Creating Your Own Christmas Traditions:
Now That You Are The Parent!
By Julie Jenkins Sathe
Author of Enlightened Discipline ©
I recently had the opportunity to be in the audience for the filming of a TV Show. I was there for a show on holiday problems. After listening to several parents who were on the show, I realized many times we feel trapped in our traditions and then circumstances arise that cause our trappings to fall down on top of us.
For instance, one such couple was in a bit of resentment that their young children were so grateful to Santa Claus for Christmas gifts and not very aware or appreciative since these gifts come from Santa. Another mother was truly unraveling because this year her finances won’t allow her to buy her child at the level and scope she had in Christmases past.
A third child wanted to celebrate Hanukkah. Not because she had changed faith, but because she thought she’d get eight days of gifts.
Well… first things first.
Holidays are always richer if they are about the experience, the time, the environment, the moment. If you, as adults look back into your childhood you will not really remember many gifts. You will remember the feeling of Christmas or Hanukkah that you liked or alternatively you did not like. We, as a nation have indeed become quite focused on the material stuff. But this is a different article….
As you are starting your families, while your children are young make a conscious decision how you and your partner will celebrate with gift-giving, with the myth of Santa Claus and so forth.
My first piece of advice comes from my upbringing. My parents were middle class. They were probably not middle class by today’s standards because they never worried about bills. They never bought on credit and they never bought brand name stuff. So, honestly they felt middle class without acting as if they were upper class. Anyway, as children all four of us got two things from Santa. We got a filled stocking with trinkets, candy, fruit and inexpensive needs like underwear and socks, toothbrushes and combs. Santa filled our stockings with what Mom and Dad would need to buy later, anyway. Then, right beneath each stocking was one gift from Santa. Did you hear that? One gift. The Santa Gift.
We always hoped it would be what we wanted. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. Did you hear that? We didn’t always get what we wanted! I know I believed it was what Santa wanted me to have. But the really big, big, big gifts might come from my parents, if there were any. Then my parents could remind me of the cost. They could teach me how to care for my possessions. When I reached the age of eight or nine, I began to recognize it was truly not from Santa of course we all held the magic, the illusion of Santa for many years.
Whether by intention or accident, my parents who had been children of the depression knew how to imposter the “big guy” in a healthy way. My parents gave us all of the other wrapped presents under the tree. Santa, by the way, never wrapped presents. (No worries about wrapping paper hints!)
As a parent, myself I had one truly hard financial Christmas. Not hard, but impossible year. I am blessed that it was only one. That year, in the aftermath of financial crisis, bankruptcy and losing my home even the Santa Gift was meager. My family stepped up and bought a few inexpensive gifts for me to give to my two kids. These were the only gifts my two children received. I must tell you this because it is important. Although my children, ages 3 and 6 had gifts under the tree….I felt like a fraud that I had not chosen them. I had not done anything for them. I smiled through my tears and life moved ahead. I always remember that year. So do my kids, though vaguely. The year before, by contrast Santa had planted a swing set in the back yard. On the hard year, they both got a big, cuddly stuffed animal as their “Santa gift”. But they both lived through it. And I learned a very big lesson.
So, to all those parents who wonder if their childhood will be crushed if your kids don’t get a Wii…….oh, come on! I think of all of the Hanukkah families who hid from the Nazi’s in Germany daring to light their candles and make gifts from those items in their small living space, fearing for their lives but making a holiday!
So, the whole point of this article is to help parents of babies and young children truly look at their holiday traditions. We don’t have to follow the course that someone else laid out, or even our own course. The magical thinking of Santa Claus is short-lived in the life of a child. Give them the magic without giving all the teaching moments of money, gratitude and giving away from your children.
Here is a note for grandparents. Unless you are in the sole role of parent, you are not the parent. Please allow your adult children to be the Santa. Please let them come from their means to provide for Christmas. There are many of the younger generation adults want to live at the economic level of their parents. Well, too bad. You haven’t got there, yet. That’s why you have no credit or it’s ruined. You need to earn those points, those dollars and that credit rating. It takes years. You are not your parents. Grandparents, this might be your fault. You must allow your children to parent. Quit thinking you are the only one who can.
DO’S AND DON’T’S
Keep the element of surprise.
It is a huge part of Christmas. Never open before Christmas morning. Never give in and give gifts early. Teach your children that peeking at gifts ruins their surprise. It’s a good lesson. They will feel it. Chances are they won’t like it and will never do it more than once.
Buy everything on the list. Use good sense and judgment for what your child wants and what is good for them.
We open gifts one at a time. Watch each other, thank one another, ooh and ahh at the gifts. Delay gratification while teaching good manners and gratitude. Tidy as you go to slow the process down, and keep the house from being wrecked.
Use Christmas or Holiday gifts as leverage or punishment. Keep some things sacred. These are off limits. Be more creative than that.
Slow down. Take a moment. Hold the surprise. Live and gift well within your means.
Stay safe. Love each other. Balance your checkbook and create a holiday practice that suits your life. Remember that this is merely one day. Gifts aren’t love, experiences are.
Oh, and Happy Holidays.