Kids and the Holiday Spirit — Pandemic Edition

December is upon us, and with it comes a couple of big holidays with some serious gift-giving expectations attached. I’ve always loved and looked forward so much to this time of year. I love the twinkly lights, the smell of cinnamon and fir trees, carols and hot cocoa, and cuddling by a warm fire and watching holiday movies. It all has a magical quality about it, and I credit the wonderful memories of the Christmases of my childhood for making this time of year feel so special.

This year, owing to everything going on in the world, many of us are approaching the holiday season a little differently than ever before. By the time the 25th comes around, we’ll be over nine months into a global pandemic and the social distancing that comes with it. Many of our traditions are having to change, or even be suspended this year. And so, as a family therapist and as a mother, I feel the weight of responsibility to be really intentional about the holidays this year and to work extra hard to build special memories for my little ones. As always, I’ll revive some of my husband’s and my own childhood holiday traditions, and continue some that we’ve created on our own. They’re things that I hope my children look forward to throughout their childhoods, and that I hope they’ll carry forward into her own families someday. What do I want my children to remember when they think back on their childhood Christmases, and how will I work to instill those things this year?

I want them to remember family. By this I mean both our little family of four, and our extended family that includes their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. So I plan to make sure that in all the hustle and bustle of this month, we spend some special time together–just the four of us–laying on the floor under the Christmas tree and gazing up at the lights, strolling through our neighborhood to see the lights on our neighbors’ houses, watching Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on TV, and just being together. I’ll pare down my family counseling schedule a bit so that I have time to do those things — one of my greatest challenges. I also want to make sure to stay connected to our relatives, so we’ll take extra care to connect with our loved ones in the weeks leading up to Christmas to share our excitement. While we might normally do a bit of pre-holiday traveling, this year we’ll swap in video chats — maybe watch a movie together, drink hot cocoa together, or show off our decorations for each other. As a family, we’ll wrap gifts together and talk about the people we love to whom the gifts will be sent, and why we chose the gifts we did for them. We’ll say out loud on Christmas Day how much we miss grandma and grandpa, and how much we wish we could be with them.

I want them to remember magic. I want my kids to someday look back on the Christmases of their childhood and remember what it felt like to truly believe in the tiny magical touches that punctuated our celebrations. So I’ll think of funny places to hide Twinkie Stinkletoes, our Elf on the Shelf. I’ll wait in line so my kids can take a socially-distant picture with Santa (yes, this is a thing!), and put out the milk, cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve. They may be the same things that everyone else is doing, but there’s a reason for that. They’re good stories, they’re interesting to young kids, and they inspire that feeling of childlike wonderment. I want to capture that while I can — there is plenty of time for kids to turn into adults who know the truth, but just a few years when they can believe in magic.

I want them to remember tradition. There were certain things that my family did every year at Christmas, and looking back, those are some of the memories that stand out most to me. Attending the Christmas Eve service at our church, eating clam chowder and sourdough bread for Christmas Eve dinner, and getting up early on Christmas morning to unwrap our presents from Santa in our pajamas — those were all part of how I defined Christmas as a kid. This year, I’ll continue our tradition of giving each of our children a new book and a pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve, then cuddling on the couch together as a family to read a story that none of us have heard before. When they’re teenagers or young adults home from college, I hope they’ll look forward with joyful anticipation to sitting on that same couch with us and reading and snuggling together.

Most of all, I want them to remember giving. I think it’s too easy for kids to get hyper-focused on all they want to receive for Christmas. As hard as I work to reinforce the message that giving is the most important thing about the holidays, my own kids do get caught up in everything they want, want, want — sometimes even going so far as to refer to their Santa lists as their “orders!” I want to do everything I can to make sure that they grow up knowing that there is so much more joy in giving — and in being grateful for all that we have. So, as we do each year, we’ll start that this year by really emphasizing how excited we are to give in a variety of ways. We’ll “adopt” children the same ages as ours from a local organization called Mobile Hope, and shop together for a child who might not otherwise receive gifts on Christmas. We’ll write a letter to a deployed soldier, and talk about how important their service is, how hard it must be to be away from their family, and what else we could send to him or her that would make Christmas a little brighter. And we’ll start a tradition of creating a homemade gift together, shifting our focus away from the excitement of what we might receive and instead to our excitement about what we get to give. We’ll talk about how our gift might bring joy to others, rather than what we want for ourselves.

As easy and tempting as it is to turn inward during this pandemic holiday season, I encourage you to focus on connection, and what you can do to bring joy to the world. It may be harder than usual, but it is certainly still possible.

What are some of the things that you hope to instill in our kids this Christmas season, and how will you do it? Comment below!

Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides family, couple, and individual therapy in both our downtown Bethesda, MD and Sterling, VA offices. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Lindsey.