When you’re six years old, Christmas is magical. You sing in the Christmas program, get your picture taken with Santa, pore over the Toys R Us catalog, and make paper chains to festoon the classroom. By the time you get to the end of Christmas Day, you’re exhausted from all the excitement.
But somewhere around 12-13 years old, the magic disappears. There’s no Christmas program, it’s creepy to even consider sitting on Santa’s lap, nothing in the Toys R Us catalog interests you, and your middle school classrooms have few – if any – decorations. By the time you get to the end of Christmas Day, you’re disappointed and unsatisfied, and you can’t quite figure out why. It may have something to do with your gifts (earphones, a wallet, a handful of gift cards), but much of it stems from the days and weeks leading up to Christmas.
This is where we as parents can make a big difference. I can sum it up in three words: GET THEM INVOLVED. In our house, this started when my sons were toddlers. I would hand them unbreakable ornaments and let them decorate the bottom half of the tree. They thought this was so much fun, they would re-decorate the tree several times a day. As they got older, I would give them $5 and let them choose gifts for each other. I taught them how to wrap their presents, and they experienced the joy of watching someone’s pleasure at opening a gift from them.
In their teens, the boys wound lights around the tree with me, climbed on the roof to hang lights with Dad; hauled boxes of ornaments upstairs to the living room; folded, stuffed, stamped, and sealed the Christmas letters; wrapped a few gifts; and even filled stockings on Christmas Eve (but only once – after that they decided it was more fun to be surprised). They played shepherds, wisemen, and Joseph in the church Christmas pageant, sang and played in school Christmas concerts, and spent their own money on gifts for family and friends.
I invite my students to get involved, as well. The tree pictured in this post was assembled and decorated by this year’s students; I never laid a finger on it. I also had strings of lights around my bulletin boards, and icicle lights hanging from my ceiling – all hung by students. Our class adopted a needy family for Christmas, and as gifts came in, students would wrap them. The 7th and 8th grade girls got a kick out of playing Secret Santas to all staff members who didn’t have classrooms of their own (a list of about 50 people), and they discovered how much fun it is to give anonymously. I took my choir caroling around the entire campus – a first for many of them (when’s the last time you went caroling?).
Getting your teens involved not only benefits them, but it can also lessen some of your own stress. What’s on your list of last-minute, unfinished projects? Invite your teen to give you a hand, and then find a way to celebrate when the task is done, whether it’s with a run to Starbucks, or making popcorn and watching the Grinch together.
After all, it was Dr. Seuss who penned, “‘What if Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. . .?'”