This is a magical time of year. It’s been my favorite since I was little. I’ll never forget the feeling I had walking through the mall with my family, entranced by the twinkle lights shining behind shop windows with the scent of cinnamon almonds wafting through the air. Shoppers bustled from store to store, and there was always a sense of excitement. As part of a large family with a tight budget, Christmas was a time of hopeful anticipation. Santa always pulled through for me, and I knew I would soon be holding the baby doll that I’d been admiring for months.
It’s been no surprise to find my children captivated by the same spirit of the season that entranced me. I am thrilled to be in a position where I can give my children a magical Christmas, and I know that’s not the case for every child, especially in today’s world, where so many families and children are suffering and displaced. It’s disheartening when, before our Thanksgiving dinner has even had time to settle, my kids start pulling out their ever-running list of wants. With “I want…I want…I want” ringing in my ears, I am determined this year to do things a little differently.
Christmas is the season of giving, and I believe that gratitude and giving go hand in hand.
With so much happening already this season, the last thing anyone wants to hear is that there’s something more to add to our already full to-do list. Rather than making gratitude an addition to our already full schedule, my plan is to incorporate it into the things we’re already doing. I want gratitude to be a way of life, not simply something we focus on for a season.
Here are some ideas my family will be incorporating in this holiday season:
Start with everyday discussions.
Each day, when my kids get home from school, instead of the regular, “How was your day?,” I’ve begun to ask different questions, like, “Who did you help today?” It’s probably no surprise to hear that, at first, my kids didn’t know what to say. Ummm, I don’t know. No one, was always the first response. This gave way to discussions about ways that we can help other people — both small and large. My hope is that at some point, these conversations will transfer to other areas of their lives and they’ll begin to notice others and their needs.
My follow-up question is, “Who helped you?” This one has been easier for them to answer, and we chat briefly about how they felt as others were helpful. How does this translate to teaching gratitude? I’m crossing my fingers that this helps with their way of being. When we notice what those around us lack and we help to meet their needs, I think we also begin to notice our abundance, and there is where we can be grateful.
Involve your family in whatever a service or charity donation.
Our charity of choice this year was the Giving Machines in Knoxville. These are like a vending machine, but instead of buying an item for yourself, you are able to purchase an item for a local or global charity. We made this a family outing and I let each of my children select an item to donate. It was fascinating to see their selections, from a handwashing station to a summer learning kit. My six-year-old was over the moon to buy mac and cheese for children in the Knoxville area.
Schools, stores, and churches all have opportunities to give this time of year. Involve your children in the process of picking one and talk to them about why you’re helping. We have plenty of mac and cheese in my house, but some other little boy does not. We were able to have a sweet discussion about how we were grateful for our abundance of food and that’s what inspires us to give.
Other ideas for incorporating gratitude into the Christmas season:
- If you decorate cookies or buy gifts for friends or neighbors, add in a small note, telling what you love and appreciate about them.
- Do you have an advent calendar? We keep it simple at my house and buy the cheap ones with the little chocolates. Could we take a moment to list off one thing we’re grateful for before opening the date?
- I’ve heard of a tradition where families sit down with their kids and go through their toys before Christmas. They let the child choose a few that are in good condition and no longer used. These are bagged up and given to Goodwill or another charity organization.