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Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Christmas Spirit of Sharing and using Kwanzaa Principles to "Be the Gift" in the New Year

Christmas becomes a larger than life event when you have children. Eager to see the fruits of their good behavior, kids get more anxious as each month passes and December 25th nears. Lists are made, elves sit atop shelves and mantles as pint sized consumers hope for the newest toys, dolls and big ticket gadgets. I've become increasingly bothered by how wrapped up my almost six year old son has become in "getting". He's a sweet, compassionate boy, but sometimes when there are presents to be had he loses his manners and becomes a greedy little person I barely recognize! My toddler isn't a concern yet, it's a bit ridiculous to expect tact and selflessness from a two year old. She could careless about gifts now and busies herself with boxes and wrapping paper. But, she adores her big brother and is sure to pick up his behaviors as she ages. I watched my son tear open scores of presents and though he was polite, I could tell he wanted more. He was ready to take, take, take and though he'd gotten everything he asked for, he compared how many gifts he'd received to other children in the family. As a parent, I was uncomfortable, and I knew it was up to my husband and I to curtail such self indulgence. Though I want him to be happy, I've vowed to find someway to avoid spoiling my child to the point he becomes an ingrate.

Responsible parents might find it hard to help their little ones understand the reason for the holiday season, aside from commercial hysteria. I've played around with the notion that the kids should pick three gifts for Christmas; plus a fourth to donate to charity. Baby Jesus received gold, frankincense and myrrh - that should be enough for my little prince and princess! My husband has yet to get on board with this concept, Daddy loves the smiles that lots of presents bring. I'm hoping that maybe down the line as the children get older, more mature, we can make it a new tradition. I've also been hinting that they ask for cool, unique experiences versus material goods. Family vacations, music lessons, tickets to kid's stage plays, overnights in museums, etc... Beginning right away I've opted to simply talk to my child about his attitude. I've managed to spark a few conversations about the Nativity, giving and thankfulness. Of course, it's natural for a kid to love Christmas and pray for Mom and Dad to partner with Santa in showering them with their heart's every desire. But, as parents we have to set reasonable boundaries and expectations for graciousness. We have to teach those lessons in spirit, in talk and in action. I want him to have a greater understanding of Jesus Christ and our faith. I want him to enjoy opening his presents, but also delight in seeing friends and family receive what they've wished for. I want him to know that giving or receiving love, time and smiles can be better than anything money can buy. I've made it my mandate for the new year to grow with my children spiritually, so that next year they can celebrate Christmas with a humble heart and greater understanding of why the holiday is more than gifts under the Christmas tree, bright lights and gingerbread cookies.

All December Nigel has been learning about holiday traditions in school. He's studied the history of Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. Of course, being African American, he's had lots of questions about Kwanzaa for me. I haven't actively observed the week long holiday in many years, but growing up as an adolescent and preteen, my extended family in Ohio celebrated annually. Given my new dedication to growing his faith and spirituality I thought it'd be nice to teach him about Dr. Maulana Karenga, the seven Kwanzaa principles (Nguzo Saba) and why it's taken hold within the African American community. Everyday we've learned a new Swahili principle and discussed it's meaning using vocabulary that he can understand. The concepts are clear and it can be fun practicing terms in a new language. The exercise is helping me teach my son that while Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of our savior Jesus Christ and exchange gifts with loved ones; Kwanzaa is a time to reflect about how he can "be the gift" to his family, community and our world. Instead of receiving presents daily, at the end of Imani - the seventh day, we will buy a complete Kwanzaa observance kit with a Kinara, Mishumaa Saba and Mkeka in preparation for next year. The Kwanzaa approach is working well for us. Regardless of your ethnicity learn about Kwanzaa with your family. Many cities offer January 1st events that mark the end of the holiday with music, live performances, lectures and interactive activities for young people. For more information visit:

As this year comes to an end I encourage parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, god parents, teachers, coaches and all those that have special relationships with children to think about how they can nurture a young person in the new year.  What can you do to strengthen their spirit, increase their humanity, cultivate their sense of character and develop their values? It is foolish for us to believe that bad habits and faulty logic will simply be outgrown. Sooner than we imagine our children will be adults going out into the world to make their marks.  As role models and mentors it is our responsibility to correct them, guide them and aid them in becoming people that don't just seek to help themselves, but to also serve God and their fellow man.

Happy New Year!