Saturday 24 August 2019

Rekindling lost spirit of Christmas can help us all to be less selfish

New technology has changed the expectations of many children at Christmas time
New technology has changed the expectations of many children at Christmas time

Kathy Donaghy

Picture the scene - you get up on Christmas morning to witness a frenzied attack on toys as your children descend like a pack of wolves on their presents. You spend most of the rest of the day assembling Lego and dolls houses only to find that the kids can't be peeled away from the PlayStation to eat the Christmas dinner.

Imbuing the Christmas season with a sense of genuine wonder that lasts longer than the battery power of a robotic dinosaur can be difficult for parents when they are competing with so much "stuff" and are already stressed out with shopping, cooking and preparations.

Every year, the march of the commercial Christmas season comes earlier and earlier. We don't make it past Halloween before we're inundated with advertisements for the festive season. Black Friday, an American shopping construct we have imported with gusto, saw us hit the shops like we were back in the boom.

But in the rush to shop, how do we create new family Christmas traditions that actually mean something?

In an age of instant everything when many kids are expecting Santa to bring a piece of technology that will render them inaccessible to conversation, how do we connect with our children and make sure that they remember the magic of childhood Christmases?

It's an issue parents have been grappling with for decades. But perhaps the distractions of the past did not present such tough competition as an iPad or a PlayStation do.

It was the night my sons, aged five and eight, sat down to write their letters to Santa that I realised that unless we as a family made more of a conscious effort to associate Christmas with more than just "things", that when Santa is no longer a visitor to our home, Christmas might become hollowed out.

Even if you're not religious and won't be attending Church services, this is traditionally a time of year to take stock and reflect on life. In the past the Advent season in this country was marked by a period of fasting before the plenty of Christmas.

In his poem 'Advent', Patrick Kavanagh said: "We have tested and tasted too much lover, through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder". It sounds like it was written for today's society rather than 1940s Ireland.

When I think back to my own childhood, the things that stand out were seeing school friends at midnight mass and wishing them a "Happy Christmas" as we all went out into the night full of expectation.

It was visiting friends' and neighbours' houses on Christmas Eve, some nights having to walk as the road was too slippery to drive the car. It was getting the house decorated and going on a hunt outdoors for holly. It was watching Christmas movies in front of a roaring fire.

We all have a tendency to see our Christmas childhoods through rose-tinted glasses. But Irish society has changed radically and some of the old traditions are out of place in 21st century Ireland. But Christmas is still about making the space for family time, doing things together and indeed finding new things that will become the future traditions of your family.

Without sounding too Pollyanna-ish about the whole thing, perhaps the answer lies in how we live our own lives and how much of a sense of wonder we have about the season.

We can't expect our children to abandon their devices if we are glued to ours browsing on Amazon or checking Facebook to see how others decorated their Christmas trees or dressed up their cats for the festivities.

Talking about what Christmas means is a good place to start. Our children's school - like many others - invites families to participate in the annual Team Hope Christmas Shoebox appeal in November.

Families fill a shoebox with gifts for a child in need in Africa or eastern Europe.

Most parents agree it presents a great opportunity to have a conversation about the importance of sharing with those who have less and to open your child's eyes to things like global poverty.

This year, for the second year in a row, the local schools in our area participated in the creation of an Advent tree.

The children write their wishes for Christmas on laminated stars that are hung on the tree in the local Church.

These wishes are not about what Santa brings but about getting the children to make a wish for someone other than themselves.

One family I know spend the early part of Christmas Day delivering hot food to people who are on their own at this time of year. They wouldn't change it for the world.

Another family walk to the graveyard of their local church on Christmas Eve night to place candles on the graves of lost loved-ones.

For others, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a bracing swim in the sea for local charities. In my own family and in keeping with tradition, we've started scouring nearby woods for holly but are finding berries sorely scarce this year.

These are simple things - they don't cost money but they will become the stuff of powerful memories.

As in the story of the 'Grinch', it's about letting children know that Christmas "doesn't come from a store". As the Grinch himself said in the famous Dr Seuss classic: "Maybe Christmas … perhaps …means a little bit more."

Irish Independent

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