Holidays with Kids: How to Balance Magic and Reality

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ehow 2It doesn’t take long when I’m reminiscing about the Christmases of my childhood before I’m feeling that can’t-catch-your-breath excitement, the response to so many holiday details that my parents worked hard to create. The decorations, the meals, the baking, the evening car trips to see the lights, the family get-togethers, the church programs and all the hype around Santa’s visit evoked a feeling that I can only describe as magic. On Christmas Eve, my brother and sister and I stood outside in the cold, looking up at the stars, searching for a glint of light, a spark, a jingle — any hint of Santa’s sleigh — and I was sure that my heart was going to beat out of my chest. And what followed the next morning was all part of that Christmas package — wonder, appreciation, laughter, warmth, love — all of it wrapped up in a feel-good sense that has stuck with me and is as palpable as the photos I’ve saved from my childhood.

Was it all about the magic — the belief in Santa, the cookies that magically disappeared that night, the North Pole dreams we imagined? If it was, then once we were old enough to make sense of it all, Christmas would have lost its magic, but it hasn’t. That means that our parents did a pretty good job of weighing the importance of what the holidays are truly about — family and togetherness, our beliefs and traditions, kindness, giving and being present — and the ability to be wowed by the beauty of things like twinkly lights and feel-good tunes.

And now I’m passing the torch as I raise my own kids and spin our own holiday magic in our home. As we look for another place for our “Elf on the Shelf” to hide and cut our reindeer hoof stencil for driveway prints Christmas morning, I’m thinking about the memories I hope my children remember from this time.

When it comes to holiday magic, how do we balance fantasy with reality?

Know Your Child

print 14Creating magic, planning elf shenanigans and donning Santa costumes is a lot of fun to play out, but every child receives it differently. Keep an eye out for any confusion or fear from your child, and don’t go overboard in selling the fantasy if it’s causing your child stress. After a few days with our “Elf on the Shelf” a couple years ago, our daughter was obviously disturbed by the assumption that the elf was creeping around our house at night while she slept. We concluded that we had gone too far with our magical stories and put the elf away that year. The elf came back the following year, and she loved our more laid back approach to the elf’s presence, but we learned an important lesson in always letting our kids guide our efforts.

Make Sure Magic Complements, not Overshadows, the True Holiday Meaning

print 4There’s far more to the holidays than Santa, and eventually your child’s belief in the magical stuff will fade. When that happens, the holidays are still every bit as special if you focus on what truly makes the holidays meaningful — our beliefs, our traditions, family, gratitude, wonder and giving. These topics should highlight your conversations about the holidays, and you can even whittle down the magical components of holiday traditions — sleighs and reindeer, Santa and elves, North Pole stories and twinkle light displays — to truths about giving, wonder, imagination, cultural traditions, stories and how they give us a sense of togetherness.

History and Hope

print 11No matter what religion you practice, what December holiday you celebrate, or if you celebrate at all, there are historical origins to holiday traditions and truth in stories that children can embrace. The stories of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are all deeply rooted in hope, love and community, and it’s important for kids to know and appreciate these origins. The magical stuff is just a bonus.

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