FOR children, what’s not to love about the festive season? There’s great food, lots of parties, pretty decorations, the promise of summer holidays and let’s not forget the presents.
But it is the rituals that many families adopt around this time of the year that many kiddies are also getting so much out of – even if only subconsciously – according to research and the experts.
Barbara Biziou, US ritual expert and author of the Joy of Family Rituals (Macmillan), says the yuletide traditions, regardless of religion, help form important foundations in a child’s life.
“Christmas is not just a personal celebration. Kids feel part of something larger in which they can connect to the community, their friends and, depending on their family, a sense of spirituality,” she says.
“Rituals like Christmas act as anchors for kids and give them a sense of belonging and safety. Rituals give structure and order to our lives. Research shows that kids remember early rituals that provide comfort and connection even more than fancy presents or events.”
She’s right about the research. Studies conducted at the George Washington University have found that if children grow up in a family with strong rituals, they’re more likely to be resilient as an adult. There’s even a branch of therapy in which families in conflict or facing issues are encouraged to create rituals, even as simple as singing the same song at bed time.
But Christmas is bigger and something shared by many millions of people. And, says Biziou, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or not as it’s the connecting values and sense of community that so many people enjoy, not necessarily the religious message.
“Christmas transcends all religions,” she says. “Children from all countries delight in meeting Santa Claus. Listening to Christmas carols gladdens the hearts of millions. I think it gives kids and adults a wider respect for other cultures if they understand the religious and pagan background of Christmas.”
Readers share their Christmas traditions
Michelle, mum of two: “We have street Santa. It started over 20 years ago. On Christmas Eve, the parents take a small gift to one of the neighbours who then takes the sack of goodies to the “street Santa” for that year (usually one of the dads or an older teenager). On Christmas morning Santa comes down our street either on skateboard, scooter, bike, carrying a surfboard and he hands out the gifts. We all have a Christmas morning drink wish each other a merry Christmas before we head off to our respective events for the day. The look on the little children’s faces each year as Santa comes down the street is priceless – even though in my case these “kids” are now 15 and 18.”
Anitra, mum of one: “We make some version of a Christmas “tree” each year. It started as a “Christmas Twig”, but since then each year we’ve done something different from painting a tree on a canvas to spiralled white tinsel. Much more fun, and creative, than buying in to the stereotype.”
Becky, mum of three: “Christmas is one big rolling ritual but a big one for our family is putting up the tree. It’s always an activity we all gather for. Christmas music is put on the stereo (we go for the Dean Martin style of carols), we don our Santa hats and start decorating. Like my mum did, I hand out the ornaments – most have the kids’ names on them and the year they received them. Many have funny stories attached. At the end of the process each child has a go at crowning the tree with our fairly tacky angel and then we sit down for a family dinner of something yummy.”