“No hay nada mas espactacular que la inocencia y creencia en la magia que mi hijo me muestra. (There is nothing more spectacular than the innocence and belief in magic that my son shows me.)” — Tara from Me and the Mexican
There really is something magical about seeing your kids’ eyes light up with that innocence, that belief in magic. But what do you do when you can’t keep that magic alive?
We are not a religious family, but we are a spiritual family. We teach our kids to value and respect other people, to realize that we are a global community where everyone is connected. Helping others is same as helping yourself because of that connection. We teach our children the religious meaning that Christmas holds for many people, but we are not Christian. This time of year can be overwhelming for non-Christians: everywhere you go there is Christmas music; sidewalks are lined with holiday decorations; every tree is filled with Christmas lights. Santa Claus is everywhere. It is hard to ignore Christmas, and truth be told—we don’t even try. Instead, my husband and I teach our children that Santa represents “the spirit of giving.” It’s not just about making lists of what you want, and then getting it if you’ve been good—it’s about giving to others.
Each year, my children go through all of their belongings to find things they think other children would like to have: clothes, toys, books, games. We donate the items to a charity, or tell tell them that Santa recycles. They put their gently used items under the tree for Santa to take, then Santa exchanges them for new gifts. We also visit an indoor farmer’s market, dollar store, or small/safe shopping environment and give each child a small amount of money to buy gifts for whomever they choose. They shop, wrap, and deliver the gifts by themselves—sometimes for teachers, family members, or friends (one of my daughters asked that we send the money to Haiti to continue helping with earthquake relief; I think she has learned about the spirit of giving!) We try to deliver food to the local food pantry, put money in every Salvation Army kettle we pass, and talk about the fact that there are people in our community who need help. We look for ways to give to our community. The act of giving makes my kids’ faces light up with joy just as much as the act of receiving.
My kids also receive gifts from Santa. They still believe in the magic of giving and receiving. While we teach about the act of giving, they are still kids and they love getting presents. Even at their ages (7-11) they are still mystified by the appearance of gifts under the tree. We are trying hard to keep that magic alive….but this time of year is really hard financially. We are a paycheck-to-paycheck middle class family. Right now we are just getting by day-to-day. We are able to eat, pay our bills, and continue supporting our kids’ extracurricular interests; but this year we don’t have anything extra to give without giving something up. I have been worried. We always stress that this time of year is mainly about giving, but will my kids’ hearts be broken if they don’t receive this year?
As parents, once you’ve started the Santa story, how do you end it without devastating your kids?