Every year, we celebrate a number of feasts along the way to Christmastide, including the Feast of St. Nicholas, Santa Lucia Day, and then through Christmastide itself ending in Epiphany.
For those of you with tiny children, you may be establishing your holiday traditions and how you want to celebrate Advent. For those of you with older children and teens, you may be re-evaluating what works and doesn’t work. And, those of you with upper grades children (middle school aged, ages 12-14), may be feeling pulled in the middle that the traditions of the early years and early grades no longer hold as much magic, but you are reluctant to let go of traditions or forge something new.
For those of you establishing traditions, my advice is to take it slow and add a little bit each year. If your children are so, so small (ie, under seven), they may not even remember things from each year and by the time they are nine or ten and you have traditions in place, they will just consider that “this is how we have always done it.”
I would also encourage you to go simple and set a model of much hand-making of gifts and cooking and baking and helping others. Some families have Kindness Calendars for Advent. Some have traditions of things such as baking little loaves of bread and leaving them on neighbor’s doorsteps for the Feast of St. Nicholas. At any rate, keeping things simple, including the number of gifts a child receives, is really important. Children do not need to plow through a roomful of gifts in order to have a meaningful holiday and in fact, once the adrenaline high of ripping paper off of packages is done, they are typically disappointed and sad (and the younger ones burst into tears). So, think carefully about how you would like to handle gifts (and when- throughout the season, throughout Christmastide, solely on Christmas?). If you would like some more suggestions about gifts, please see this Holiday Gifts for Children and Holiday Gifts For Children: How Much Is Too Much? Here is a list of gifts up to the age of thirteen. Lastly, I always found this back post by Christine Natale, with her musings on Saint Nicholas Day and starting new traditions , to be quite reassuring.
Santa Claus is another area that needs thoughtful consideration. Different families deal with “Santa Claus” in different ways. Some feel he is an American helper to St. Nicholas; some feel he has no place in this season of hope and light and is purely a commercial figure, some include Santa and his reindeer as a part of Christmastide. At any rate, if you do have Santa Claus as part of your family traditions, I am going make a plea that Santa does not give the best or biggest gift. This is just a personal opinion – that I feel the most special gifts should come from the family – and you may feel differently. Or some families give gifts throughout Christmastide anonymously to each other.
If you have children in the upper grades (again, around the twelve year change to add fourteen or so), I would be very careful NOT to discard traditions you think might be too “babyish” for your now older child. Crafting, baking, and slowing down is something that is important for this age. This may be easier to do if you actually have younger siblings or cousins about, but sometimes even holding that magic for a small neighborhhood child can be helpful. I find some children around the age of 10 or so realize the “truth” about Santa Claus, but I also find that is most cases the child really doesn’t want the magic to end and may even feel sad about this.
I think the other thing to consider even more movement away from consumerism and toward acts of kindness, toward any sort of volunteering in a community setting if that is available. The holidays should be about fostering light throughout the world. I find some children of this age have a tendency toward wishing for a lot of fancy, expensive, technological gifts for themselves. Some families have no trouble with this; some families coming from a Waldorf setting look to the curriculum and see when these subjects are introduced in a Waldorf School. In this latter instance, not only moving toward helping others but providing appropriate boundaries consistent with your family’s values (and budget) without feeling guilty is of import. If you would like to think more on this subject, there are a few posts on here about gaming, about introducting computers in general, and about Pondering Portals ( a series of four posts).
Teenagers can be happy with simple things if you have built up your traditions by this time to include slowing down, enjoying the time as a family and in helping others, and limiting a huge number of commercial gifts. Teens who have developed interests can be easy to create or buy gifts for, and the love of the wonder of nature never goes away. Christmastide: Forest, Farm, Field, and Stream and its follow up post may be of interest to you in this regard. Planning outside time for hiking, skiing, cross country skiing, (or surfing and swimming depending upon where in the world you live!) can be utterly satisfying for teens – especially if it includes a little bit of the element of something new they have not tried before!
Lastly, for all ages, limiting the calendar to the most meaningful things for your family is important. There will be more parties, get togethers, and things to do than you can possibly attend. Limit your calendar to the most important things that reflect your values. It is an important model to show children the truly most important things about the holiday season – being together, sharing your value or religious-based traditions, and enjoying this special time of year in helping others.
Much love to you all,