by Ann Waterman
Ask any kid what most excites him about Christmas, and gifts are bound to be at the top of the list. There’s no question that gift-giving — and receiving — is one of the joys of the season, especially for kids, but it’s hard not to feel totally overwhelmed and bombarded by store retailers making it the whole reason for the season. If you’re like me, you’re probably trying to insulate your child from the commercialization of the holidays and help them focus on the more meaningful aspects of Christmas. Here are a few ideas about how to do that:
Gifts of Self
Christmas is the season of giving, but we all know the best gift you can give is the gift of self — and it’s never too early to start teaching children this lesson. In our family, we sit down at the beginning of the season and write down little deeds of charity that we try to accomplish during the Christmas season (and hopefully beyond). For kids, it could be something like doing chores without complaining or making an extra effort to be nice to a sibling. We place them in an olive wood box from Bethlehem until the end of the holidays when we review them once again to see how we fared. They are personal and private, but the act of writing them down makes them more tangible.
There are lots of other ideas for directing children’s attention to the needs and happiness of others: volunteering with them at a food bank, having them make gifts for siblings or other family members, or making some cookies to bring over to an elderly neighbor. It doesn’t have to be something big, just something that helps them give of themselves.
Make Them Wait
Before opening presents on Christmas morning, my parents made us sit down and eat breakfast first. I used to think this was a special form of torture my parents derived to torment us — I swear it was the only time of year they had a second cup of coffee in the morning — but as I got older, I saw the wisdom of my parent’s ways. It took our mind off the gifts and helped us focus on what was more important — spending time with family. The wait was made more bearable with special breakfast fare, and as we grew older, we actually came to enjoy this Christmas morning routine.
Now that I have my own family, we have our own tradition of gathering before our creche, placing baby Jesus in the manager, and saying a little family prayer together before the gift opening revelry begins. Sure, the kids are writhing with impatience through the whole affair, but as they get older, I hope they’ll appreciate this little reminder of what our family is really celebrating.
Give Them Traditions
Many of the gifts you give your kids will be forgotten by next Christmas, but they will cherish memories of special family traditions for years to come. Make a point to create a few family traditions during the season: They don’t have to be many or extravagant, but something you find enjoyable and that you can maintain year to year. I learned pretty quickly that you can run yourself ragged trying to implement too many traditions, especially during such a busy time, so I’ve pared down them down to just a few that are especially meaningful to our family. Your family traditions could be as simple as watching a favorite holiday movie together, gathering to light an Advent wreath each evening, or spending an afternoon making a gingerbread house — even if it’s pre-fab (promise I won’t tell). The point is to spend time with your children and create memories of the holidays that are more than just opening gifts on Christmas morning.
It’s helpful for kids to know boundaries and limits ahead of time, so why not apply this same wisdom to gift-giving as well? We tell our kids that Saint Nick brings three gifts — just like the Magi brought to the baby Jesus. There are also stockings and gifts from relatives, but our kids know what to expect and there are never any tears on Christmas morning. Obviously, what and how much you give to your children is a personal decision and will vary from family to family, but consider sticking to a specific budget or amount.
How do you make the Christmas season meaningful for your kids?
Image: Joseph Susanka