This December, over 2.1 billion Christians will celebrate the Christmas season. Children around the world will wait with baited breath for brightly colored packages under the tree. A huge majority of the Westerm parents will spend more money than they can afford, buy more unnecessary garbage that will clutter their homes, and will kill more trees and natural resources on gift wrapping that will end up in the trash the day after. We won’t.
Why? We have a deeper agenda for Christmas 2011.
Inglesia de Santa Maria in El Quinche, Ecuador
The Joys of Christmas
We’re Jews who have raised our children in a lovely mountain-kissed bubble in Northern Israel. My children are ignorant to the immaculate rainbow of colors, tastes, and songs in which world citizens celebrate their beliefs. We’re excited for our first up-coming Christmas in Ecuador to highlight that kaleidoscope.
And now, as I write this in late November, we can see the holiday approaching. Small towns throughout Southern Colombia and Northern Ecuador are hosting church celebrations and parades. We’re witnessing the foil of run-down, dilapidated homes with dirt floors and barefoot partially dressed children with Christmas lights hugging their perimeter. Street vendors that just last week sold cookies and gum, now flaunt Christmas lights and tree ornaments. Empty vendor carts and vacant stores in Southern Colombia now have countertops and shelves filled with white unpainted plaster nativity scenes and Santas on sleds, and rows upon rows of stocking stuffers and decorations. This is really exciting stuff.
What are the first signs of Christmas where you dwell, and what does that do for your soul? Do you get that fluttering joy inside, as well, knowing that something significant is about to unfold?
The Christmas Spirit
Street Parades in San Pedro de Huana, Ecuador
For us, with no previous gift-giving expectations for the holiday season, there is no tension or anticipation for material goods. Since my children were babies, we’ve taught them that Hannukah is the time for celebrating, not for gift-giving. We put out our Hannukah decorations and wipe off the menorahs (the candelabrum used for the season). The kids may receive some money from their grandparents, but from their parents, they know to expect 8 nights of magical candle-lighting, song-singing, driedel-playing, and chocolate-eating with family and friends.
In the States, Christmas (and Hannukah, Easter, Memorial Day and more) have become pitiful comsumeristic excuses for grandiose, extravagant sales. This part of the Christmas holiday season is not an issue for us. We don’t have to waste tons of money to one-up last year’s celebrations and we don’t have to spend money we don’t have purchasing more wrapped gifts that will clutter up our backpacks and our lives. We have a more serious gift-giving issue at hand. Regardless of the time of year, my kids want stuff.
How have you tackled the ‘holiday of giving’ with your kids? Have you found the balance between making a joyous, memorable holiday season and limiting consumerisic hysteria?
Children in Poverty
We were sure that exposing our children to other children in poverty would shift something deep and profound in their psyche. We knew that after playing with kids dressed in rags, with dirt floors, that they would suddenly understand the uselessness of stuff and appreciate their plenty. On our world travel curriculum was modesty, appreciation, and non-materialism. Children in poverty would surely do it. But, no.
In La Lucha de la Tigra, Costa Rica, one of my kids went to play at a local friend’s house, and returned ten minutes later because “it’s so boring over there. Who would want to be in that dump? There wasn’t even a door on the bathroom; there’s all these big holes in the walls and floor. And besides, they have NO TOYS!” I wanted to violently shake my child, “Can you draw any other conclusions from this experience? What about…” But, my words fell on deaf ears.
I reluctantly have to accept that life lessons take time and I can’t possibly expect my child, developmentally, to be where I am today. When I was my kids’ ages, I invited every kid in the class to my Chuckie Cheese or Roller-skating parties, not because I necessarily loved them all, but because I wanted their presents. I understand where my kids are.
How have you tried to teach your children to value their plenty? What genius ideas have helped shift your children towards appreciative, non-materialistic human beings?
The Traveling Minimalist
The physical limitations of traveling the world like a turtle with all that you own on your back was meant to create traveling minimalists. Instead, it has created creative children who hang bags from their backpacks, blackmail each other for courier services, and beg for their parents to just stuff this one tiny (bulging) extra bag for them.
My kids still believe in wide-eyed wonder that this toy, cereal, or doll will make them happier, smarter, and healthier. They still believe the commercials; still meander for hours in stores wishing for this and that gadget; still dreamily reminisce over what’s in their boxes back home. They still whine and beg and drool over stuff, and will joyfully spend their entire allowance on another made-in-China plastic nothing that will break within 4 hours (if not within minutes) of leaving the store.
So, while minimalist coos and woos at my soul, and glitters in the light of my greatest simplistic hopes; my family and I still have a ways to go towards our truest, lightest selves.
Is your child’s main occupation what he can consume? Any tips regarding teaching kids the way to minimalistic principles?
The Silver Lining
Relentlessly, my husband and I will continue to point out children laboring in the sun selling wares and working in the fields. We’ll keep noting to them how impoverished the children we meet are, and how blessed and joyful they are to live three or four generations intertwined on the same dirt floor and hammock bedrooms. We’ll keep talking about whole families (including babies and toddlers) sleeping in their roadside booths at nights to protect their wares. We’ll continue passing out dollar-store soldiers and colorful plastic cars toys to children we meet; we’ll keep buying fruits and candies from kids on the roadside. We’ll keep sorting through and giving away all the excesses we’ve collected every month or so. We’ll keep confident that the world will serve as an excellent classroom for creating fine, compassionate, appreciative human beings out of our children with so much.
It is estimated that one of every three people on this globe celebrates Christmas. This year, we’ll be five of those people. Merry Christmas to you and yours.