Dear Santa, please bring me chocolate for my friends

Thoughts on avoiding too much commercialism this time of year – and what my toddler has taught me about it.

Winter time is upon us. Twinkle lights are twinkling and jingles are jingling. And the powerful dark pull of marketing is screaming BUY STUFF NOW!

My daughter’s two and a half, and this is the first Christmas she’s really been aware of what’s going on. The lure to write long letters to Santa and bankrupt ourselves trying to fulfil them is strong. But I have learnt a few ways to combat it.

What is Christmas?

We’re not a religious family, so sadly we don’t have that aspect to fall back on. However, there are some things I like to focus on when explaining to my daughter what Christmas is. (As a side note, I like to try and avoid the term ‘Christmas’ when I can, but it’s culturally very difficult. I do know that even many religious people have accepted that there is religious Christmas and there is secular Christmas – almost like religious and civil weddings.)

I told her that people have lots of different ways of bringing warmth and light into the middle of winter, and lots of different names for it, but mostly we call it Christmas. As she grows up, I’ll teach her in more detail about the winter solstice, Hannukah, Diwali, etc.

A Question of Jesus

My mum’s just moved in with us and attends church on a Sunday, so the issue of religion has come up recently in any case.

I’ve defined church to my daughter as an important time for some people to meet their friends, and have a sit and think (a concept she’s familiar with). I’ve said it’s not for everyone, and we have different ways of doing that, but church is important to Nana.

Although we can stick with a fairly pagan/solstice definition of the time of year, it’s culturally difficult to avoid the question of Jesus.

Fortunately, I think that he was a pretty cool guy; where I differ from many others is the belief that he was the son of God. So I’ve explained to my daughter that Jesus was an important man who tried to get everyone to take care of each other, and some people celebrate his birthday at Christmas, given that we don’t know when he was born. “Some people, like Nana, also think that Jesus is magic. Me and mummy don’t think that, but you can decide for yourself.”

So that’s December. Joy, light, family. I’m trying *not* to define the festival in terms of ‘it’s when everyone gets presents or ‘it’s when we eat too much food’.

Advent calendar – to and fro

Advent calendars have got fancy since my day! We were happy enough with a new little picture every day, and even the chocolate calendars were considered too commercial. This year though, my Mum has given her grandchildren a lovely little train each, with little drawers containing nick nacks: a piece of chocolate, some hairbands etc.

It’s beautiful, but it was important to me to counteract the daily gift received with something given. So we’ve been doing the reverse advent calendar, too. Every day, she excitedly opens the next drawer on her train and exclaims over what it contains. Then – just as excitedly, she’ll say ‘now let’s do the bag for people who don’t have anything!’ We go to the kitchen and find some unopened rice, or a tin of something, and put it in the bag to go to the food bank.*

Writing to Santa – what do my friends want?

I’ve prevaricated over the question of Santa. There’s lots more I might go into in a separate blog – and in the meantime I’ll leave a link to this piece about becoming a Santa.

But for now, for me it’s an important part of the magic of the time of year. So, we were talking recently about writing him a letter.

After listing a couple of things she wanted – some Finding Nemo patches and some beads – she ran out of ideas. I suggested maybe some chocolate.

‘Oh yes!’ she enthused. ‘A teeny tiny chocolate reindeer.’

‘And one for Heather, and one for Stuart!’ (two of her cousins) ‘And a big chocolate reindeer for you, and one for Mummy!’

Without knowing it, she’d stumbled on a brilliant idea – asking Santa not only for things that you want, but things that your friends want. I think this is a genius way of teaching kids about the inherent joy in giving, not just in receiving.

So when we write the letter to Santa – this year and in years to come – it’ll include a few things for her, and a few things for her friends.

Her stocking – which is quite big – can look fairly full, without being full of crap, and she gets to think about her friends and family’s wishes right from the get-go, which is so much of what this time of year is about.

This might become harder as she gets older, but I also envisage that as she discovers the truth about Santa – that we are all Santa – the stocking will become, more and more, about gifts for others.

* (A tip: I’ve been checking the date first. Some things have been languishing in our cupboard for a while, and it’s a problem for food banks that people give away out-of-date produce. I’ll also mention that many food banks prefer financial donations, but for this purpose we need something to connect with emotionally.)

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