Advent is a time of cheer and anticipation for most of us but especially for our children and teens. But it can also turn into a time of frenzied shopping, decorating and entertaining.

Our children can easily slip into this behaviour and fail to realise the true spirit of Christmas ˗ a time we come together in joy, acknowledging the pivotal point in human history, the birth of Christ, Saviour and King. It is easy to overlook the spiritual dimension of Christmas, the birth of Christ, the point where God built a bridge between Himself and those He created in His own image.

How do we, as parents, animate our children’s hearts and minds to go beyond the shine and glitter and stand in awe before the profoundness of God’s plan for salvation, incarnated in a baby Jesus amidst the poverty of a little village?

Christmas is a time of giving. Children crave for belongings, but if unbridled they will continue to do so even beyond adolescence. It is enough to take a look around us and observe how many supposedly mature adults have become shopping maniacs, eagerly expecting the next gadget or brand to roll out their hard earned cash. We live in a time where sophisticated advertising mediums convince adults and target the vulnerability of our kids with products that seem necessary for their social survival. Research into the correlation between addictions to materialism and unruly social behaviour indicate that although toddlers’ and preschoolers’ persistent request for toys is usually an end in itself, heavy materialistic orientations during middle childhood to early adolescence may prove irreversible in adulthood.

Recent studies by renowned economist and family expert Juliet B. Schor have clearly shown that the growing commercialisation of childhood is at least partially responsible for the decline in children’s well-being. She argues that whereas it used to be the parents’ role of choosing the right gifts for their children, now it is the children’s role of picking up gifts according to the latest market trends and brands.

Few adults realise the magnitude of this shift and the consequences on the fitness of our children. Schor argues that this hyper consumerism and over-consumption is causing serious harm to the children’s well-being, and children cannot seem to find satisfaction in life, no matter how much they buy. If the emotional and social well-being of our children is at stake, what then is the balancing act? How do we harmonise the persistent demands and desires of our children for material goods with the need to teach them how to thrive socially, intellectually and spiritually, especially in this blessed time?

First and foremost we have to realise that materialism and consumption tends to be destructive when it is completely disengaged from the spiritual dimension. It is destructive when it holds the theory or attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and the highest value in life. It is destructive when an excessive regard for worldly goods is emphasised as if physical matter is the only reality. It is destructive when materialism is not kept subordinate to ethical and spiritual values, to that which has real meaning in life. Our role as parents is to first and foremost be convinced by the truth that beyond the material, the formal, the external, the showy and the sensuous lies the purely spiritual, and that material goods are provided to us as a means for living out God’s plan for us and do not constitute an end in themselves.

It is from this point of departure that we can nurture our children’s value system during this Christmas period. Disciplining our children to treasure what has value does not mean depriving them of their long awaited presents. Rather, we seek to embed a sense of gratitude towards the creator of all for the gifts they have or are about to receive. We encourage them especially during this time to be generous to the less fortunate and if possible to donate one of the gifts to a charitable institution or to someone else in need. Little do we seem to realise that children get so preoccupied in wondering “what they will get this year” that they don’t even realise how wonderful the feeling can be when they give to others during this season and on other days.

Nurturing our children in this time of longing for the birth of Our Lord has to go beyond the routine embracing of traditional religious rituals. Ceremonies are useful only if they lead us to Christ. Although material instrumentalities and rituals are quite essential in religious worship, we need to be aware of the universal tendency to exalt them above their place. All rites and rituals are to be simply instruments of convenience for conveying spiritual realities to the minds and hearts. True spiritual worship is a matter of opening our hearts and minds to God, acknowledging his great everlasting gift to humanity through the incarnation of His own Son.

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