There’s no time of the year more magical, especially for children, than the season of Advent and the coming of Christmas. Even I, a child in an aging body with more grey hair than I had hoped for at this age, continue to experience the magic of Christmas all these years later.
It’s true– it is the most wonderful time of the year.
The decorating. The music. The movies (Home Alone > Elf). The fun foods. The visits from those both near and far. And then there’s the anticipation of presents.
Ah, yes. Presents.
While I reject the over-commercialization of Christmas, I think gift-giving is and can be a beautiful aspect of Christmas celebrations. Giving loved ones gifts is an opportunity to express love, an opportunity to be thoughtful, and an opportunity to meet one another’s needs.
Yet, I fear that far too often we have programmed our children to see Christmas as being more about gift-receiving than gift-giving. We do this through a simple question I think is perhaps the most often asked question to kids at Christmas:
“What do you want for Christmas this year?”
The question of all questions… What do you want for Christmas this year?
As a kid that question was on my mind before the leaves had finished falling from the trees. One of the highlights of the year was the arrival of the Sears and JC Penny catalogs, which would prompt me to go find a black sharpie and circle everything I wanted for Christmas that year.
While circling things in a catalogue has been replaced by Amazon wish lists, the principle remains the same: we so often ask kids, “What do you want for Christmas this year?” that such a question becomes a main focus of the holiday season. If asked this question too many times, one could understand if a child became self-focused and missed out of the beauty of thoughtfully considering ways to express and show love towards others at Christmas.
And that’s a beauty I’d hate for any child to miss out on. As a parent I have discovered that I enjoy gift-giving every bit as much as I enjoyed gift-receiving as a child, but I certainly wish I had discovered this reality sooner. I wish that I had known thoughtful gift-giving isn’t a mindless, obligatory action but is actually one of the languages of love.
One of the ways we can begin to re-program our children is simply by reframing the most common question we ask kids at Christmas. Instead of asking, “What do you want for Christmas this year?” we can begin asking them, “What would you like to give for Christmas this year?”
While the first question invites conversations about wants and materialism, the second question invites us into conversations about the people in our children’s lives, the ways we can show love towards them, and all sorts of other beautiful rabbit trails that can only be explored and discovered when we begin to ask the question differently.
In fact, reframing the most common question we ask children at Christmas helps to point the way towards the reason we celebrate at all: the fact that God gave, God loved, and God served.
In Jesus, we see the birth of the Christ-child– the one who emptied himself of all that was rightfully his to become a frail, human baby. Jesus grew up to become the one who claimed he came “not to be served, but to serve” and showed us the very best way to live: giving our lives to others.
And so, when we reframe the most common question we ask kids at Christmas, we’re not simply teaching them how to be thoughtful, other-focused individuals– we’re actually teaching them how to be like Jesus.
May we, the people who desire to raise children who live like Jesus, practice reframing the most common question we ask kids at Christmas, that we might pass on the joy and wonder that can only be experienced when we give.