Q: We're celebrating the first Christmas with our newborn twins. As they grow older, do you think we should let them believe in Santa Claus?
Jim: Our organization doesn't endorse any specific viewpoint regarding Santa, Christmas trees and other Western traditions. Some families enjoy these aspects of the Christmas season; others consider them detractions from the true meaning of the holiday.
I'll say this, though: If you choose to allow your children to believe in Santa Claus, just be sure to tell them about the real St. Nick.
St. Nicholas lived in Asia Minor in the fourth century and was well known for his compassion for those in need. He was also a humble man who relied on secrecy to avoid receiving praise for his actions. Tradition says he once rescued three young women whose father had no money for their dowry; at that time, girls who remained unmarried risked being sold into slavery. So one night St. Nicholas sneaked into the family's home and left gold coins in the girls' stockings, which were drying by the fireplace. That historic figure is, of course, where we get our modern version of the jolly fellow in the red suit who loads up stockings on Christmas Eve.
The original St. Nick is also a good reminder of what the heart of this season is all about. It really is about gifts, and not just the kind you put under a tree. It's a baby, born in a manger, given as a gift to all mankind. It's about each of us giving from whatever abundance we have to someone else less fortunate. It's about caring for people in need and making their world a little brighter.
Q: Our family loves Christmas! Our only concern is that our sons (ages 5 and 7) are at a stage where they focus on themselves and what presents they're getting. We'd like to help them learn to be less self-centered and to think about others. Any ideas?
Danny Huerta, Vice President of Parenting & Youth: Your kids are normal -- which isn't good! We all need encouragement to put others ahead of ourselves, year-round. The holiday focus on "getting stuff" provides context for teaching children to think about the needs and wants of others.
One great way to convey this lesson is through family activities. Doing even simple things together gives children an opportunity to consider "us," not just "me." Building a snowman, shoveling snow, making a craft or baking cookies together are great ways to highlight the importance of family and cooperation. Christmas-related traditions such as a family Advent calendar can build unity while teaching about the real reason for the season (for free Advent resources and activities, see ThrivingFamily.com/Advent).
You can shift the emphasis off of self through service to others. Talk with your kids about how the first Christmas wasn't about getting; it was about giving the world the perfect Gift. Then ask them to think about ways they can give selflessly to others -- like making cookies and delivering them to an elderly person, or helping to clear snow from someone else's driveway. Giving shows kids the sacrifice involved in what others give to them. This helps them develop gratitude.
You can also encourage each member of the family to make gifts for each other instead of buying something. The effort of handcrafting or baking something engages our minds and hearts in thinking about the recipient while we're doing it.
There's no better time than the holidays to teach the value of thinking of others more frequently than one's self. And that's a gift that will keep on giving!
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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