I'm not religious but our Christmas is still magical
How do you teach your children the true meaning of Christmas when you don't believe it yourself?
A few years ago, when my son Harry was at preschool, the teacher asked the children - ranging from two to four years old - what Christmas was about. Answers included the inevitable "presents" and then rambled through Father Christmas, snow, reindeer, Rudolf, chocolate, even Christmas trees and lights. Not one child mentioned Jesus. And, even though I’m not in the least bit religious, I was horrified.
Christmas is my favourite time of year. And I don't just love the eating/drinking/gifts aspect of the holiday, I love it all, including the Christmas story and the carols. I still believe that the true meaning of Christmas is the story of the nativity - even though I believe it’s just that: a story. But how can I teach Harry about the true meaning of Christmas when I don't actually believe it myself?
Sharing the story
Before Harry was even born, I bought a book by Nicholas Allan called Jesus's Christmas Party. It's such a sweet, charming and funny book. It tells the story of the nativity, but in a way even the youngest child can understand. Plus, it's magical. The last page never fails to fill my eyes with tears. Even now that he’s storming towards seven, reading it to Harry for the first time in early December guarantees he'll be asking for it for the rest of the month.
Going to church
We are not churchgoers - we didn't even get married in church and neither of the boys is christened - but at Christmas, I love it. On Christmas Eve, we go to my inlaws’ church for the Blessing of the Crib. We sing carols. I cry at the tiny, piping singing voices of the children (can anyone hear children singing Silent Night and not cry?) and then we have a mince pie and go home, full of Christmas spirit.
Giving to charity
This year, Harry’s class learned Do They Know It’s Christmas as part of their Christmas play. “Do you know,” Harry asked me. “There won’t be snow in Africa this Chrismas time?” No, I said, it doesn’t snow in Africa, it’s too hot. “And,” he continued. “The greatest gift the children will get is life.” Cursing Bob Geldof, I explained to Harry that it wasn’t literally true, but it was the case that many children in Africa and elsewhere in the world aren’t as lucky as he is and won’t be getting so many presents. In fact, yes, they are actually at risk of dying of starvation or lack of access to clean water, amongst other things. “You should tell the news about that,” Harry said. “I think people would want to know.” Once I’d finished squeezing him and counting my blessings, I suggested we might want to do something to help other children and he agreed to put together a bag of toys to donate to charity.
But why bother?
Why do I want Harry to believe when I don't? It's not that I want him to believe (although if he does, that's fine with me too), but I do want both of my boys to associate Christmas not with presents and chocolate, but with hope, wonder, love, kindness and joy.
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