Saturday, December 2, 2006

The True Meaning of Christmas

What is the true meaning of Christmas? That is a question that has been debated for decades. Peace on Earth, good will to men … how do you accomplish these with today’s fractured families? Families are spread from one end of the continent to another and by illness, divorce, and just plain age difference.

How do we keep the perspective of the Christ child when there is so much greed in the world? So much terrorism? Christmas has become a commercialized holiday with the slogan being, “More, more, more.” Television commercials start to bombard us well before Halloween and they continue right up until Christmas day, bypassing Thanksgiving all together.

I know it is natural for kids to think of Christmas in a material way. Heaven knows, my girls are the same way, but how to parents separate the true meaning from the commercial meaning? There is a fine line to follow between the two

First, children need to be taught when they are young that the Christmas season symbolizes the birth of Jesus. They learn this in the home and during Sunday school. My girls know all about Baby Jesus and the birth story, but does this help them forget about Santa and presents? No, but at least they know the reason for the season. Once children have become school age, their attention turns to Santa and how many toys they will receive under the Christmas tree. Public school systems are not allowed to teach the religious implications of Christmas, so it is up to parents to provide reinforcement.

Second, parents need to participate, with their children, in religious ceremonies during the holiday season. Our church has an Advent service to usher in the holiday. From the hanging of the greens, to the Advent flags, to the joyous sounds of the choir, our Christmas would seem empty without this traditional service. We also like to attend a living Nativity at a local church. There is something wonderful about visiting a living Nativity and imagining what it was like to live in the days of Jesus. Of course, on Christmas Eve we attend a quiet church service, as a family. After opening mounds of presents at Nana and Papa’s house, we go to a simple candle light service and observe the Lord’s Supper. Of course, after church we head to MaMaw’s house for more presents, but the point is, we try to incorporate the religious with the commercial so the girls don’t think Christmas is all toys and gifts.

Just before bedtime on Christmas Eve, we leave the cookies and Mountain Dew for Santa and carrots for the reindeer, but we always add a special touch. Every since my 19 year old daughter – Amber – was a baby, we have left a piece of birthday cake, complete with a birthday candle, for the Baby Jesus. This may seem like a silly thing to do, but it is a religious tradition my family counts on each year.

Another thing parents can do is help their children participate in activities that help other people. Every year, we faithfully give to the Harrodsburg Love Tree. It is interesting when you take your child shopping for a toy to be given away. O course, they always want the toy for themselves, but after explaining there may be some children who don’t get any presents for Christmas; your kids will quickly get in the spirit. There is also the opportunity of giving by participating in the Angel Tree or Toys for Tots programs. You can go as a family and pick out presents for one certain child, or an entire family. Children also love donating food to the Mountain of Love or the Christian Life Center. This makes them feel useful, and special, and it helps to show them giving can be just as fun as getting. I know my youngest daughter has become attached to an elderly lady who lives across the street from her Mamaw, and every year at Christmas, Christine wants to give her a little something. It makes a parent feel proud when their children start to care about giving to other people. Of course, this is the same child who has a Christmas list two pages long, but she is leaning that giving is important.

I know the commercialization of Christmas will never stop, but if families work together, maybe they can control the greed, just a little, and be able to teach their children a valuable lesson. And even though my youngest still wants all the latest toys under the tree, just yesterday she told me, “Mommy, Christmas is for giving”. Maybe I haven’t done such a bad job parenting after all.

© Bobbi Rightmyer, December 2006