Christmas—Does It Cost More Than You Think?
“MOMMY, Daddy—is there really a Santa Claus?” It is the moment of truth that many parents dread. With a mixture of disappointment and hurt in his eyes, seven-year-old Jimmy begs for reassurance that the fantasy figure who brought all those wonderful presents really exists—and that his parents have not lied to him.
As it turns out, the little boy next door was the culprit who revealed the awful truth and put these parents in this awkward position. Perhaps your childhood memories include a like episode.
Today’s holiday celebrations are much more than just religious observances. Christmas, it seems, has worked itself into some unlikely places. Japanese Buddhists, African animists, American Jews, and Singaporean Muslims alike have opened the door to the rotund, red-suited man bearing gifts. One religious leader asked, “Has not Christmas become a universal holiday observed by all?”
In the eyes of many, Christmas has shed its Western “Christian” costume and become an enchanting time of festive fun for all. Children are at the heart of the celebration. Some people would dare to say that no child’s life is complete without the magical fun of this holiday. Seemingly, it is here to stay. School curriculum revolves around it. TV glorifies it. Malls and department stores parade it. Parents pour much time and money into Christmas. But besides the usual aftermath of burdensome debt, is there a heavier price your family may pay?
The Santa Myth—Breach of Trust?
“I don’t believe there is a God,” seven-year-old John told his mother. A World Herald article explains why: “John, it seemed, had learned earlier that day that Santa Claus wasn’t real. Maybe God wasn’t real either, he told his mother.” Recalling his early disillusionment, 25-year-old John said: “When parents tell children Santa is real, I think that probably is a breach of trust.”
What to do about this delicate situation? Child experts disagree. One encouraged parents to tell their children the truth by age six or seven, warning that “it may actually be harmful to their psyches if parents persist in perpetuating the myth.”
In the book Why Kids Lie—How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness, Dr. Paul Ekman states: “There is no doubt that you as parents have a major influence on your children when it comes to attitudes, beliefs, and social actions such as lying or cheating.” Ekman continues: “Relationships may not be the same once a lie has violated trust. The loss of trust is difficult to repair; sometimes it is never reparable.” So why carry on deception when it comes to holiday giving?
One child researcher asserted: “I think children are more traumatized by parents lying to them and deceiving them than they are about finding out that Santa Claus isn’t real.” Dr. Judith A. Boss, professor of philosophy, states: “The intention of adults . . . is to deliberately mislead children about the nature of Santa Claus. . . . In telling children Santa Claus is a real human, we are not engaging children’s imaginations. We are simply lying to them.”
If you are a parent, you have a gigantic challenge on your hands—to raise loving, happy children in a world where they learn from an early age that people cannot be trusted. “Don’t talk to strangers.” “You can’t believe everything the TV ad says.” “Tell them Mommy isn’t home.” How does a child learn whom to trust? The book How to Help Your Child Grow Up says: “Little children must learn early the necessity and beauty of honesty, of courage, of honorable dealing with others; and home is where these have their beginning.”
Of course, there is no such thing as the perfect family. However, author Dolores Curran set out to identify the character of strong families. She asked 551 family specialists in various fields to choose the most important aspects. Her findings, in the book Traits of a Healthy Family, discuss the top 15 qualities selected by the experts. Trait number four was “a sense of trust.” “In the healthy family,” she says, “trust is recognized as a precious possession, carefully developed and nurtured as both children and parents progress through the various stages of family life together.”
Parents do well to ask, ‘Is the perpetuation of the Santa myth worth the price of my child’s confidence and trust in me?’ There may be no refund possible. Does Christmas have other hidden costs?
Too Much Giving?
“Begin with infancy to give the child everything he wants. In this way he will grow to believe the world owes him a living,” says the pamphlet 12 Rules for Raising Delinquent Children. Overemphasizing material things can indeed be harmful.
Writer and parent Maureen Orth asks, “How do we instill values and character in a material world such as ours, where consumption and greed seem so glorified, often unwittingly?” In the article “The Gift of Not Giving,” she laments: “Our toddler-emperor believes presents are an everyday occurrence—like getting the mail.” Is this the real message of Christmas?
What of families who simply cannot afford the lavish gifts hawked as Christmas musts? How do those youths feel when they hear that Santa brings presents only to good children? And what about youngsters in broken homes who are made painfully aware of the gap in their families at holiday time?
“All too often the highlight of the holiday gathering is opening the presents,” says The New York Times. “That emphasis gives children the message that presents are what the family gathering is all about and sets them up for disappointment.”
Love is an even more fulfilling motivation to do good. Glenn Austin, author of Love and Power: Parent and Child, states: “In a harmonious family where the child both loves and respects the parent, the child may behave in an approved way to please the parent.” Jehovah’s Witnesses work hard to create such a warm cycle of love in their homes. Additionally, the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are raised to know and love the God they serve, Jehovah. What a powerful force in their lives for the doing of good! They need no mythical figure to extort good works.
Jehovah’s Witnesses cherish their children as gifts from God. (Psalm 127:3) Hence, instead of waiting for the calendar to govern gift giving, these parents can give presents throughout the year. At such times it is difficult to tell who is more thrilled—the surprised youngster or his delighted parent. The child knows where the gift came from. Further, Witness parents are encouraged to give frequently the gift of their time. For when a little girl is feeling sad or lonely, how can a roomful of dolls compare with a few moments spent wrapped in her mother’s arms listening to Mommy tell stories about when she was little? Will a young boy be taught how to be a man by a closetful of baseball equipment or by long, pleasant talks with his father as they go for walks together?
This nurtured closeness can be lifesaving. Child researchers have found that as the proverbial generation gap opens for a youth, he becomes more strongly influenced by peers. Youthful misbehavior and a deteriorating attitude toward adults go hand in hand. “But those who maintained favorable views of their fathers and adults in general didn’t join with other peers in misbehaviors.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses have at times been criticized for not sharing in holiday fun with their families. It may appear that the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are deprived of this special fun. But these sincere parents and children have sound Biblical reasons for abstaining. (Please see pages 11-14.) And these youngsters are developing strong moral fiber that will withstand the weight of peer pressure that crushes the will of other youths. Morality is being washed away by the rising tide of wickedness. Immoral sex, drugs, violence, alcohol, cults, child molesters—ever so many dangers threaten vulnerable young people.
How can a parent shield a youngster from these constant perils? From infancy Witness children receive consistent training to lean on the strong moral laws of the Bible. Loving parents help them to understand God’s view not only about holidays but about all aspects of life. Obedience to their God springs from love and respect for him, even if it means being different. Imagine how this must prepare them for successful young adulthood! If a young child can sit in a class full of peers who are doing what seems to be fun and take a stand for what he believes is right, how much better he is able to withstand the later temptation of further seemingly fun things—drugs, premarital sex, and other harmful enticements! The children of Jehovah’s Witnesses may develop a moral fiber that many other children may be deprived of.
“Many of the kids I’ve looked at don’t have faith,” observes Dr. Robert Coles, Harvard researcher. “They have lost everything except preoccupation with themselves, and this is enhanced every day by the way they are brought up.”
A pediatrician describes a different family: “They want kids who care about others and who give a little of themselves. . . . They live a simpler life . . . , but they have something else. For want of a better phrase, I’d call it contentment.”
Dolores Curran cites valuing service to others as basic to happiness. “For some families in our nation [the United States]—indeed most, I would say—success and pursuit of the good life is the primary purpose.” But “families who presume that members can and will be caring toward others become those healthy families who value service to others. . . . As the children from these families grow up, they tend to be quite caring and responsible persons as a result of their family experiences.” Curran notes among successful parents “a return to the value of seeking joy in people and in giving rather than in buying, taking, and consuming.”
Put another way by an outstanding expert on giving, “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.” (Acts 20:35) Witness families are living proof of this statement by Christ Jesus. Like him their lives are centered on the Christian ministry. Some may feel that Witness youths are being exploited and forced to accompany their parents from door to door. Much to the contrary, they are being taught by parental example how to show love toward their fellowman by freely giving to their neighbors good news about God’s Kingdom.—Matthew 24:14.
‘Won’t It Stifle the Children?’
But isn’t a strict religious upbringing stifling to a young child? Isn’t it better to let religious decisions be made by each one upon reaching adulthood? That may be rule number 3 of 12 Rules for Raising Delinquent Children: “Never give him any spiritual training. Wait until he is 21 and then let him ‘decide for himself.’”
However, a child’s basic moral sense, according to Dr. Coles, begins to bud as early as three years of age. “Within the child there is a developing moral sense. I happen to think it is God-given, that there is a craving for a moral order.” This is the crucial time for the inculcation of the true moral values. It is the time, for instance, to teach by example the value of truthfulness as opposed to lying. The Bible stresses the importance of training during the youthful years: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.”—Proverbs 22:6.
Curran observes: “Children today can’t be expected to be moral without help. . . . My survey respondents suggest that the healthier the family the more developed is their sense of right and wrong.”
A social worker responding to Curran’s survey observed: “There’s an inescapable core of strength that religious faith gives families.” For the family with a shared religious core, Curran says, “faith in God plays a foundational role in daily family life. A religious core strengthens the family support system. The parents feel a strong responsibility for passing on the faith, but they do so in positive and meaningful ways.”
Help Your Children Feel Love for God
Show children the gifts of God that bring them such joy. Lie on the grass and examine with them the tiny flower so intricately designed. Watch the ladybug that emerges from this grassy jungle to climb to the tip of a blade of grass, lift its bright red and black-dotted wing covers, and fly away. Let them feel the breathless wonder as a butterfly suddenly lands on a hand to raise and lower its bright yellow wings for a brief rest and to soak up the warm sunshine. Roll over on your back to see the fluffy white clouds sailing overhead, and watch as they change from ships to horses to palaces in the sky. All the while point out to your children that it is our Creator God who brings us such joyful gifts.
And many other gifts, such as the kitten whose playful antics with a leaf leave us convulsed with laughter or the fuzzy puppy that “attacks” us, head shaking from side to side, growling ferociously as it tugs on our sleeve, yet with friendly tail wagging nonstop all the while. Or a frolic in the ocean surf, a hike in the mountains, or a night gazing up in awe at a sky packed with lights that twinkle and shine high overhead. Knowing that these gifts and countless others are from the One who gave us our life, being able to thank him for these gifts, feeling gratitude for knowing him—all this brings joy to us and reflects a deep and appreciative love for him.
And finally on the family front, plenty of hugs and kisses from Daddy and Mommy, which help children feel the warm glow of security and thankfulness every day. Help them keep faith in Jehovah, rejecting an even greater lie than the one about the red-suited Santa, namely, that all these lovely gifts from God just happened, just evolved—a falsehood taught without scientific evidence, unsupported by the scientific method, and maintained only by a dogmatism repeated over and over again and again to flood the minds of the young.a
Share with your children in frequent prayers to the greatest of Givers—at meals, when reading his Word, at day’s end. Raise a grateful child, and that sense of appreciation will sweeten every experience he has in life. He will grow to be a happy giver himself in imitation of the true God and of the parents he loves. Then happiness will come, not with the preset days of the calendar, but with the spontaneous moments of sheer joy in living. “Happy is the people whose God is Jehovah!”—Psalm 144:15.
a See the book Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Picture on page 7]
One of the best gifts you can give your children is time