Christmas Myths and Magic
Do you believe in Father Christmas? Will he be coming down your chimney while his reindeer hover overhead? Is his sleigh full of toys going to the next house which has good boys and girls tucked up in their beds? Do you have special food which must be left out for him? Can he only get to your house when you send him your list of special presents?
If you just want to revel in the magic of Christmas and see the delight on your children’s faces then I wish you a truly wonderful time. I sincerely hope it is many years before your children start to question the Christmas stories. However, if you are someone who feels mildly uncomfortable at creating myths to deceive your children because it makes this time of year very special then read on. They may be myths but they create a very special magic.
Magical stories boost our wellbeing. In recent years positive psychology has researched what makes a real difference to wellbeing and what you can do to boost the feel good factor. Looking at Christmas from this perspective helps us to understand why we do what we do.
Human beings have always told stories, especially when people get together in the cold and the dark wanting to feel safe, cherished and full of hope. Our ancestors used stories which made their families feel special, stories of magic which transformed disaster to triumph or which brought unexpected great fortune. Christmas comes just as that dark and dreary time of year begins and the magic it creates lifts our spirits. What’s not to like?
The power of a good story is something more than just the feel good factor we get straight away; it has the power to transform lives over a much longer period. Behind every good story is a profound message which resonates deep inside us. As a Child Psychologist and Wellbeing Coach I know the therapeutic power of stories. There are stories that can help children cope with grief and loss or can transform agonising anger or fear into the seeds of a happier life. Children’s emotions are powerful and not yet moderated by the rational, thinking brain which helps us to find solutions in adult life. Stories talk to the emotional brain and help children to learn important skills and deal with disappointment and difficult emotions.
Now back to Christmas. The weather is cold, but not delightfully so, in a snowy sort of way. It can be gray, boring and rather dull. That can be tough on our energy and our spirits. The Autumn Term at school has been long and hard and probably there is a new teacher to get to know. Your child may now be tired and easily upset. As the nights draw in, the opportunities to go out and let off steam reduce so there is spare energy which easily flips over into frustration. Then along comes Christmas with sparkly light and the promise of special treats all round. What a difference it makes. So how can we make the most of the benefits without everyone becoming stressed or over excited? So what can you weave into the magic mix for best effect?
Build the anticipation
Looking forward to something gives us pleasure. We take things slowly, savouring small pleasures like the advent calendar. One little chap I know got up at midnight on the first day so he could open the window on his advent calendar. That’s how special it was for him.
Knowing it is going to happen makes children feel, safe, loved and secure. Family rituals create special moments for each day which are the stepping stones along the way to help children manage the wait. Incidentally, learning to wait for something special is strongly linked to success in life probably because you learn self control and how to plan for the future.
Create a Christmas Count Down
If you don’t go in for advent calendars, then maybe you can create your own count down for the remaining days with pictures or photos of what you are doing. How lovely to have a record of everyone decorating the tree, wrapping presents, writing cards, visiting friends, or going to sing carols. Pictures capture the memories, but also help us to focus on the positives of the run up to Christmas rather than obsessing greedily on what you are hoping to be given.
- Enjoy each day as it comes
Some people say that Christmas is just one day of the year so why all the fuss? But when we expand the festive season positively and deliberately, the emotional and spiritual impact means so much more. You don’t have to be religious to value everything that goes with Christmas because the theme is about giving and hope which transcends all barriers of religion and culture.
- Focus on giving not receiving
The recent TV ad, you know the one, where the little boy can’t wait to see the joy on his parents’ faces may be intended as a sentimental joke but children love to give if they are helped to do so. Hand-made or small and carefully chosen gifts give real pleasure to both giver and receiver. Thinking of what someone will love to receive and then being thanked for your care and thoughtfulness is a profound pleasure which no amount of material bling can overshadow. In contrast receiving presents can be over in a flash and some small children rip off the paper in a rush and then loose interest in most of what they have been given. Taking time and sharing is a deeper and more lasting pleasure.
There are many charities and community projects which provide for those who are in need of support. Families which have a tradition of giving gifts to those in need find it reminds them they have much to be grateful for. Some families buy new gifts, while others pass on well loved and cared for toys so that another child can enjoy playing with something that has been special to them.
- Find time for gratitude and appreciation
How can you help young children to see that Christmas is not just about receiving gifts? The things you do together are on the day are part of the celebration of family and friends. What you eat, the games you play and even special films or TV programmes become part of the shared memory. There is something special about taking turns to open gifts so it is a shared experience. Small children may be impatient at first but making the experience last adds to the fun. Taking care to thank the giver and comment positively on what you have received expresses your gratitude for the care and thought that a gift represents. When children write thank you letters they include people in their thoughts who do not share Christmas with you. When something on a child’s wish list does not arrive, you can help your child to focus on what they do have and how that will add to their pleasure. Managing disappointment is a valuable life skill which will bring much more happiness and wellbeing in the long term than being spoilt and indulged can ever deliver.
Christmas may only be one day a year but it can add something special to wellbeing across the entire year.
I wish you all a truly happy and memorable Christmas and a Happy New Year 2015.