Christmas rolls around again like a tinselled-covered freight train. Shopping centres sway in unison to the tune of carols, while children test the patience of their parents as the queue slowly contracts towards Santa’s lap. To-do lists are being crossed off, cards are being scrawled in, and everywhere there is just the faintest hint of exhaustion. Yet despite the dodgem-car shopping and magic disappearing act of my bank balance, I do love Christmas.
Christmas giving picture from Shutterstock
In fact, I’ve always loved Christmas. I remember quite precisely the degree of hysteria that the month of December caused us as children. The school-year was in its dying days, and our minds — like lions sensing a wildebeest on the horizon — instinctively turned towards the allure of presents. We promptly wrote letters to Santa, posted them, and then made sure that we were on our best behaviour, as if the previous 11 months of atrocities didn’t count.
Sure enough, we would wake up on Christmas morning with Dad in a Santa hat, a bounty of presents, and a feast on the table. The happiest of days.
The ‘giving’ aspect of Christmas is much stronger for adults than children. Despite my parents receiving very little, I can imagine my childhood Christmases was just as much fun for them as it was for us. The joy that parents get in spoiling their children rotten and seeing them squeal with delight is a treat that is surely very difficult to match.
But I do wonder if we ever do enough to teach children about the joys of giving.
There are few duties more important in this world than being a parent. To nurture a baby from day dot and to see them through the highs and lows of their lives is very close to the essence of our existence.
Despite the headlines, the aim of child rearing is not to raise a doctor, a lawyer, a stockbroker, or even a UN peace-keeper. The aim of child rearing is to raise a kind, contributing and aware human being.
Central to this goal is to teach children about the various shades of humanity: the good, the bad, and very occasionally, the ugly. In Australia, the vast majority of us live in a world sheltered from the terrors of poverty, famine and war. This extraordinary piece of plain, dumb luck is something that we all too often forget.
Any number of charities now offer the ability to buy presents for those less well-off than ourselves. These schemes provide an enormous opportunity for parents to teach their children about the world outside of their own existence. We can buy goats, blankets, vaccinations, water-purifying tablets, almost everything you and I take for granted, to give people in our community and beyond a chance to experience a better life.
I love that Christmas is a time when children get some of their wildest dreams fulfilled. It is fun for them, and it is fun for us to watch them.
But there is also a place for teaching children, even from the youngest of ages, about giving. Believe it or not, a humble goat can be just as valuable to a child as the hottest item in the toy catalogue. When bought in the child’s name and explained to them as only parents can do, these presents can entertain, fulfil and provide happiness — all of the things that we want the best presents to do.
That goat that your children will never see, that goes to the family that they’ll never know, may very well help them understand what is truly special about Christmas.
Andrew’s new book can be purchased here.
Andrew Whitehouse is the Winthrop Professor at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research at the University of Western Australia. Andrew Whitehouse does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.