Christmas is a simple holiday. It is a time of giving, but for many families this simplicity is overshadowed by the consuming side of Christmas. We rush to Christmas sales, and spend precious evening and weekend hours fervently trying to fulfill every Christmas wish. This relatively new and consumer driven tradition often renders us exhausted and anxious, which negatively affects our spirit of giving.
The consuming side of Christmas also leaves us precious little time to spend with our families. No matter what religious or spiritual significance you attach to the winter holidays, all celebrations revolve around family and tradition. Why not make this the year you slow down and give your children the greatest gift of all. The gift of time spent together building memories, establishing traditions, and discovering the true meaning of Christmas.
One way of looking forward to the season, is to turn to the past. Folklore and literature are excellent tools for parents wishing to move their children away from consumerism and towards the simplicity of giving. Sharing stories from other cultures, religions, and time periods can help children recognize that many of the rituals we practice today are rooted in simpler times and traditions.
Saint Nicholas. Your children will easily recognize this name. He is the big guy in the festive red suit, right. Well actually, Saint Nicholas was a religious leader from the 4th century A.D. who lived in the country of Myra, which is now modern day Turkey. As a youth, Saint Nicholas entered a monastery and became an abbot and later a bishop. He was a very shy man, but had a great desire to give money to the poor. Legend states that one day he traveled to the house of a very poor family and climbed upon the roof. From this position, he dropped a bag of gold down the chimney. This bag of riches landed in a stocking that one of the daughters had put by the fire to dry. Thus, the belief that Santa arrives through the chimney and leaves children gifts in their stockings was born
Boxing Day. Many English speaking countries celebrate Boxing Day on December 26. Boxing Day is a tradition that began in the Middle Ages when churches would open their alme boxes to reveal donated gifts of money. This money was distributed to the poor living in the neighborhood on the day after Christmas, which came to be known as Boxing Day.
Chanukah Gelt. During Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, a candle is lit every night. The Talmud specifically instructs Jews to light at least one candle every night of Chanukah, even if they must ask their neighbors for the money to purchase them. Therefore, the custom of giving gelt or money enabled the poor to have the candle money they needed without having to suffer embarrassment.
Julklapp. A julklapp is a gift or Christmas Box. In Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, visitors travel to the houses of their friends, knock on the door, and when opened they throw the gift inside. Then they run away before being recognized.
The Legend of the Poinsettia. Mexican folklore tells of a small boy who despaired because he did not have anything to offer the Christ Child on his birthday. He went to his church to pray for the honor of giving an appropriate gift. In answer to his prayer, a most magnificent red flower grew before him, which he bestowed upon the Christ Child. Since that time the flower, a poinsettia, has been know as the Flower of the Holy Night.
Babushka. In Russia, children receive holiday gifts from Babushka whose name means grandmother. Legend claims that Babushka was invited by the Three Wise Men to visit the baby Jesus, but decline their invitation because it was too cold. She instantly regretted her decision, filled a basket with gifts, and set off to join the Magi. Unfortunately, she never found them, so to this day she leaves gifts for all the children just in case one of them is Jesus.
The Gift of the Magi. This story by O. Henry is good for older children, and teaches the true meaning of giving. It is the story of an impoverished couple who held two material possessions in high regard. The husband's gold watch and the wife's long flowing hair. When Christmas comes and neither has enough money to honor the other with a gift, they each end up sacrificing what they most prize in order to give to their loved one.
The Christmas Carol. This classic by Charles Dickens not only teaches the meaning of giving, but it also points out the pitfalls of greed. Good for all ages, this old tale makes for delightful family reading throughout the holiday season.
An Early American Christmas. This children's book by Tomie DePaola tells the story of learning and family traditions. The characters living in a small New England village never did much in the way of celebrating Christmas until a new family moves to town and shares their traditions.
The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate. This book by Janice Cohn, D.S.W. tells of hate crimes waged against a Jewish family living and how their neighbors fought back. This book is a good tool for promoting tolerance, and discussing different religious holiday observations in connection with prejudice.
Dr. Caron B. Goode is the founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents International, a training and certification program for parent coaches. In addition to duties with the academy, Goode is the founding editor of the website www.InspiredParenting.net, and the author of ten books, the most recent of which is Nurture Your Child's Gift. For more information on The Academy for Coaching Parents International or to sign up for academy announcements, visit www.acpi.biz .