“In our multicultural society, Christmas, although important to many people, is still not everyone’s holiday. For children and families from other groups—be they Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, pagan, atheist, or anything else—Christmas can be a difficult time. For almost all families, the commercialization of the holiday, with its pressures to buy, decorate, and entertain, adds tremendous complication to already overloaded and busy lives.” -NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children)
We relay our values to our impressionable children. This time of year poses an additional challenge as retailers, commercials, and in some cases extended family and friends, bombard us with messages about how to prepare for Christmas. Inherent in this commercial construction of Christmas underlies the misleading assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas and does so in the same way: feasts, decorations, visits with Santa and numerous gifts under the Christmas tree.
We can guide our children’s thoughts and expectations this holiday season as we choose experiences, rituals and gift-giving that are consistent with our values and let go of those commercial values that are not. As we hold true to our wishes for our families and tease those out from what’s being sold to us, we can gift ourselves a nourishing, balanced and joyful holiday season.
Emphasize Connection and Balance
Whether we are aware of it or not, there is a persuasive Christmas script that can run the show. In an effort to attain this elusive picture-perfect Christmas, we might over-commit to activities, spend beyond our means, consume more sugar and/or alcohol than we truly want, focus children’s attention on material desires and regret subsequent meltdowns, host in pristinely decorated and spotless homes, and forget the experiences of those who don’t celebrate Christmas.
There is much to treasure this season:
- Time with loved ones
- Family rituals
- Annual decorations
- Favorite recipes
- Festive music
- Gift sharing
- Outdoor excursions
- Joyful connections
Let’s pause to consider the activities that most nourish us and leave behind those that don’t bring us fulfillment. Sometimes, less is more. We can plan based on the knowledge that what our children most want is our loving attention. Let’s act in accordance to our values, rather than get swept up in what author Jean Staeheli refers to as the “Christmas machine.” *
Instead of narrowly defining winter celebrations, we can teach our children that there are many ways to honor winter holidays. Assuming every family celebrates Christmas is hurtful. It reinforces a false narrative that there is single experience and it keeps others’ experiences invisible. A couple of simple shifts in language during December can help to reflect a broader range of family experiences:
- Wish people “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
- Call the two-week school closure at the end of December “Winter Break,” rather than “Christmas Break.”
Shifting from dominant culture assumptions takes time and practice. The more we do it, the closer we’ll come to achieving the true meaning of the holidays– goodwill to all.
Consider Families With Less Financial Means
We can support our children’s understanding that families’ access to material wealth varies. While the holiday season offers some families luxurious social events, feasts and the exchange of multiple gifts, other families are struggling to meet their basic needs.
We can let our children know what we are thankful for (each other, our homes, heating, warm clothes, good food, etc) and we can help them understand that many people don’t have access to these things.
Consider donating to or volunteering at a food bank, donating warm clothing and/or donating some new or gently used toys. These actions will help support our children’s awareness of others and will help remind us that we can all make a difference.
Gift Ideas that Emphasize Connection Over Consumption
These gifts nourish our relationships, produce less waste and are better for the environment:
- Trade gently used books or toys that your child is ready to pass on. Wrap them up and swap with another family.
- Make a batch of homemade play dough.
- Purchase books that feature perspectives and experiences that may be different from your child’s to help boost empathy and awareness. Some of my favorite picture books are here.
- Subscribe to a children’s magazine. Here are some recommendations.
- Activities: Rollerskating, bowling, family soccer game or card night.
- Coupon book: Include a night time family walk, a trip to OMSI, picking what’s for dinner, or an extra bedtime story.
- Crafting date: Time to get together to make something.
- Baking date: Offer recipes and ingredients and bake.
- Gift Certificate for Shared Nature Adventure: Let’s take a hike! Ride bikes together! Sled! Shift the emphasis from stuff to shared appreciation of the great outdoors.
- Gift Certificate for Parent Play Time: A coupon for child to pick a half hour of uninterrupted play in which they dictate what you do together. Set the timer and let the good times roll!
Here’s to a joyous holiday season!
From Hand-in-Hand Parenting: “Holidays and Meltdowns Go Together like Peanut Butter and Jelly”
* “Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season” by Jean Staeheli