C. S. Lewis said: "Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world". But the truth is that, although these days businesses, advertising, street decorations and audiovisual platforms continually tell us about Christmas, there are relatively few who live this celebration with a transcendent sense.
The consumerist escalation at this time of the year has reached the category of tradition. And although no one is unaware that this time the economic circumstances will lead many to moderate spending, for weeks now the pull of consumption typical of this time of year has been noticeable again. It is striking that up to 70% of citizens say they will spend the same as at Christmas last year (the data is from the Association of Manufacturers and Distributors).
It is not a question of discouraging consumption at such a delicate time as this, but the truth is that families who will have to tighten their belts this holiday season have an excellent opportunity to educate our children, teaching them to do without everything they do not need and to live Christmas with authenticity, while making the family economy a little more viable: two birds with one stone.
In gifts... less is more
One of the worst things we can do to children is to give them everything they ask for. Sometimes, as parents, we want to always give them "the best" and avoid any suffering, no matter how small, even if it is part of their natural learning. Because we live in a society where the goal is, above all, comfort.
In the coming Christmas season, according to a study by a well-known supermarket chain, two thirds of Spanish households will spend up to 200 euros on the purchase of toys (the average number of children in Spain is 1.19).
Every year during the Christmas and Epiphany holidays, what specialists call the "syndrome of the over-gifted child" occurs. A child who receives too many toys ends up not appreciating any of them, feeling dissatisfaction, boredom and frustration. It happens frequently when everyone in the child's environment (grandparents, uncles, aunts, uncles...) wants to give him/her gifts and there is no one -ideally it should be the parents- to put some order in so much nonsense.
Other times, and this is even more problematic, the excess of gifts comes from the feeling of guilt of some parents, who in this way try to compensate for the lack of attention they offer to their children.
As an alternative, there is the well-known - and advisable - "four gifts rule". The rule has several variants, but in short, the idea is to limit the number of gifts and to give them an orientation away from whimsy. Thus, it is proposed that the gifts should be: a piece of clothing or practical object that the child needs (shoes, a backpack...); an educational toy or a book; a gift that the child really wants; and, finally, a game that allows the child to interact with other children.
Whether we use this formula or not, we must keep in mind that in education almost nothing is achieved by chance. If we want to educate our children in moderation, we will have to modulate their expectations beforehand, for example by sitting down with them to write their letter to the Three Kings and bringing their wishes into the realm of reasonableness.
Clearly stating to children that "this year the Three Wise Men will bring a few less presents" or that "this Christmas we will make more plans at home because we can't spend so much", is not something to be ashamed of but, on the contrary, a great lesson that will help them to appreciate the value of things and to distinguish what is really important this holiday season.
Gratitude and appreciation of simple things
The continuous satisfaction of every whim dulls the head and atrophies the sensibility. How then can we value the daily goods of life -nature, family, having a home...-? Chesterton, great master of paradox and lover of Christmas traditions, said "as children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings for Christmas. Why didn't we thank God for filling our stockings with our feet?" Or put in a contemporary key: to today's children, who crave to be given a smartphone or a video console, shouldn't we first teach them to be thankful for having a family, a roof over their heads, food to eat and clothes to wear?
But let us speak positively, because the benefits of educating children in moderation, gratitude and austerity are many: a grateful person is undoubtedly happier. And a child who learns to renounce (freely, not by obligation) to things that are perhaps essential for his peers is more in control of his destiny and will be able to face difficulties with a greater probability of success. Let us work with our children along these lines and we will turn them into true leaders of their lives and of society.
Adolescents: the art of reasoning without imposing
When children enter adolescence, they begin to question everything; of course also their parents, from whom they continually ask for explanations. When it comes to educating a sense of moderation, we will have to resort to more elaborate arguments than in the case of young children. We must be aware that children at this age are under strong pressure from the environment that pushes them to consume (clothing, technological devices, video games...). But it is no less true that they already have enough intellectual maturity to deal with more complex reasoning. Let's remember -we have all gone through this stage- that what a teenager hates the most is to be treated as a child.
Sometimes parents have the feeling of waging a "war of attrition" with their children, in which only those who stand their ground without giving up any ground win: any indication becomes an object of controversy. This is partly natural, but what we must not lose sight of is that, no matter how much the adolescent opposes his parents' decisions time and again, when we make the effort to present our points of view through dialogue and not imposition, these reasons do not fall on deaf ears and, little by little, they become part of the child's upbringing.
A good strategy is to look for ways to connect with the dominant values of children of these ages -because the mainstream also has good things-. It is a fact that the new generations are much more aware of the need to take care of the planet, and that this concern has a very significant weight in their consumption habits. Reusing, repairing objects that break down, buying in second-hand stores, using circular economy applications... are to a large extent more natural behaviors for many of today's young people than for their parents. And, in short, sustainability at all levels - personal, social, environmental... - is but a consequence of the virtue of temperance (or, in more modern language, self-control and moderation).
The awareness that there are many people, in our environment or elsewhere, who lack even the most basic material means is undoubtedly a revulsive that will usually stir the conscience of our children of these ages. Because, even if the economic crisis does not affect us, is it not an indecency to consume unbridled when there are so many who do not have what they need to live? In this sense, Pope Francis' recent proposal The idea that we should reduce some of our spending during the Christmas holidays and use it to help families in Ukraine can be a great way to bring out the noble ideals that every teenager holds within him or her.
Parents' secret weapon
It goes without saying that, in the educational approach that we have tried to present in these lines, parents have the great challenge of facing the overwhelming advertising machinery of the market, with its algorithms, its omnichannel strategy and its hundreds of thinking heads. Failure would be assured were it not for the fact that we have an infallible weapon, whose good results have been attested to by educators of all times: example.
There is no more effective mechanism for educating children than their parents' own behavior. It is, in fact, the essential prerequisite for each of the tips we have been presenting throughout this article to work. If this Christmas, our children see how we give up our comfort to make life more pleasant for others; if they see that we are also moderate when choosing our gifts; if, in short, they realize that mom and dad are consistent with what they preach and do not give in to their own adult whims... then we have won half the battle.
A beautiful celebration is approaching: the memory of an event that forever changed the destiny of humanity. Let us not deprive our children of experiencing the authentic joy of seeing the birth of the Child in each of our families. May we keep in mind that He is the true gift that gives meaning to this beloved feast.