Sunday, December 11, 2005

Teaching the Meaning of Christmas

Even if your child is very young, you can begin now to teach the true meaning of Christmas. That's right, you can begin to lay the foundation for the values and the traditions that will head your little one down the path of understanding that it's more important to give than to receive and that the spirit of fellowship and brotherhood that we all crave is within their grasp.

The trick is to avoid having a gift-receiving orgy on Christmas Day. Take the focus off of the gift-unwrapping ritual and put it where it belongs-on giving of yourself to other people. One way to do this is to involve your children (and yes, even babies) in a new Christmas tradition. This Christmas, after the wrapping paper is ripped and the breakfast is eaten, take a few moments and go visit a nursing home. That's right, I said a nursing home. Never mind that the home where your Great Aunt Bessie lives is two hundred miles away. Visit the one that's right down the street from your house. You'll light up some lives when you do.

We've done this for years at our house. Around ten in the morning works well for us-the kids have opened their presents and had a chance to be excited about their new toys. We've had breakfast and cleaned up some of the mess. There are a few hours to spare before it's time to start cooking the big holiday dinner. We pack up in the car and drive across town to the nursing home and spend an hour or so walking around.

I always tell the kids that I hope the place is completely empty when we get there, because that would mean that each person is off with his or her family enjoying the holiday the way it was meant to be. But sure enough, when we unload from the car and get inside, there are still residents roaming the hallways and sitting around the lounges. Some are waiting for loved ones to pick them up later, but many have no one to celebrate with. These are the people that we've come to see.

When the girls were babies, we carried them right with us. The older residents lit up to match the Christmas trees when we brought the babies with us. Something about young children on Christmas Day gladdens the heart, and the residents were always very glad to see the girls. Sometimes I had to do a little creative interference when a grandmotherly sort wanted to hold the baby and I didn't trust that she was strong or capable enough, but for the most part, the folks were quite content just to watch the kids run around and say the occasional "Merry Christmas."

We walked through the hallways, dropped off unaddressed cards that the kids had made and signed, sang a few carols, and made a lot of people smile. It's such a small part of our day, but a huge celebration to the people who feel that they've been forgotten. It only takes a few short minutes to bring a smile to the faces of the residents, and the children and babies are a big part of that.

So give it some thought. Take your baby to the nursing home on Christmas Day. Even if you don't have a close friend or relative there, the people there will be desparately glad to see you and your children. If you've not done this before, call a day or two ahead of time to set your visit up with the administration. But go. Stay a while. You'll be very, very glad that you did, and you will be teaching your children to put some giving into their holiday. That lesson will last a lifetime.

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