I am writing this column in October, and already my kids’ Christmas lists
far exceed our family budget. Now, I know that I’m not telling parents anything
new. My kids do it, I did it, my parents probably did it.
These days it’s hard to battle the Christmas machine. Advertisements for the
latest greatest toys that kids just have to have for Christmas are everywhere. It
seems as if I can’t turn on the TV, go to the store or pick up a magazine without
being barraged by a chorus of “I want that for Christmas” from Maddie
And as much as I wish I could put an end to the whole commercialism aspect of Christmas,
I have to admit that there’s something about seeing my kids’ eyes on
Christmas morning when they receive that gift they’ve really been hoping for.
No, my challenge is not to do away with Christmas commercialism, but rather to show
my kids that there’s so much more to the season.
Than the Gifts
This message really hit home last Christmas when in a fit of frustration with Maddie’s
constant “I want’s” I asked her if she realized that some kids
have very little—not just at Christmas but all year long. She looked hor-rified.
It never occurred to her that not everyone received lots of Christmas presents or
had enough food or clothes. At five, that’s understandable. As a parent it
was important for me to explain it to her, and tell her that Christmas is not simply
about getting and giving gifts.
And then it hit me that this was one of those parental moments where you realize
if you’re going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk.
One of the best pieces of advice I have received as a parent is that, if you want
the kids to stop doing something, focus their attention on something else.
So I decided to make an effort to refocus our family on the true meaning of the
Christmas season. And, in fact, thanks to the rich tradition of our faith, this isn’t
quite as hard as I thought. The kids love their Advent calendars and our Advent wreath
(See Advent Wreath: Popular Symbol of Advent),
and Maddie has even collected some of her toys that she no longer plays with and
asked to donate them to kids who don’t have any toys.
It’s a slow process, but it’s one well worth doing. In fact, every once
in a while, I catch my kids with the same look I have seen on their faces on Christmas
Here are some other suggestions to help your family reclaim the true spirit of Christmas:
Make the religious aspects of the holiday accessible—and
fun. Growing up, my sisters and I loved playing with the figures of our Nativity
scene, and we were encouraged to do so. My parents could have placed the set out
of our reach and kept it in good shape—these days Mary, Joseph and Jesus
all sport chipped noses from years of kissing each other—but instead the
figures and the story of Christ’s birth were made accessible for us to discover
Rather than just setting the Nativity scene under the tree, put together a more
decorative scene for the figures, including trees and hills. Or you could build a
If you don’t wish to have your Nativity scene handled by young children, you
might want to invest in a child’s version. Fisher-Price has a very nice Little
People Nativity Scene.
Don’t overdo it. The holiday season can be stressful
with all the parties and things that need to get done. Set aside time for your family
to be together. Perhaps you could watch some of your favorite holiday shows together,
read Christmas books (including the Bible story of Jesus’ birth), decorate
the tree, make cookies or just play a game.
Think of others. Every Christmas season, our parish puts a
tree in the back of our church with the names of individuals for whom gifts are needed.
The tags list sizes, interests, etc. Have your family choose as many names off the
tree as you feel you can afford. If possible, have each family member pick a name—and
take on the responsibility for finding a present for that person. Parents will obviously
need to help, but try to let the kids take the lead in picking out the gifts.
Focus your gift-giving. The thing I love about Christmas is
the challenge of finding gifts that go beyond what a person might expect. For instance,
my father-in-law always talked about a shillelagh he remembers his father having.
So for Christmas last year, I found one on the Internet to give him. The year before
that, I researched his family’s genealogy for him. For my dad, I have put together
a scrapbook of his service in the Army during the Korean War. Make an effort to find
those gifts that carry an extra meaning.
Extend a welcoming hand. We all have our group of family and
friends with whom we interact on a regular basis. This is especially true during
the holidays. How about expanding that circle to include neighbors, someone from
your parish who may not have family nearby or residents at a local nursing home?
Invite them over or arrange to visit them.
Next Month: Hard to Say I'm Sorry