Nowadays, Christmas is often seen as a holiday full of consumption, over-decorated shop windows, an abundance of food and sweets, and fabricated joy and happiness. The media makes us think that it is necessary to spend lots of money on food and gifts (not only for children). It is difficult not to follow this trend, especially when we have children, as we want to make them happy and we love how happy they look when they enter the living room, full of beautiful Christmas decorations and gifts waiting for them. But is this the type of Christmas we want to instil in our children?
The way we behave during Christmas time determines the way our children will perceive this holiday in the future and how they will pass the traditions on. Without a doubt, Christmas is a time full of emotions, both good and bad. In some families, Christmas is a period full of stress, rushing, and vain efforts to fulfil the impossible perfect Christmas ideal, fear of overeating all the food we cook and bake, and many half-whispered wishes for Christmas to be finally over. Who would laugh and smile when they have a tired mum and dad who don’t have time for anything and snap at each other from all the stress?
I remember that as a child, the most precious moment for me was when our family watched the same TV fairy tale every year together. My mum brought sweet-smelling tea and delicious Christmas cookies and we spent time together. Or we baked the cookies with my grandma and coated them in vanilla sugar. Every Christmas we went for a walk to the town centre and one particular church which always had a nativity scene on display. I never wanted to go out in the cold streets of the town, but I always loved looking at the displayed nativity scenes made from wood, glass, clay, or gingerbread. The best thing was that we always went to see them together, as a family. The sense of belonging is extremely important to children. They love Christmas not only because of the gifts, but also because it’s a period when the whole family comes together for a while and they all make time for one another.
Let’s try making a small change this year. Forget that you “should” clean the house perfectly, bake 20 trays of Christmas cookies, decorate everything before the first snowflake falls from the sky, buy 10 gifts for everyone, and wrap everything in a professional manner with hand-made name tags. Forget the fact that you will not have time to buy the latest CD with Christmas carols this year and shiny decorations to put on your house. Let’s try doing things differently, at least for this year. During this year’s Christmas preparations and during Christmas Day itself, try to spend as much time as you can with your children. Involve them in all your activities. Go to the nearest town and admire the Christmas tree on the main square and the decorations everywhere, go to a park, go to a forest and give the animals something to eat, go ice skating or sledge sliding, take out all the puzzles and games that you have and play them together.
Let the children help you with decorating your house, create a nativity scene together. Nothing will make the children happier than sharing the Christmas preparations with you. Let’s go for a mass or a concert at the church or talk about how baby Jesus was born. Before Christmas, many theatres have special performances for children – go and see them together. Simply stated – be together as a family! Enjoy moments full of laughing, tickling, cooking, and other activities. Make gingerbread men together or any type of your favourite Christmas sweets. You can also visit the local confectionary and let your children choose the sweets themselves. Children will not truly appreciate a perfect 5-course dinner, but rather your presence and time spent together is what holds true value for them.
Let’s not overdo it. Presents can never replace the time that we consciously spend with our children. Talk with the whole family about what presents your children are going to get this year. If you have a large family and you all meet for Christmas, there is no reason children need to get a present from absolutely everyone. When children get too many, they are overwhelmed. The actual unwrapping of the present and the rustling of the paper is often more enjoyable for them than the content itself. Sometimes we expect children to be happy from what they got, but they simply put the present away and start unwrapping the next one. They are not being ungrateful. It is simply a sign that they are overwhelmed and that we are giving them too much, which results in children not having enough time to really enjoy the presents they got. The number of presents is not a measure of our love. A study carried out by University of Missouri and University of Illinois confirmed that children who receive too many material things from their parents often look for the meaning of success in material things in their adult life as well. They also connect their self-value with owning particular things. Children who are given too many presents tend to continue with the consumerist lifestyle of their parents as adults and also apply this attitude towards human relationships as well.
There is no magic number which would specify the right number of presents. We have to create a boundary ourselves so that children don’t receive too many presents and therefore have enough time to enjoy those they got. “It is understandable that loving parents want to fulfil all their kids’ wishes; but the connection between parental love and materialism is exceptionally unfortunate,” say the authors of the aforementioned study. Instead of proving our love to children through piles of presents, let’s do it through our behaviour towards them instead. It’s also very important for children to leave some of their wishes unfulfilled at Christmas. It will help them realise they cannot get anything they can think of. Even though we may find it unpleasant or unfair, we give them a much more valuable life lesson than by buying absolutely everything they want. We all should understand that children suffer much more when we don’t dedicate enough time and attention to them rather than by giving them fewer Christmas presents.
Written by Jana Klinderová, Educational Specialist at Lipa
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