If I was a kid I would be having a nervous breakdown. I mean, is there any time of year that it is harder to be a kid than at Christmas time?
I am serious. What used to be a child's favorite time of the year is now one long marathon of waiting. Retail stores put up Christmas trees before Halloween, the television broadcasts more commercials than programming and the radio is inundating us with carols before we've even put away the leftover turkey. It must seem like it is perpetually Christmas in their little minds; except without the gifts. Isn't that torture?
Why must the holiday season embark on us earlier and earlier every year? Who decided to stretch Christmastime out to a quarter of the year rather than the month of December? And think about all the children who have no idea how long five minutes is let alone 90 days! Have you ever met a child who waits well? If they can't wait patiently for you during one five minute errand how in the world do you think they are going to keep it together from now until the time the big man actually comes down the chimney?
And don't we lord the threat of Santa over our children with great precision? Parent's everywhere are reminding kids they had better be good or Santa won't bring them any presents. Who can take that pressure? A child can't be good all day for one day, how are they going to last until December 25th? Imagine what image of Santa they've created with all those threats! Instead of welcoming the idea that a red clad, friendly gent will leave them toys they must be scared out of their mind! Was I good? Wasn't I good? Am I good enough? Did he see that? Isn't the paranoia and guilt associated with his naughty and nice list kind of actually counterproductive to the joy Christmas? The song lyrics say you'd better be good for good-ness sake. Not for presents-sake. Perhaps we should remind children to be good because being good is the right thing to do. Not because Santa is a stingy, record keeping judge who will withhold joy from you on Christmas morning.
And by the way, if you wrap your presents and set them out under the tree weeks before Christmas morning, don’t be surprised if instead of getting better behavior you get worse. I'm a grownup and even I can hardly wait for a pretty package. I’m certain if you showed me a present, told me it was for me, told me I had to wait to have it and then said I could only have it if I met your expectations of good behavior I can promise you I wouldn't focus on being good. I would be in constant concentration on that gift. I would not be able to stop wondering about it. Literally.
No, there are no gifts under our tree and everywhere I go people are worried for me asking if I've finished shopping for gifts. "I still have a month!" I told an inquirer recently. "Yes", she replied "but will there by anything left on the shelves much longer?" Seriously? Now I have to worry whether there is going to be a famine for stocking stuffers, CDs and games?
How does any of this sound fun or glorious? Children are tortured to believe they might be left out of Christmas. Grownups are rushing around fighting each other for purchases that they threaten to not give their children. Is this the message of Christmas?
Christmas is meant to be beautiful. It's about family, love, the joy of giving and the hope of a savior. Introducing the holiday season earlier doesn't prolong the beauty. It makes it more common. Let's not spend these last weeks before the holiday rushing and fighting over gifts. Perhaps we could even pull back on the empty Santa threats. Instead maybe the joy and peace of the season would be restored to grownups and children alike if we would focus on the gift that really matters. That’s what makes Christmas the most wonderful time of the year. Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so! That’s why!
(This article appears as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting colum for the Daily Review Atlas)