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Christmas…can we make the holiday season meaningful?

By Bruce Linton, Founder of the Fathers’ Forum Programs

The holiday season brings up a variety of feelings for families, from joy to dread. The pressures of our consumer society can make this a tense time of year. Crowded stores and traffic jams all add to the flurry of activity that often pushes us to the limits of our patience. We find ourselves asking the question, Is it really worth it? Could we do without this “holiday madness?” Couldn’t we just skip the whole thing?

It is up to us as parents (and us dads) to rescue Christmas from its commercialism and restore it as one of the special days in our children’s lives. We can help create a special time of year to celebrate children, which I believe was the original intent of this holiday.

For most children, Christmas is not a religious holiday. Children don’t associate a jolly fat man in a red suit with any religious symbolism. As my daughter once said, it is quite exciting to have a tree in the house. When our children were young, the surprise on their faces when they found their presents under the tree made it clear how special the experience was for them.

Christmas is a celebration of children. As I researched the history of St. Nick, I was led to his pre-Judeo-Christian past. It appears Santa Claus has his origins in a pre-Christian deity who was the protector of children, a nature spirit similar to the “green man” whose job it was to look out for the welfare of children. Both Hanukkah and Christmas may have been adjusted to coincide with this earlier folk tradition, which was the focus of the winter season.

Children, especially young ones, need to have special days that are just for them. Except for school graduations and religious ceremonies that mark memorable moments in their lives, children have few special days of their own. Only birthdays and Christmas remain as days truly reserved for kids. If these days are diminished in importance, children lose some of life’s joy and the good feelings that go with it.

Santa Claus reaches out to children in a unique way. Presents and giving can certainly express love and good will at this time of year. Most children know Santa doesn’t bring gifts to parents. Somehow, Santa Claus is just for them. For children who believe in the Santa Claus story, Christmas can be a magical time that brings much personal happiness.

Children who can experience the ancient myth of Santa Claus have their lives immensely enriched. The thought of a good, happy, colorfully dressed person who brings presents just for them creates a sense and magic in their lives. While difficulties and uncertainties in life are many, Christmas and the magic of Santa Claus help reassure children and give them a sense of hope. If our rational thinking forces us to deprive our children of the symbolic meaning that Santa represents, we lose the beneficial effects that can extend over the lifetime of the child.

Children have a need for magical thinking. From about four to ten years old, magical thinking actually helps kids cope with the world. The hardships, difficulties, even terrors that are part of our lives — which we cope with as adults — can be dealt with by young children through magical beliefs. Magical thinking declines as children grow and their rational consciousness is equipped to deal with the uncertainties and vicissitudes of life.

Together, my wife and I have tried to craft a unique Christmas for our children. We have a great time choosing a tree and decorating it. Our tree is covered with ornaments the kids have made over the years. Our children feel the joy of getting gifts that are given in celebration of them, with no one but Santa to thank.

As our children have gotten older, we have begun to explore the meaning of “peace” at this time of year. This is a time when we can all wish for a world that is more nurturing and peaceful. Our children can begin to express the feelings of gratitude that reflect their own experience of Christmas and what it means to them.

The winter solstice, the seasonal change, begins to mark a time of turning inward. With less daylight, the cold, the change in the landscape around us, we all feel some of the seasonal transition. Connecting with these changes is part of the experience of Christmas too. Especially for us as dads ( thinking of the Fathers’ Forum dads!) take pride and pleasure in the simple pleasure of being a family.


For further self-reflection and discussion…

  1. What do you find most difficult about the holiday season?
  2. How did your family celebrate Christmas when you were a child?
  3. How would you like to celebrate Christmas, and how can you talk about it with your partner?