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Teaching Children the True Meaning of the Holiday Season

How to keep the holidays in perspective for kids this holiday season.

Have you noticed that holiday marketing seems to begin right after Halloween? Each year the December holidays are on display weeks before Thanksgiving in our local stores and in our mailboxes and our kids are noticing this too. How do we show our kids that the holiday season is about more than getting presents? How do we keep our children grounded in the midst of all of the holiday excitement? 

Before I had children, I read articles about how kids long for more time with their parents, how they value traditions and family activities more than stuff. But since I was not yet a parent I truly didn't believe this, and I would watch children in the family tear open their presents and quickly move on to the next one and think that all they truly cared about was the stuff. 

It wasn't until I became a parent that I realized I was wrong. It is really true: Kids love baking cookies with mom and dad and making handmade gifts and cards to give away. Sure, they also love their presents, but there are many great ways to create a holiday season in your household this year that is less stressful and also teaches your children the true meaning of the holiday season.

Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is a national coalition of professionals and parents who have made it their mission to reclaim the idea of childhood from corporate marketers. According to their website, the CCFE is the only national group dedicated to limiting the effects commercial culture has on children. The organization has provided a web page of very useful tips from their members on how to create a commercial-free holiday in your home.

Andrea Mills is a member of CCFE, a mother of two Setauket Elementary sons and a preschool teacher at Playgroups Pre-School in East Setauket, and she has experienced how stressful the holidays can be for even the most conscientious families.

"It is so challenging to live in this world and somehow balance the values we want for our children with the realities of a commercialized childhood culture," she said.

For both families and people who work with young children, Mills offered these tips for surviving the holiday season:

  • "Establish holiday rituals that don't involve buying lots of stuff. Baking cookies, doing a craft, reading a special book (my own family read A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote every Christmas Eve in my childhood; it is one of my fondest memories)."
  • "If possible, avoid trips to department stores with your kids; out of sight, out of mind. ... My sons do a lot better without a visual of all the stuff they should have. The same for toy catalogs. It's not that I don't want my children to have nice gifts at the holidays, I just don't want it to be the sole focus, I don't want it to define them."

In our home this Christmas, there will be presents from Santa and the stockings will be filled, but I want to teach my children that the true holiday spirit is about being together, creating lasting traditions and giving to others.

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