When I asked my little boy what his favourite season of the year was and why, he very firmly said to me, "Christmas. Because Santa gives me presents!" He's not the only one to associate Christmas with presents. All the shops do too, from the shops in the Canberra Centre and Westfield Woden and Belconnen, to the small gift stores at Gold Creek and the stallholders at the Old Bus Depot Markets and Canberra Handmade Markets. Without a doubt, Christmas is the biggest retail transaction of the year.
For lots of parents, however, the focus on presents can be just a bit too much. I know one mum who finds Christmas extremely stressful because she has to compete with her sister who gives each of her kids a mountain of expensive presents every Christmas while she simply can't afford to do the same with her own. Christmas then tends to lose its more beautiful, joyful, selfless meanings and becomes this obligation to inundate our kids with more and more toys and more and more stuff, as well as to buy presents for people (usually in the form of family members) we hardly ever see or don't even like.
How then can we make Christmas more meaningful for our children and less about the presents they'll be getting from Santa Claus? Here are 12 traditions (many or all of which you are probably already doing with your families) that hopefully will help to make Christmas mean a whole lot more for you and your children.
1. Give to those in need. This is what the true spirit of Christmas is about: giving selflessly to those in our communities who are struggling or who are in desperate need. You and your children can give your time to someone who is lonely or heartbroken, you can cook a meal or two for a family doing it tough, you can reach out in friendship and kindness to a work colleaneighboureighbor who is from a different cultural background from yours or from a different age group, you can donate toys for the Kmart Wishing Tree, or prepare food hampers for charities-there are many ways you can show genuine compassion to others. Read my article here to find out some of the ways you can give this Christmas.
2. Share a Christmas story with your children. There are so many wonderful Christmas stories you can read together with your children that capture the joy and spirit of the festive season, such as Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Dr Suess' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and of course, Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas. Share a story together every night from now right up to Christmas Eve. For ideas on Christmas stories, read my article here.
3. Enjoy a community Christmas carols night with your family. There's a festive spirit in the air when the whole community comes together for carols night to sing their hearts out. Deck yourselves in festive gear, pack a picnic, and head out to one of these community carols events in Canberra.
4. Drive around to see the Christmas light displays. Pack some snacks and drinks, put on some Christmas music in your car, and drive around Canberra's neighbourhoods to see some truly spectacular Christmas light displays. Go here to find out where Canberra's best Christmas lights displays are.
6. Have a family photo session with Santa! Yes, I know he's the jolly man in the red suit who is responsible for giving kids all those presents, but really, you can't avoid Santa during Christmas time. So why not get the family together in your festive best and have your photos taken with him at one of the many Santa photo locations around town?
7. Get your kids baking this Christmas.
Your kitchen (like mine) will very probably be a mess during the baking and afterwards, but this is so much more fun than finding a carpark at Westfield or the Canberra Outlet Centre on a Saturday and Sunday before Christmas. Get your kids to bake gingerbread men cookies and present them as gifts to their teachers at the end of the school year. Here are the gingerbread men my son baked one Christmas. Unfortunately they had morphed into gingerbread monsters in the oven, but they still tasted delicious!
9. Get Christmas crafting. Keep your kids busy with Christmas crafts. There are many Christmas craft packs to choose from at Riot Art and Craft stores in Westfield Woden and Belconnen. Kmart also has a range of Christmas craft activity sets. You can also get some wooden ornaments from Bunnings, Lincraft or Riot Art and Craft stores and get your kids to decorate them, like my son did one Christmas.
Pop some popcorn, turn off the lights, turn on the Christmas tree lights, snuggle up on the couch and get ready for a night of Christmas movies for children such as Home Alone, The Polar Express, Arthur Christmas, Elf, and The Santa Clause.
11. Write a thank you letter to Santa.
This is not a letter to Santa listing every toy your child wants from him on Christmas Eve. Get your child/children to write letters to Santa just to thank him for his kindness and the hard work he does on Christmas Eve, etc. And don't mention anything about what they want from Santa! I think it's important for kids (and adults too!) to learn about gratitude.
12. Don't forget to leave cookies and milk (or beer, or wine) out for Santa, and some carrots for his reindeer.
This is a very simple but lovely tradition that clearly teaches children to be thankful and to not just think of all the wonderful presents they'll be getting, but also to think of that jolly hardworking gift-bringer in the red suit who has to travel to every country in the world to singlehandedly deliver presents!