It seems we all struggle this time of year to give our children a more meaningful holiday – something more than a pile of boxes to unwrap. But how? Resisting the tug of more – one more gift, a few more errands, a tad more time, just a dozen more cards – is hard to do, maybe especially so in our busy winter wonderland. So we asked for advice from Aspen grandmother and retired Waldorf early childhood teacher and mentor ~ CP Kanipe
When I became a parent, I met the holidays with mixed feelings. My husband Stephen and I felt fed up with the materialism that seemed to dominate our culture from Halloween to Valentine’s day – and yet we loved this time of year. We asked ourselves how our culture has substituted physical gifts for what we really desire? We wanted to shape our celebration of the holidays around our values and the heart of our spirituality. As young parents, we wanted a more meaningful holiday and didn’t know how to start.
One of the gifts of being a teacher is that I needed to think consciously about how I could bring the holidays to my students, and this helped me try a lot of different ways to bring this time of year to my family. In the following pages, I will share a few of the activities that worked for us. The Peace of the Season comes in avoiding taking on too much, so you might try just one new thing at a time.
It seems that many parents start, like my husband and I did, by talking about our childhood traditions and thinking about what truly felt good.
I look back on my own childhood, pouring through catalogs deciding what to ask for from Santa. Mostly it was about “things.” “Meaningful Holiday” wasn’t something we thought about. This was during the ’50s and consumerism was on fast-forward. I come from a family of five children, so life was always busy. At the holidays, more so. It seemed we had very little time or consciousness for slowing down.
What resonates with you?
The most satisfying of my childhood memories center around the times spent together with others – baking and decorating traditional sugar cookies, spending Christmas Eve at my maternal grandmother’s house. Our neighbor, a fashion model without children, gathered 8-10 children for singing Christmas Carols door-to-door around our Kentucky community. The model asked for donations for orphans and children with special needs. Then she invited us to her beautiful home, where she served hot chocolate and homemade doughnut holes. I remember candlelight, wonderful aromas, and a very talkative pet parrot. I can still taste those treats! And then, sometime in January, an article would appear in our local paper with our picture and a narrative. At the time, we were too young to see this for anything other than the fun we had and the feeling of togetherness it brought.
Festivals of Light
All of our religious and non-religious festivals have a spiritual component often coming from Pagan roots. These ancient people of the earth from many centuries ago did not have an organized religion. They followed the seasons, the movement of the stars, and the rhythms of the natural world. From them, most cultures celebrate “Festivals of Light” that land during the darkest time of the year. As the outer light fades, we bring our own light, symbolized by candles, into the darkness of winter.
When I was teaching in preschool/kindergarten, I celebrated all of the holidays, to include every child in the class. This gave me an opportunity to grow spiritually by embracing other traditions.
One year, a family in our school with both African and Native American heritage brought their celebration of Kwanzaa to the parents and students. The name means “the first,” and it relates to the first fruits of the harvest. So we tried Caribbean and Creole dishes. The seven-day celebration between December 26 and January 1 involves lighting one candle each night, and sitting with the underlying message, to: “walk gently, act justly, relate righteously in the world – for the world, and all that is in it.”
During Hanukkah, we ate potato latkes and applesauce for a snack in the kindergarten classroom. We lit candles on a menorah – first one and then two, adding one candle each day for eight days. We said the traditional prayer and even danced the Hora! What fun with a group of 3, 4, and 5-year-olds!
A friend shared her family’s “no chores, no work” tradition that allowed her family to just “be” while they watched their Hanukkah candles burn. Chores waited until the next morning. Everyone sat together relaxing and basking in the glow of the candles in the menorah.
In Christian traditions, Advent is preparing for the coming of the Light, the birth of the Christ child. For Pagan cultures, it is praying for the Light to return. I grew up Christian, but we never celebrated Advent. For me, this was a new concept. This time of “preparation” changed everything for me. Rather than thinking of the holidays as a long list of things that had to be done, we started seeing these things as ways to escape the frenzy, ways to slow down together.
We began seeing Advent as a time to “get things done,” and this lessened the hurry and impatience surrounding Christmas day. We began preparing our house, our food, and gifts over time, usually beginning on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Of course, with work and school, life was plenty busy so we did our best to hold this as a sacred time.
Each year, we make an Advent Wreath using boughs trimmed from our tree, and we keep it on the dinner table. Before dinner, we light a candle, adding one candle each week for four weeks. I like this because it is a physical reminder of the slow progression of time toward the holiday. We light a small candle in the center on Christmas Eve.
12 Days of Christmas
There’s way more to it than a song. One gift per day beginning Christmas day and ending January 5. The idea being that Christmas day isn’t a frenzy of opening one gift after another. It helps to calm the materialism that often seems overwhelming. Maybe one or two gifts on Christmas day – one from us and one from Santa. It allowed us to shop during the “After Christmas” sales. I think the best part was that all the build-up leading up to Christmas didn’t end abruptly December 26. It was a slow downhill coast back to normalcy. It felt more satisfying and complete this way.
Handmade gifts & holiday baking
The beauty of handmade gifts lies in the fact that someone took their time to make something. My husband brought the tradition of holiday baking into our home life. He had baked cookies and treats with his mother as a child and so he baked with our children. In fact, he STILL bakes! Our daughter, now 37, is also a baker. She and her children make a variety of holiday treats, including jams and cookies, and give them as gifts to friends, neighbors, and teachers. They don’t need to be perfect. They just need to come from the heart.
Giving Experiences instead of things
As our children grew older, we gave experiences; tickets to a future theater production in Denver. Cross country skiing at Ashcroft and lunch at The Pine Creek Cookhouse. This meant that we carved out time together as our lives became busier and schedules didn’t always fit.
In the end, the sense of connection we feel for one another is what we can express when we acknowledge all that we have been given. Cultivating the quality of gratitude is another way to slow down and savor this time of year.
Let It Go if it doesn’t work
Our own traditions started small and built upon themselves. We tried to keep things simple, mindful. We tried to slow down and breathe. Some traditions worked for us. Some didn’t. Some have evolved. Some have been adopted by our grown daughter and her husband for their five children, and some have not. Over the years, we learned that what we truly gave was our time, our intention, and our love. This is the gift of ourselves.
CP Kanipe is a grandmother, retired Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork early-childhood teacher and mentor. She is also the wise woman behind Mountain Parent’s “Mind Your Manners” article about teaching our children about common courtesies.
LEARN MORE about Holiday Traditions with Mountain Parent’s “Feliz Navidad: Traditional Latin American Holiday Recipes.”
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