Guiding Children to Associate the Holiday Season with Giving

Leave it to Wikipedia to present a great page on the origin of Santa including early Christian and pagan origins and his evolution in America, along with old and new thomas-nast-and-clement-clark-moores-1881-depiction-of-santarituals, criticism, etc.  According to, “It is said that [St. Nicholas] gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick.”

Somehow, in recent history at least, it seems like children have come to associate Christmas solely with receiving a ton of presents. They may also love the magic of holiday lights and music and perhaps even gain an appreciation for spiritual traditions related to their family’s religious faith.  But so often in our culture, it seems like the focus remains on Santa Claus and gifts.

Honestly, I’m still undecided how the heck to explain Santa because I don’t like the idea of lying to my children about anything. But I also don’t want to be the hum-bug Scrooge Mama of our neighborhood either.  My sense is that there’s a solid split of opinions within the AP community about whether to embrace the fantasy or not.  I am leaning toward fully celebrating the spirit of Santa Claus with my daughters, explaining his history and encouraging the fun of pretending to have him visit the house on Christmas eve.  When we see a man in a Santa costume around town, we’ll have another opportunity to gleefully observe someone else “playing Santa.”

While I work out the big Santa introduction, the one thing I am very clear on is wanting my girls to experience Christmas as a very special time of year with family and friends in which we give to others that have needs greater than ours.

The recession has impacted so many families, including ours. We are eliminating many of our holiday traditions this year simply because we can’t pay for it.  But I choose not to focus my energy on lamenting that and instead want to focus on doing what we can to help others who face greater hardships, and embrace the original spirit of St. Nicholas who gave somuch to the poor and sick.

I put together a list of holiday giving opportunities in Austin where I live which may inspire you to discover similar organizations in your town.  There are many, many opportunities to sponsor a child or a family for the Holidays.  We did so last year and were able to deliver presents to the family ourselves, which I think is particularly valuable for children to fully experience the act of giving.

My short discovery list of giving opportunities includes:

  1. Capital Area Food Bank
  2. Safe Place – sponsor families and/or children with holiday gifts.
  3. Coats for Kids – providing new or gently used coats to low-income children.
  4. Children’s Shelter
  5. Life Works
  6. Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA)
  7. Blue & Brown Santa – toy drives
  8. Salvation Army
  9. Christmas Bureau of Austin – This is my personal favorite simply because this organization gave us the opportunity to reach out to people directly to provide an uncooked holiday meal and toys/clothes for the children.

There are currently over 1800 families requesting holiday sponsorship through the Christmas Bureau in Austin!

This is Monica’s first post on API Speaks.  She also writes about attachment parenting on her web site, Attachment Mama.

A Foundation of Trust

There are all new considerations and choices to make when you have a child during the Christmas season.  Like what kind of gifts to buy, should they be educational? Homemade? Eco friendly? Wood? Plastic? Should they make noise? How much should you spend? Should you give gifts at all? What kind of holiday foundation do you want to lay for your child? And not only holiday but what kind of foundation do you want to lay for gift giving? For being financially responsible? For being a giving person all year round?

And how about honesty? How about things like trust? This is what I ask myself around the holiday season, especially now that I have a child of my own because now, unlike when I was a child and my parents made these choice, these choices are my own and they will form the next years of my child’s life.

I choose honesty and trust because of the Santa Claus issue. Now I know that this is a very personal choice but I will give a swing at it from my perspective.

Every year thousands of children are told the story of Santa Claus though it isn’t told as a story, it is told as truth. There really was a “saint” Nicolas and he really did give children toys but as we all know he did not cover the globe, he surely did not have a pack of reindeer and there were/are no elves working in a shop of eternal Christmas at the North Pole. And yet thousands, millions of children are told this story each year, they are reminded that this is why they must be “good” so that they can receive presents.

Young children are so impressionable and with this “story” we (as Americans) indoctrinate very early. I was blessed as a child to not have this story told to me, I received presents from my loving parents whether I was  “good” or not, we didn’t have lots of money but I always received a few nice gifts, I never thought because I didn’t receive as many as some other children that I was not as “good,” I actually pitied children who believed in Santa Claus, I pitied them because their parents were lying to them and I knew it and they did not.

Why I ask myself when I have and am working so hard to build a relationship of trust, a foundation of truth in my child’s life would I, “just for fun” and not to “deprive” my child of a cultural norm, lie to my child, why would I after requesting that he obey me because he trusts me, because I provide consistent and loving care for him day in and day out while being consistently truthful and trustworthy would I destroy that with one little “white” lie?

I have heard parents tell stories of when they had to tell their children the truth, or worse yet when children were sneeringly informed by another child that there is no such thing as Santa Claus. How horrific. Children are then supposed to move on because they are now in on the adult secret that has been kept from them for years, they are now a part of the holiday lie, they are not even allowed to mourn the “death” of a man that they have cherished for years because then they would uncool or less grown up. And somewhere in a child’s heart a seed of doubt is sown. Why did my parents lie to me? Don’t they trust me? Do I trust them? Why should I trust them? What else do they lie to me about? And these doubts become buried in a child’s heart and mind never to be expressed for fear of not being “good” not measuring up to their new grown up status.

I am looking forward to this holiday season. I am looking forward to making cookies, candy and a gingerbread house with my son. I am looking forward to buying and wrapping him presents, of stuffing his stocking. I was thrilled to see his look of delight as we lit up our Christmas tree, it made me smile to hear him say “pretty.” And as I snuggle him as he falls to sleep tonight, his trusting arms wrapped around my neck I know that I could never betray his trust just over a little bit of fun that we won’t miss anyway.