I have two girls, two and one, and for Christmas this year, we talked about how we could help our two year old begin to understand what Christmas is actually about – and no it’s not about receiving gifts. No matter what your religion or beliefs are, Christmas is a time to think about things bigger than yourself. Christmas is a time to throw our inner-Scrooge out and help others.
Young children, though, are generally only exposed to the commercial Santa Claus story instead of the figure of a man determined to bring cheer and happiness to innocent and equally deserving children the world over. I largely place the blame at the feet of Hollywood (who lost its values long ago) and retailers. Please do not misunderstand me though. I have no problem with Hollywood and retailers trying to make money. However, profits do not incentivize them to create an accurate or compelling story of the true meaning of Christmas. That responsibility falls to parents, as it should.
To give you a few ideas, I’ve compiled a list of five activities to teach children how to appreciate Christmas and what it really means.
1) Earn money for gifts
Growing up, my siblings and I would go to Grandpa’s house and rank the leaves to earn $100 that was to be spent on buying Christmas gifts. First, there were a lot of leaves. I mean a lot. Second, raking those leaves are some of my fondest holiday memories. Even at a very young age, we helped in whatever way we were capable and were equally rewarded.
Earning money that I then exclusively spent on others was not something I did often. So having that experience each year gave me a nearly singular opportunity to develop an attitude of financial sacrifice. Also, I learned that Grandpa makes up the difference. The 5 year old was probably more trouble than help. And yet, he would receive as much compensation as the 9 year old and 12 year old. Why? Because Grandpa made up the difference by working a little harder. Wouldn’t this world be so much better if we all worked a little harder to make up the difference?
2) Create a Christmas budget
Once your children have earned money for Christmas gifts, have them create a Christmas budget. For example, have them create categories like Charity, Family, Friends, Schoolmates, etc. Within each category, list the names of everyone who will receive a gift. Last, place a dollar value next to each person’s name.
When picking the values, let your children do it. Hopefully, it doesn’t add up to the amount that they actually have to spend. Let me explain why I would hope that happens. If the amount does not add up, then you have the opportunity to talk about balancing a budget. So let’s say that your child has $100 to spend but wants to spend $150. Explain that the budget can’t exceed your income, or the $100. Then revise the budget together. I wish more adults had this skill.
3) Participate in a local charity program
As part of the budget, allocate a few dollars for a charity program in your area. You will probably need to add some money to the budget. Where I live, we have Sub-for-Santa and Angel Tree. Both programs allow you to go and buy gifts for a specific child or family. This year, we selected a two year old girl and had our two year old, Kennedy, help pick the gifts. We told her that she was giving presents to another little girl that was her “friend.” I’m not sure she fully understood, but will in time.
4) Volunteer time at a shelter
Okay, this one doesn’t really involve money unless you think time is money. Nevertheless, serving those less fortunate almost never fails to teach appreciation for the things and luxuries in one’s life. In fact, you may realize that having a pantry with food in it is considered a luxury in most parts of the world. Afterwords, talk about how being educated, getting a good job, and earning money allows us to help others.
5) Have them put Christmas money received as a gift in savings
If your kids receive money as a Christmas gift, have them put it in savings or open a savings account if they don’t have one yet. Make sure to make them a part of the entire process. Meaning, even have the four year old go in and hand the money to the teller. Have the nine year old fill out the deposit slip.
My cousins always had to put their Christmas money in savings while I was allowed to spend it all. Now, I wish that I would have been encouraged to save it, or at least most of it. I usually received sufficient toys from my family and the savings would have been helpful down the road.
What holiday traditions do you have to help teach your children about the true meaning of Christmas?