By Mark Richards

Tomorrow the vast majority of us will be sitting down to Christmas dinner with our families. But should you charge the family to eat with you? Christmas dinner is expensive: preparing it means a lot of time and stress. So why shouldn’t you charge Grandma a reasonable amount? And then there are the children’s birthday parties later in the year…

“Ee, that were a grand dinner, love. Turkey an’ sprouts an’ whatever them sausages wrapped in bacon are called. Tha’s done us proud, lass.”

“Thanks, Dad. You’re very welcome. With your wine, it comes to £27.50, so that’ll be £55 for you and Mum. Do you want to pay cash or I’ve got a card machine on top of the microwave if that’s easier…”

Can that really be right? Surely people cannot charge their nearest and dearest for Christmas dinner?

Well, yes, they can. There was a recent, very heated discussion on the Mumsnet forum when a user revealed that her mother-in-law was charging everyone £17 a head for Christmas dinner.

What? How can you possibly do that? Christmas is a time for families. What could be more wonderful than having your family gathered around the table for Christmas dinner? After all, the only time some families eat together is on Christmas Day.

Let’s make it personal…

This year all our three grown-up children will be with us for Christmas. My eldest is 25 now: my youngest is 20. I am acutely conscious that sooner rather than later one of them will tell us that they are spending Christmas with a boyfriend or girlfriend. So – with Grandma – there will be six of us. Charge them for Christmas dinner? We would not dream of it.

But wait a moment: what will Christmas dinner cost for the six of us? It must be close to £100: add in the red wine my children will drink and it may even go higher than that. Fast forward a few years when they are around the table with partners and it could be close to £200. And that is before you add in the time – and stress – involved in preparing Christmas dinner for a lot of people.

At that point, I told my wife what I was writing about and she made her views known (which, by coincidence, she often does…)

“Supposing you’re cooking for 20?” she said. “I can completely see the point of that. Far better that people make a contribution than they ‘bring a bottle’ and you end up with 20 bottles of sherry just because it’s Christmas.”

Please come to my daughter’s party: it is a bargain at £7.50

When you put it like that, you can see the point of charging. But it is not just Christmas dinner. There is a growing trend towards charging for children’s birthday parties as well.

Whatever principle applies to Christmas dinner surely also applies to your child’s birthday party. Time spent in preparation, buying the food, preparing the games and the party bags – not to mention the cost of re-decorating if you are careless enough to have it at home.

But earlier this year a mum – posting on Netmums and with the story reported in the Daily Mail – received widespread sympathy after revealing that she had been asked to pay £25 for her 10-year-old daughter to attend a friend’s birthday party.

My daughter has been invited to a friend’s birthday, she wrote. There’s about 10 of them going and the Mum messaged me with a price it would cost. She wants me to pay £25.

Other parents reacted in horror, describing the request as anything from “really odd” to something a lot less polite. And that is your first reaction. My child has been invited to a party and I am being asked to pay? No way: no-one does that.

Let’s Eat, Grandma. And have you Brought your Cheque Book?

But, as always, there is another side to the coin. Supposing the person concerned is, say, a single mum of five-year-old twins. She only has a part-time job and there is a delay processing her universal credit. But her twins are in their first year at school. They have been to a dozen parties by now and – inevitably – they are excitedly looking forward to their own. What is their mum supposed to say to them? “I’m sorry, I can’t afford a birthday party for you?” Or does she find another way? And if that other way involved parents paying far less than they would pay to hire a babysitter for three hours’ peace and quiet, is that such a bad thing?

No, you respond, it is still a ridiculous argument. She did not have to pay for the dozen parties her twins have already attended. If you start charging for your children’s birthday party then pretty soon all parents are doing it and there is something new to discuss at the school gate. ‘Well, Kylie’s party was only £7.50 and that had a way better party bag. George’s party was a tenner and the party bag only had cake in it.’

Only cake? Let us hope George’s parents managed to escape into exile before the tabloids got hold of it…

One thing is for certain, friends and families always have the potential to cause problems and disagreements. For every ten families enjoying a happy, peaceful Christmas dinner there will be one where the scars of the argument over the turkey and stuffing last for twelve months.

Make sure that is not you. I am not saying we will ever do it but, yes, I can understand the argument for charging your relatives. Just make sure they know what you are planning well in advance. Don’t spring the card machine on your Dad just as he is ready to doze off in front of the telly.

With that, let me wish you a very happy Christmas and – obviously – a wonderful time with your friends and family. I will be back on Friday, taking a look at what we can expect to see in the year ahead. Among other things, the Brexit negotiations will reach a climax. Now there is a recipe for peace and harmony and goodwill to all men…