04 December 2018

Teaching Children the Meaning of Christmas

I'll preface this with a warning: you may not agree with what I'm writing, and that's OK. This was how Wayne and I raised our children, I'm not suggesting for one second that anyone else should copy us.

We are a practising Christian family, and money was tight when our children were small. I was brought up in a conservative faith, and we have raised our children in that faith.

As a result, Christmas in our house was, and is, a little different to Christmas in other homes in Australia.

We have always celebrated Christmas. I love this time of year. I love the decorating and the baking and the gift making, shopping, wrapping, hiding and giving. I love the meals with family and friends. I love the wreath on the door and the trees throughout the house. I get joy from the lights strung around the verandah.

But in our home they are embellishments. They are not the purpose or the meaning of Christmas.

Don't get me wrong. We give gifts to each other and to our family and friends, and take great joy in doing so. And we receive gifts from family and friends and take great joy in doing so.

It's nice to receive a gift, however small, from those we love and care for. It brings us closer together and shows that we're not forgotten and keeps us close.

We recognise December 25th as the anniversary of Jesus' birth. No one knows for certain just when he was born in that manger to Mary and Joseph, and so we celebrate the occasion on December 25.

As a family we recognise that Jesus lived a life of serving and giving and helping others. And so, through the year but especially at Christmas (we are celebrating Christ after all), we try to focus on serving and giving and sharing and helping, rather than on trees and decorations and and the presents we might receive.

Part of this was helping our children to choose gifts to make or buy to put under the Kmart wishing tree. When they were small we'd do this as a family. As they grew older, and were able to decide for themselves, we'd guide and advise and make suggestions for ways they could serve and share during the Advent season.

We've always encouraged them to give 10%, save 10% and use the remaining 80% of whatever money they have to live on. This meant that even as youngsters they had their own money to use for presents; they didn't hold out their hands for us to pay.

The other thing we did was actively discourage the belief in Santa Claus bringing any and all toys and books and games that they asked for. We also made sure that our children never told other children the truth about Santa Clause. We explained that some families had different beliefs to ours wehn it came to Santa Clause, and that was OK, but it wasn't our place to change that belief.

This came about mainly because we couldn't afford the latest and greatests toys or games, no matter how often the TV said Santa Clause would leave them under the Christmas tree.

Our children knew the money in my purse was limited and for milk or petrol or Playgroup fees. They understood that I didn't have money in my purse to pay for a new toy or book or ice-cream and accepted that and were OK with it.

So, when AJ asked for a toy - it was a Thunderbirds toy spaceship - and I showed him my purse and what the money was for, his trusting little 3 year old self told me that Santa Clause would bring it for him.

I'll be honest and say it broke my heart. We had already bought the Christmas presents and there was no more money, not even the $7 for that Thunderbirds toy. I knew he'd remember and be disappointed on Christmas morning when he didn't get it.

I prayed for wisdom to answer him without destroying his childhood.

Right there in the Kmart toy aisle I knelt down next to my little boy and explained that Santa Claus wouldn't be bringing that toy, because mummy and daddy didn't have the money to pay for it. I explained that after Christmas, mummys and daddys would get a bill for the presents under the Christmas tree, and that they had to pay it.

I told him that there would be presents under the tree, that we were able to pay for.

I was terrified that he wouldn't understand, that I'd shatter his childlike faith and illusions and ruin Christmas for him forever.

Instead he was OK with what I told him. No questions. No tantrums. No tears. No ruined Christmas.

He already understood that we had to have money to pay for what we wanted, and that if we didn't have the money then we had to save up for it. He also understood the concept of paying bills for what we had, and that if we couldn't pay the bill, we couldn't have whatever.

Come Christmas morning, the smiles and laughter were plentiful, and joyous. The presents were unwrapped and oohhed and ahhed over, and played with and shared and thoroughly enjoyed. Our little boys were thrilled with their ride-on tractor and trailer, and there wasn't a hint of disapointment.

That was 25 years ago (doesn't seem that long!) and Christmas is still joyful and fun, but the focus is more on the people and the reason, rather than the worldly trappings, now everyone is grown up.

This year we'll be celebrating at home, as usual. We'll have our tree, with presents under it. We'll have family and friends to share meals with. And all the while, we'll be remembering the reason we celebrate the way we do.


  1. What an amazing, wise mother you are Cath. I'm so glad we were not the only ones to bypass Santa in trying to resist the consumerism of the Christmas Season. Like you, we tried to focus more on the spirituality of the season and never entertained the Santa concept, whilst trying to be respectful of others who choose to do so, as you rightly point out. Our kids are 3 beautiful teens who are balanced and (mostly) grateful for what they have. Well done, credit to you and Wayne.

    1. Thank you Veronica, but I'm not sure about wise. Way back then I was terrified I'd not only disappoint my babies, but that I'd cause them unimaginable emotional damange, it was out of sheer panic and terror that I explained the way I did. They've turned out OK, reasonably well rounded, kind and generous, with a good dab of empathy - we're rather proud of them, although I am always amazed because I know I, and Wayne, and us as a team, made some doozies of mistakes over the years :)

  2. Love this post Cath, you expressed your feelings so beautifully xxx


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