The Christmas season officially begins (according to Macy’s at least) on Thanksgiving Day. It is that time of year to which all children look forward with great “anticipation.”
What parents or any adult responsible for “making Christmas” for children feel toward this season is anything but “anticipation.” Words thought, uttered, or screamed at the top of our lungs come back to haunt us from the previous holiday season. Words like “This is the last time! I’m not going through this next year.” Scenes of long shopping lines playback in our minds in exasperatingly slow motion. The battle with the octopus-like Christmas tree garlands and the search for that one bad bulb in the string of tree lights are vividly relived. The memory of winter’s foul weather and department store price tags chill our bones with equal frigidity. And when the last ornament is put away and it’s finally over, we collectively breathe a sigh of relief.
One would think that after all the effort and expense connected with this holiday, we would get more out of the passing of this season than “a sigh of relief.” After all, it’s “you get out of something what you put into it.” Without much philosophizing, then, perhaps that’s all it was worth— a sigh of relief, a longing for nothingness. This is without a doubt true if the attitude, the feeling and the approach to the Christmas season originates from the wrong purpose.
The attitude of the bigger, the brighter, the more the better is wrong. The feeling of a chore, an obligation, a nuisance is wrong. The approach of hurry, hurry, let’s get it over with is wrong, too. There is a purpose beyond the one day celebration of the birth of Christ during this time of year. This should be a time to review attitudes, reinforce feelings and revise approaches. It is a time to give love, hope and the tradition the Christmas season signifies to the children and one another. Sharing Christmas activities and making Christmas preparations with children can be effective means toward this goal.
Ornament making is an ideal way to start. It is an engaging activity for any child old enough to handle scissors, glue, cardboard, pencils and paper. The glue should be standard white glue such as Elmers. The cardboard should be no thicker than that found in shirts returned from the laundry or oaktag from the .05¢ & .10¢ store is a good substitute. And the paper can be almost any kind that will adhere when glued. If the budget will allow, an ideal choice of paper is Contact brand wall covering (when using this, glue can be eliminated). Good suggestions range from foil covered paper, both silver and tinted, to pieces of bright Christmas wrapping paper or whatever your imagination dictates.
The actual process of making two-dimensional ornaments takes five simple steps: tracing, cutting, gluing, hole punching and hanging. Trace the shape you want onto the cardboard (cookie cutters offer good shapes), then cut it out. Using the cut cardboard shape, retrace each shape onto two sheets of decorative paper (one for the front and one for the back). Glue the paper onto the cardboard with the decorative side away from the cardboard. Punch a hole near the top edge of the ornament then hang with ornament hanger made of wire or ribbons, string or tinseled twine. It is a simple operation and, with a little forethought and planning, can be a relatively neat, creative and an enjoyable experience for both children and parents. It’s a perfect activity for bad weather days when the kids can’t get out to play. And we recommend that the emphasis should be on creativity and enjoyment and not on perfection.
After ornaments have been made, they are ready to be hung. Plan a Christmas tree trimming session. More adult participation will be required for this activity, at least in the beginning. You will need to put up and firmly secure your tree to avoid tipping or falling. And, if you’re using a real tree, keep the trunk in plenty of water to avoid drying out. Tree lights and any other electrical attachments will need adult attention. When you have attended to these two preliminaries, let the kids take over. An adult should be present to supervise, however, but not dictate. After all, it is their tree and if they want twenty-seven ornaments on one branch, let it be, so long as it doesn’t create a safety hazard. Don’t think, either, that you’ll “reorganize” their arrangement after they’re asleep. Children have photographic memories when it comes to things they create.
There are many simple projects and activities like ornament making and tree trimming that parents and children can engage in while enhancing and reinforcing the true Christmas spirit. Peace, joy and hope are all part of that spirit, but no more so than giving. In truth, the giving, more often than not, overshadows the other three. But the giving, too, can be brought back into its proper perspective as an act of love.
As givers, we can project our love through what we give. And there’s no better gift than part of ourselves — a gift of our own creation. Right now, you’re thinking “here’s where I turn the page.” But, that would be a mistake because creating your own gift is much simpler than you think and deeply rewarding.
One of the easiest gifts to make are stuffed toys and, today, with the advanced technology in sewing aids, it’s easier than ever. Any fabric department or fabric store of size carries printed animal patterns for just this purpose. They’re brightly colored, non-sexist, inexpensive ($1.00-$1.39) and ready to use. The characters range from cartoon favorites to animals, dolls, giant hamburgers or tomatoes. The instructions are printed right on the pattern and do not exceed five lines — pin, sew, cut, stuff, and finish. Aside from needle, thread and pins, you will need stuffing material (polyester fiber $1.79 for a 16 oz. bag). The making of stuffed toys requires such a small amount of skill that I had a 6-year-old make a tiger.
This accomplishment opened another possibility for these simple to make toys. What better way to teach children about giving than to have them give to a younger child a gift that they’ve made. This does not mean that stuffed toys can only be appreciated by the toddler set, they are irresistible to all ages. They can be used as pillows or room decorations right through the teen years.
Once into the area of gift making, the list becomes almost endless and it is a very short jump into other handcrafted articles. Knitters, crocheters and home sewers (and I am not limiting this to women) have an added advantage. They can make articles of clothing as well as articles for the home. My first handcrafted gifts of an afghan and a floor length velvet dress for my five-year-old provided me with my most memorable Christmas as a mother to daughter. When my daughter opened these two gifts among all the store bought competition and glowingly asked, “Did you make this for me?” My expectations were more than fulfilled. Her long dress is still her favorite, though she will soon outgrow it. And, as for her afghan, I expect it one day will go with her to college. But that moment of delight on her face, that moment of her feeling like the most special person in the world, was worth every moment I’d put into it. Although both gifts were made without her knowledge, even if she had participated in the making of them , it would not have lessened that feeling I’d put into it nor would it have lessened the same feeling she got out of it — love.
Admittedly, all that I’ve talked about here does take some time and some money. But there is one other activity that even the busiest and/or the most penurious households can elect to assist in bringing out the Christmas spirit —reading. Fact and fictional books about Christmas abound and are available at public libraries and book stores in paperback. A particular treasure is one entitled: Christmas Gif by Charlemae Rollins (Follett Publ.). It is a book that recounts many Negro traditions of Christmas through a compilation of stories, poems, song lyrics and even recipes, some dating back to slavery. The authors of these works include such notables as Federick Douglas and Langston Hughes.
Impressive though these names are, the ultimate goal in reading this book or in completing any project in which you may decide to participate should be the fostering of the Christmas Spirit. It is a chance to strengthen and solidify the family ties, a chance to share the love of one another — and a chance to make Christmas more than a four-letter word.