I wonder sometimes if there is any other place in the world that celebrates Christmas as materially as we do in the US. So, I decided to go to the internet to check out some traditions around the world. (It is a fun and interesting search, and you should try it.)
Some of the interesting tidbits of information I read include:
In Nigeria, well-to-do people visit poorer towns and bring gifts. It is a season for considering those less fortunate.
In Japan, Christmas evolved from being outlawed to being westernized. Back in the 1970’s there was a very successful advertising campaign, and to this day people have to make their reservations months in advance to eat at KFC on Christmas!
Korea shows the wide disparity between North and South. Christmas is a public holiday in South Korea, but banned in North Korea, so people living just south of the border dare not use outdoor decorations.
In Pakistan, Christians celebrate the birth of Christ by going caroling and collecting monetary gifts, which they give to charity.
In some countries, exchanging gifts is part of Christmas, but none to the extent of America. Here, we have retailers setting the mood for Christmas right alongside Halloween candy and costumes. An official designated shopping day, Black Friday has taken on epic proportions, and all outlets of media produce massive commercial campaigns aimed at convincing children and adults that they “need” certain material things in order to be happy at Christmas.
The sheer magnitude of the emphasis on buying and receiving bothers me. Does it do the same for you? I am not a Scrooge. In fact, I love to give gifts to my family and I am deeply touched when someone gives me a gift that they have thought about or made an effort to give, but I would never want it to become a burdensome demand or the standard by which we measure our love for one another.
Children, in particular, are vulnerable to harm by out-of-proportion gift-giving. A child who receives a mountain of gifts learns that it takes more and more material stuff to make Christmas merry. They are given a very unhealthy view of generosity, because they cannot give nearly as much as they receive. Kids are naturally prone to comparison – “Why did Owen get more packages?” “Chloe’s gift is bigger – no fair!” – and the more you try to make everything “even” or “fair” the more you stress about the holidays.
It seems that the more gifts children receive, the less grateful they are – and thankfulness is a significant key to happiness in life. If you want your children to grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults, instill gratitude, not greed.
This Christmas, I would encourage you to place more emphasis on the fun and traditions of Christmas and keep the number of gifts to a reasonable amount. Place more emphasis on being together, remembering the reason you are celebrating and give your children opportunities to give as well as receive. Some families take time before Christmas to have their kids sort through their toys and donate some to organizations that reach out to underprivileged families. Some include their children in shopping for items to include in shoe boxes filled with goodies to send overseas. You can simply brainstorm with your children about what other people in the family might like for Christmas to give them a sense of delight in giving. As they learn generosity, they will learn to be happier.
As you have fun preparing for the holidays, ask the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” Talk about non-material things you want as well as presents. “I want our family to have fun together.” “I want Grandpa to be well enough to be with us.” “I want snow!” “I want to be a peacemaker.” “I want Mom’s famous tamales for dinner.” “I want to sing Christmas songs.” These are things that make Christmas bright without maxing out your credit card.
What are some other ideas to help your kids (and even other adults) understand how the holidays can be merry without being all about the money? Can you share your ideas on how to help your kids learn generosity and selflessness?
We want to wish you a blessed and happy holiday season, filled with celebration for all the right reasons!
Live, Work, and Relate Well!
Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.