Christmas Eve boxes are a growing tradition with Next, Matalan and The Works joining in but are they just more pressure for parents?
A CARROT for Rudolph, a mince pie for Santa and a Christmas Eve box of treats for the kids?
The popularity of giving presents on December 24 has snowballed in recent years, with internet searches for 'Christmas Eve boxes' and 'Christmas Eve box ideas' already reportedly up more than 2,000% in recent weeks.
Numerous high street shops also now join the fast-growing festive trend – with big-name retailers such as Next, The Range and Matalan selling a variety of boxes to put gifts in alongside dedicating sections of their websites or festive catalogues to suggestions for the sorts of presents you could fill a Christmas Eve box with.
But does additional gift giving for children the night before Christmas add to a family's festive fun or simply pile on the pressure for busy parents, already managing the costs of one of the most expensive times of the year?
What is a Christmas Eve box?
A Christmas Eve box has become a staple part of December 24 for many households and is joining more traditional aspects of the day and night such as organising food for the reindeer, getting a glass of something ready for Santa and hanging out stockings.
Some parents use it as a parting or thank-you gift from the 'elf on the shelf' – another fast-growing more recent Christmas tradition – who returns to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to help Santa with his deliveries after a December-long stay in children's homes keeping an eye on their behaviour.
While other families use it as an opportunity to calm down excited children, break up the anticipation that is building with some quiet activities, and create a more memorable bedtime routine to mark such an extra special evening that only comes around once a year.
Where does the tradition come from?
The history of Christmas Eve boxes is definitely not steeped in some ancient British tradition – albeit some believe the trend was waiting to happen and we've been easily influenced by our European neighbours who have their own important rituals about exchanging gifts, particularly with youngsters, on Christmas Eve.
But in short these boxes filled with items to enjoy as we all nervously wait for the big day is about maximising the build-up to Christmas, which can often be just as important as the day itself for many.
What goes in a Christmas Eve box?
The sentiment behind a Christmas Eve box is to present youngsters with some cosy items to enjoy the night before Christmas – therefore new pyjamas, a Christmas film, bubble bath or something from which to enjoy a warm drink before bed are all often popular additions.
Retailers, fully invested in one of our newest Christmas traditions, also suggest items like slippers, a new book for bedtime or cuddly toys but in short you can add anything to your box that you wish, and more importantly, that fits your budget.
Santa's small key for those homes without a chimney, the family's traditional plate for reindeer food and mince pies, Christmas books from previous years held back for the purpose or a copy of the traditional 'Twas the Night Before Christmas poem, hot chocolate sachets, a small bag of popcorn or sweets and Christmas socks in place of pyjamas have all been suggested as ways to create a more budget-friendly haul.
Giving items you would always purchase for your children in autumn or winter – such as new nightwear, bigger slippers or a new bobble hat could also double up as gifts and not cause you any additional outlay.
And the box itself is entirely down to you too. Many budget stores sell cardboard options for just a few pounds while personalised wooden boxes can be ordered from places like Next online and smaller independent businesses selling through websites such a Not On The High Street. These of course can be recycled and brought out year after year so may save you money in the long run.
Craft stores like The Works and Hobbycraft have also joined in – selling items for parents who might want to design and craft their own box. While in previous years Asda has sold a £2 cardboard Christmas Eve box – complete with space to personalise – together with stands in its supermarket aisles offering everything from glowsticks and festive mugs to Christmas headbands and chocolates, to help busy parents complete a box in a one-stop-shop system.
Failing all of that – an unused Christmas gift bag or shoebox covered in some leftover wrapping paper will equally do the job.
So why the controversy?
Whether you spend big money or opt for a few £1 budget items, many people remain divided about whether there is any need for children to be given a box of additional presents so close to Christmas.
In 2018 breakfast television show Good Morning Britain hosted a lively debate on the topic with presenter and mum-of-two Kate Garraway questioning whether it was just "another thing" parents were being made to feel that they needed to do – while one mum appeared to divide the internet last year when she posted an image of a Christmas Eve box to her facebook page and branded the gift-giving 'stupid'.
Parenting forum Mumsnet is also full of message threads from parents continually debating the merits of spending money on extra gifts for youngsters who will get so many treats when they wake up the next day.
And while many have labelled the new trend "unnecessary" and "pointless" others say the ritual helps their families create special memories on Christmas Eve and the boxes make a point of busy households stopping to enjoy some quiet family time together before the madness of Christmas Day ensues.
There was also one contributor who – undecided as to whether to get involved or not – asked "Don't you find that it dilutes the whole specialness of Christmas if they get gifts all through December? I mean, it's lovely, but isn't that a bit expensive?"
While another parent was happy to admit that their view had changed since having children and despite initially being a sceptic they were now fully signed-up to the tradition of Christmas Eve boxes.
They wrote: "I thought this until I had a child, now I enjoy it, I don't put anything expensive or present like in there, pyjamas are the most expensive thing, then it's filled with things like Christmas-themed colouring books, the tray for Santa's snacks, his magic key as we don't have a chimney, and reindeer food."