in childcare fees. Others acknowledge that many practitioners get low wages and want to give a gift to thank them for their hard work.
Staff at my nephew's former nursery used to hold a raffle for all the chocolate, wine and biscuits that they received in order to share them more evenly among the team. A colleague's nursery sent out a letter saying the staff would prefer not to receive presents but would appreciate home-made cards.
I'm not 'bah humbug', but I'm relieved that the childcarers at our nursery hold back on the sparkly playdough, tinsel and Christmas jumpers until a couple of weeks before the big day. I appreciate that the staff want to give the children in their care magical experiences. I just feel it's more special and exciting if it's not dragged out throughout December - surely everyone tires of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer played on repeat, and there are only so many decorations that can be made using children's hand prints.
Our family festivities start with the nursery's Christmas party. The setting is in a multicultural community and it's wonderful to see us all coming together to celebrate, whatever our religion. It's a simple affair with parents asked to bring food - resulting in Indian sweets sat next to the sausage rolls and salt fish fritters.
Of course, Father Christmas makes an appearance, but it's also a chance for parents and staff to switch off from work, relax and chat while watching children excitedly interact with each other. For me, that's what makes a merry Christmas.
A word of advice
Think carefully before accepting gifts from parents, says Melanie Pilcher, policy and standards manager at the Pre-School Learning Alliance.
There is no doubt that we all appreciate being thanked for our hard work. However, for many practitioners, a heartfelt 'thank you' from time to time will often be more gratefully received than a box of chocolates at Christmas.
Accepting gifts is fraught with problems for other reasons too, namely the potential for inadvertently blurring professional boundaries. As a practitioner, it is vital that you are always able to make an unbiased judgment. Decisions to act on any safeguarding and welfare concerns about a child can all too easily be skewed by a misguided belief that the parent bestowing gifts on staff could never harm their child.
A policy of 'no gifts for staff' is one safeguarding measure, but it is difficult to enforce and hard not to appear heartless when a gift is placed in your hands. It is better, then, to ensure that your message is clearly communicated to parents from the outset, with a timely reminder nearer to Christmas.
That said, it is always useful to at least offer a means by which parents can show their gratitude, such as a message book or a donation to a children's charity on your behalf. Another idea for a suggested gift - as long as all children get to participate - might be a card or decoration made by a child at home with the help and support of their parents, as these can also promote learning opportunities at home. Why not send home a small bag of resources with some ideas and see what you get back?
Ultimately, while it may be difficult to escape the commercialism of Christmas, there are still meaningful ways of saying thank you and showing appreciation to somebody. Practitioners, for their part, should consider how they can embrace the festive season in ways that reflect their own values and encompass the rich diversity of the community of which their setting is a part.