The Danger of Christmas
I love Christmas, but I’m also afraid of it.
I’m afraid our kids will feel entitled by all the gifts they receive. I’m afraid they will lose sight of the true meaning of Jesus’ birth. I fear it will reinforce their tendency to believe life’s all about them. I’m concerned they’ll turn into greedy over-consumers.
We’re committed to not over-doing the gifts, but we do enjoy making Christmas morning magical for our kids. Surely that will look different as they grow up, but at their ages, this doesn’t cost a lot.
We’re grateful to have relatives who are generous but reasonable (not over-gifters). But even one or two reasonable presents from a number of relatives, plus “Santa,” adds up to a fair amount of stuff. (I do see the toys as a resource to survive the long winter months ahead!)
I’m also tempted to fill the precious days off of school and work with fun holiday activities. There are more special events than we can possibly attend, plus simple pleasures like sledding, baking cookies, and watching Christmas movies. I want to be sure that helping others is prioritized in the midst of seasonal entertainment, and that will mean passing on some fun activities, even if they’re free.
We want to celebrate Christmas with special treats, gifts, and family activities. We also want our kids to learn generosity, empathy, and service. Here’s how we’re trying to combat the greedy, entitled, all-about-me mentality that kids (and all of us, if we’re honest) are naturally prone to.
“It is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
We first introduced this verse to my son when he was three. He replied, “That’s not true,” and refused to memorize it. We didn’t force the issue. Two years later he was voluntarily quoting it (sometimes to his sister) and trying to understand it. He asked if getting presents on Christmas morning is bad. I explained that both giving and receiving are good and fun, but giving is special because it helps others and can bring them happiness.
To involve our kids in giving, I encourage them to buy or make something for each other and their dad. Sometimes with their closest friends they might swap toys they already have or chip in toward a small gift.
“If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will repay you!” (Proverbs 19:17)
Our kids live a strange existence in which all their needs are abundantly met. Without scaring them, we try to explain that not everyone lives this way. Some kids don’t get toys for Christmas; others don’t have enough food or even clean water. (Compassion International’s Explorer magazine was helpful for this.) We can’t solve all those problems, but we can share some of what we have with others. We use Dave Ramsey’s suggestion for give, save, and spend jars, and set a deadline in December for choosing a charitable destination for their money. This year they chose to give to a children’s ministry through the outstanding organization India Gospel League.
Two years ago I took my son to help out with a “Christmas with Dignity” store through a local ministry in a low-income neighborhood that’s home to many refugee families. The children work throughout the year to earn digital “dollars” by attending after school tutoring, completing homework, and participating in programs. With these funds they can shop at a Christmas store featuring a large variety of new, donated items. We volunteered with the set-up, which involved carrying lots of items down lots of stairs.
The store featured toys, but also many practical household items ranging from coffee makers to diapers to toilet paper. Friends who volunteer at the store noted how many of these items the kids choose over the toys.
Once we got through the explanations and he got to carry stuff around he got increasingly excited. He talked about the kids choosing from the different items. He was also bragging about how strong his muscles were getting from all the hard work. Maybe he still thinks it’s all about him (& his muscles), but I was grateful he had a chance to help others in some way. He left in an exceptionally good mood because he got to experience firsthand the joy of giving rather than receiving.
“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress…”(James 1:27)
A friend suggested that the kids from our church visit nursing home residents and sing carols. Yesterday we did just that. Yes, visiting people you don’t know feels awkward. And children aged four to seven barely remember the lyrics to the songs. But I hope our short little concert went a long way toward brightening the residents’ day, and showing our kids that they’re not the center of universe.
The book The Me, Me, Me Epidemic includes some more great ideas for involved kids in both planned and random acts of service.
I don’t share these experiences because I have it all figured out, but because I don’t. My kids are more entitled and self-centered than I want to admit. So am I. The path to financial success is fraught with danger for the soul. But serving those often forgotten by society can be a great antidote to turning into a Scrooge.
I’d love to hear more ideas for promoting a giving attitude in kids at Christmas. What are some practical ways you’ve tried to teach generosity and service, especially during the holidays? How have you seen your children’s attitude toward giving change over the years? Or perhaps you remember how your own perspective changed?