Behind magic and mayhem, children need to learn the real story of Christmas

Talk about the real meaning of Christmas, says Helen O’Callaghan
Behind magic and mayhem, children need to learn the real story of Christmas

FOR six weeks, discussions at the school gate have centred on the Christmas shopping — who’s got it all done, what’s on the children’s lists, and what is Santa to do when they keep changing their minds about what they want.

Children, with their lively imaginations, passion for stories, and belief in magic, have a rich capacity for absorbing the deeper meaning of things. We do them an injustice if we let Christmas be misidentified as ‘I am what I buy, I am what I consume’.

Knowing why we do what we do gives it more power, says Dolores Whelan, teacher in the Celtic spiritual tradition and author of Ever Ancient, Ever New. She believes children need to know the deeper story lying beneath the winter-time festivities. Tell them the story, she urges.

“Christmas evolved from an earlier festival of the winter solstice — celebrated universally at the darkest time of the year. To our ancestors, the sun had gone into hiding. The new light would only come with music, dancing, singing, poetry, laughter, jewelled trees, and bonfires.”

Make this story come alive. Invite children and adults to embrace the darkness, suggests Whelan. Think what it would have been like for our ancestors without electricity —no easy access to light and heat.

“Give thanks together for the shelter and abundance you have in your lives. Sit in the darkness, sing favourite Christmas songs. Singing together raises life energy, creates harmony, and camaraderie.”

The birth of the new sun — and of Jesus — was a time to honour children, says Whelan. “One way was to shower them with gifts and treats. In Roman times, children were given good luck charms.” Explain to your children that “like the newborn sun, children were seen as the promise of a brighter future”.

At this time of year with its strong tug of war between light and darkness, decide to let go of past hurts. Create a ritual around it, suggests Whelan. “Encourage everybody, children too, to write on a piece of paper the name of somebody who has hurt them and choose to let it go — burn the paper on the fire.”

Explain to children the meaning behind the Christmas tree. “It’s an evergreen symbol to our ancestors of everlasting life. They decorated it with fruit, nuts and flowers, representing things they hoped would be plentiful in the new year.”

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