Christmas can be a wonderful time, but for many of us it’s a day that we edge closer to with a mounting sense of dread and sadness. For many of us, the inevitable expense and logistics that come with negotiating a successful family Christmas. For yet more of us, Christmas brings with it a series of emotions related to traumatic experiences that are only exacerbated by the relentless enforced joviality of the season. Those of us who have lost someone around Christmas time or have spent their childhoods with little to look forward to over the festive season can find it extremely difficult to muster the goodwill and enthusiasm that go into every cup of Christmas cheer. It’s an emotional ordeal that would tax anyone but for those of us with children the problem is compounded.

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Kids make Christmas, that much is a self evident truth. Their smiles as they behold the glimmering tree, their excitement as they tear through their gaudily wrapped gifts and their unbridled joy shine brighter than any tinsel or fairy lights devised by human hands. However, there are some of us for whom even this is not enough to undo the pain or tragedy that has forever soured Christmas for us. This can cause parents to feel undue guilt and shame, feeling that they’re ruining Christmas for their kids. Parents may feel that they need to “fake it till they make it” but this can rarely prove meaningful in the ways that parents and their kids need it to be. Children (even babies and infants) are perceptive readers of their parents’ emotional states and they can spot false enthusiasm a mile away.

The reality is that it takes time to heal from the anxieties or bad memories that cause us to dread Christmas but one of the surest way to accomplish this is by creating positive associations and finding joy in the season for ourselves and our kids. Here are some ways to do exactly that without breaking the bank or planing ourselves into a nervous breakdown…

Craft with your kids

Making your own gifts and cards for friends, neighbours and family is a wonderful way to create excitement and a sense of meaning that can dispel any negative associations with Christmas. There are lots of charming and easy to make designs that you and your kids can make together with a minimum of expense, mess and hassle.

Not only can the act of creating together can be a wonderful way to bond, the activity will focus your kids’ thoughts on the act of giving at Christmas rather than receiving which is more emotionally nourishing. That’s right! It’s scientifically proven that it’s better to give than to receive. Which brings us to…

Donate or Volunteer

Christmas is a time to be grateful for what we have. Unfortunately, advertising and the pervasive popular culture focus more on the things we should be buying from gifts to tree ornaments to artisan mince pies. This commodity fetishism can leave us feeling lacking and unfulfilled, but rushing out for a spend-a-thon is unlikely to make us feel any better. Instead, focus your attention on helping others less fortunate than yourself. Making a gift of clothing, blankets, food or (better still) your time can be a great way to show your kids the value of doing good and helping others. It may also help you work through your own negative associations with Christmas.

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Brighten things up

The great thing about Christmas is the way it encourages us to add a dash of colour and vibrancy to our home despite the cold and gloom outside. However, if the gaudy confections of the season aren’t for you, why not brighten things up in your own way? Planting some wildflower seeds will lend your garden a splash of perennial colour while virtually any piece of furniture can be made resplendent with the addition of a few fairy lights. You can go as classy or as tacky as you like, so long as your home communicates a sense of brightness and joy that resonates with you.

Treat yourself in any way you can

Generosity is important. All parents know the joy of being able to lavish love and gifts upon their kids. However, as important as this is, there’s no shame in treating yourself. Of course this needn’t mean immersing your household in debt with expensive splurges, it can simply mean picking yourself up a small treat or a special snack as you do your Christmas shopping.  

Do Christmas your way. Find a way to take ownership of the season and feel free to eschew the age old traditions if they bring you no joy. Instead, focus on the things that will make sure that when your kids see you smile this Christmas… They’ll know you mean it.

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Last Update: Tuesday, 5th December 2017