I love this time of year. I love just about everything about it—the chilly weather (especially when it comes with snow), the Christmas decorations, the food, the festivity, the music, the hustle and bustle, the traditions. I’m not typically an appreciator of hustle and bustle, usually preferring quiet and serenity, but somehow the whole package of the holiday season makes it all feel enjoyable and special. Come January the cold might bring me an extra chill, but right now I soak it in as part of the Christmas milieu.
One of the reasons as a parent I find this season particularly special is the opportunities it affords me to teach my kids so many valuable lessons. Though we often bemoan the busyness of the holiday season, the extravagant expenses or the rampant materialism, the truth is in each of our homes we have an rich opportunity to teach our kids our own family ways and values against a particularly poignant backdrop.
For those of us in the Christian faith, Christmas offers up a chance like none other to teach our kids about the foundational truths of our faith in Jesus Christ. While Easter is arguably just as significant a holiday for its depth of meaning, there is nothing culturally on par with Christmas for making the whole of society sit up and take notice that a celebration is going on. No matter how we feel about the way modern culture treats Christmas, the fact remains that now is a time of year when the world is abuzz with reminders of Jesus Christ and his arrival among us. We have a whole advent season in which to talk with our kids and teach them who Jesus is, the story of his coming, the significance of prophecies fulfilled, and the implications on how we live today. One of my favorite things leading up to Christmas is gathering my family on a nightly basis to recognize what this season is all about, to read some Scripture and say a prayer, possibly sing a Christmas carol and mark the passing of one more day bringing us closer to the ultimate celebration of God among us. We need not lose the meaning of Christmas in cards to send and trips to the mall to shop, but keeping Jesus central to our family celebration does take deliberate care and effort.
Aside from whether or not you celebrate Christmas as a follower of Christ, chances are good that the Christmas season carries specific meaning and memories for you. This is a key time of year to build family traditions. You can center them around your faith or you can center them around your family, your friends, or whatever or whomever you choose. Just the practice of having traditions—practices repeated predictably and consistently over time—helps our kids feel grounded, connected, and secure. Research on traditions shows that kids growing up in families that establish traditions year after year feel more secure in their identities, more connected to their families and family history, and are more likely to develop character based on shared family values. Baking cookies every year, eating the same holiday meal, lighting candles together or chopping down a fresh Christmas tree every year may seem like small things individually, but over time these traditions build a foundation on which our children grow and learn to pass on a legacy of their own.
Christmas is a time associated with wonder and awe, for good reason, but is it also a time to illustrate to our kids some practical matters of life. Perhaps this is the year your kids learn that Santa doesn’t really scoot down the chimney on Christmas eve—you can still point out to them the many blessings bestowed on them by real people who know and love them. My kids each write a Christmas list of things they would like to receive, but they know they will not receive it all. They are learning to be grateful for what they have, not to complain about what they lack. Christmas is a great time to teach our kids to be generous givers. It can be hard for children to understand that what they want to give may not be what the receiver is inclined to receive, but putting ourselves in another person’s position is a valuable skill to practice. As my kids get older I’m finding each year they gain more and more pleasure from picking out gifts for others—it’s a precious thing to see my kids light up when someone opens a gift they lovingly made or chose. We also can teach our kids to be gracious receivers. In our home we enforce thank-yous with eye contact and sincerity and we write hand-written notes to loved ones far away. I talk with my kids about how to express gratitude for a kind sentiment, even if the gift is not a favorite. Christmas is a time to cultivate gratitude and contentment.