Recently, my sister-in-law texted me a photo of my niece, who’s 18 months old, covering her gaping mouth in pure wonder at the sight of a chintzy Christmas-light display in a big-box store. It reminded me of the uniquely wonderful time of year this is for young kids.
But you don’t have to watch TV for more than a minute these days to be reminded that our culture’s focus on buying and getting stuff can undermine Christmas’ meaning. Here are three other S-words that might be good to keep in mind while introducing Christmas to toddlers: story, simplicity, and sharing.
In the wonderful “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, Charlie Brown, frustrated by the commercialism of the season, wonders, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
Linus knows, and he stands in front of the gang and recites from Luke’s nativity story. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
There are few stories more awesome and meaningful. As a family, spend some time with the Christmas story – and take advantage of the great tangible symbols of the season, like an Advent wreath and a kid-friendly, hands-on nativity scene.
The photo of my niece reminded me that it doesn’t take much to excite a little one! Here’s another example of this truth: Over Thanksgiving weekend, family friends with two kids – two years and five months old – stayed with my wife and me for a couple days. The two year-old’s current favorite activity involves crayons. She doesn’t color with them, though. She just removes the paper, bit by bit, and throws it away. That’s it. On Christmas, I imagine she’ll enjoy playing with the box a toy comes in more than the toy itself.
In an article I read recently, blogger Joshua Becker described his family’s Christmas gift-exchange practice. He and his wife give their children three gifts: one thing they want, one thing they need, and an experience to share with the family. By establishing those expectations early, their kids aren’t disappointed at this seemingly small pile under the tree, and it has allowed them to shift their focus from stuff to friends, family, and faith.
Back to Charlie Brown and Peanuts for a second. In a classic strip, Violet approaches Charlie Brown with a piece of paper in hand. “This is my ‘git’ list, Charlie Brown,” she says. “These are all the things I figure I’m gonna ‘git’ for Christmas from my two grampas and two grammas and eight uncles and aunts!”
Charlie Brown replies, “Where’s your ‘give’ list?”
“My what?” asks Violet,
“I knew it!” harrumphs Charlie Brown as he walks away.
Violet has no conception of giving, but it’s probably not her fault. Her doting, well-minded family sees her as a recipient with nothing to contribute herself. But Christmas is a great time to work on building habits of generosity and thoughtfulness. Participate in a food drive together (dropping cans in a box is always fun), or make some homemade Christmas cards for loved ones.
With the three S’s of story, simplicity, and sharing, you can help young children learn what Christmas is all about.
This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.