I have long had the impression that Christmas means only presents to children and have therefore tried to ensure mine get what they ask for as far as I possibly can. However, we’re living in hard times now so many of us parents are having to really ask ourselves how we’re going to manage this Christmas and still have happy children.

Feeling guilty that our children won’t be turning up at school wielding an iPhone 4s or sporting the newest Nike trainers doesn’t help parents in the happiness at Christmas stakes either. Why do we feel so guilty about it?

I wrote about parental guilt a while ago, and learnt that there’s a whole lot more to it than I could ever have imagined. Basically, guilt is linked to judgement – when we feel other people are judging us, and when we judge ourselves. I wondered who it is that’s doing the judging when it comes to Christmas guilt – probably we judge ourselves for not being ‘good enough’ parents, and maybe we feel judged by our children for the same. However, I imagine we all know deep down that being able to afford lots of Christmas presents has no bearing at all on whether we’re good parents or not.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves, that that children may or may not remember the presents they got at Christmas 2011, but they will undoubtedly remember the feelings they experienced. Don’t we all feel that thrill of excitement well up in us when we smell a satsuma, or mincemeat, or pine needles?

It’s that wonderful feeling of joyful anticipation that our children will grow up remembering far more than which x-box game they unwrapped on Christmas morning. And it’s those pure feelings of delight that run far deeper than the transient excitement of a new toy.

I asked parents on Twitter and Facebook to ask their children what Christmas meant to them and to tell me the first thing they said. The answers were heartening (listed in the order they were sent to me):

  • Happy time of year,
  • presents,
  • days off,
  • wearing nice soft things,
  • family,
  • presents,
  • a Christmas tree that’s decorated,
  • Christmas Eve,
  • Santa & the elves coming,
  • seeing people,
  • having friends around and visiting other people,
  • giving people stuff,
  • seeing friends and family and being snuggled around the fire,
  • presents,
  • snow-flakes,
  • snowmen and snow princesses,
  • Santa Claus,
  • snow,
  • Disneyland,
  • presents,
  • Father Christmas,
  • presents,
  • Christmas tree,
  • laughter, fun and time with the family,
  • presents.

This list suggests to me that maybe the receiving of presents isn’t the really big deal we think it is, which is good to know when presents are having to play a smaller part in these more frugal times.

Saving money isn’t the only advantage of creating long-lasting, rich Christmas memories for our children. Lots of people can see the potential harm to society of people growing up materialistic, so if you’re struggling against the tide of desperate pleas for PSPs and football shirts, remind yourself that even if seeing your children’s eyes lit up for a few moments warms your heart, it’s not necessarily in their best interests if you only ever see it happening when wrapping paper is involved.

There are many other ways we can make Christmas exciting and joyful for our children without feeling guilty that our children will be missing out if the present pile isn’t quite as large as it was last year. Think about buying a wooden or cloth advent calendar that is brought out every year; have a special tree-decorating day, then in the week before Christmas, bake biscuits together and make decorations too add to your tree; have a family walk around all the beautifully decorated houses one evening and have hot chocolate and home-made cookies when you get back.

On Christmas Eve, we track Father Christmas on his journey round the world using Google Earth and the inspired Norad Tracks Santa website, then go to a carol concert in the evening, returning home to mince pies and spiced apple juice before snuggling up under a blanket together to watch The Snowman on DVD.

Let the children be the ones to hand out the presents from under the tree on Christmas morning and write a puppet pantomime to perform with or for them in the afternoon. Whatever you do, keep it just for Christmas time so that it’s special and meaningful for you and your children. Enjoy creating rich, beautiful memories for your children that will stay with them for decades after the toys you buy them are long gone.

This article first appeared in The Citizen – Gloucestershire local newspaper.

Images: Milele, John Piekos, Flickr

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