Recently, in my local post office, I found myself on the brink of boredom in a seasonably long queue. But then I noticed a bunch of excited kids clutching their Santa letters – maybe their first ever letter – maybe buying their first ever stamp! Such cuteness! The atmosphere was electric, the excitement deliciously contagious. I found myself smiling, I could practically smell the Christmas pudding…
Until I saw their parents’ faces. There I saw something else. Was it exhaustion? Stress? Fear? Whatever it was, it had a heaviness that bore a stark contrast. What was going on?
My mind wandered to the content of these Santa letters. What was in them? How different might they be from those that we wrote as children? I wondered how they were worded, how demanding they were. How polite, humble, hopeful. How grateful?
What could we learn about these future grown-ups if we were to break a sacred rule and read the letters of the kids in our own lives? Some of them of course would be just adorable (You’ve all seen some, and they are, really, really adorable). But some might irritate or even scare us. How many children have such huge expectations and demands that parents feel crushed under the pressure of meeting them? Would we find adult-super-sized greed hiding in the crooked cute handwriting?
Is this what I was seeing etched on the faces of the queuing parents?
And so I thought – what if we guide our kids to write their Santa letters differently? What if in doing this, we enhanced their sense of belonging, of citizenship, of empathy and importantly, of gratitude? We now know, in a concrete, evidence based way, that these things are good for mental health – whatever age or stage of life.
And we can enlist the big bearded guy’s help to do this!
So as the Christmas season fast approaches, perhaps ask yourself (and everyone you know!):
“What would it be like to encourage your child to write not just for themselves but for their anonymous playmates in French refugee camps, the estate down the road? Children who look just like them, have the same needs, same dreams. What if your child included a written wish for these other little human beings? Even if you, as an adult, have the heartbreaking awareness that this wish may not ever come true?
We could teach our children life-long skills like empathy and gratitude by guiding them to consciously think of these other kids as they write to Santa for stuff they want.
It’s just stuff.
It’s never too early to teach empathy and gratitude. It’s not to late to bring true Christmas spirit back. Children as young as four are perfectly capable of learning empathy. Even younger children can learn to share, to show gratitude. A simple addition to a child’s Santa letter might be to ask for something on another’s behalf, a toy, a blanket, a kind word. You could name ‘small’ things that your child will be familiar with, that they might appreciate more through this easy exercise. We can help kids to wonder about what it feels like to not have simple things on demand – never mind luxuries like games, electronics, phones, TVs!
This is not about guilt or shame of abundance. It’s about compassion and gratitude.
And what if they added a thank you note for last year’s gift? (Can they remember last year’s gift?) And they may not! But it’s OK, they can still write what they are grateful for today, even if it wasn’t a Santa gift, it’s the being grateful is what matters. And Santa would love to hear about that!
Our children will soon be responsible for governments, policies, the world. And Santa, as it turns out, could, in a very real way, really help us all.
And I would be grateful for that, wouldn’t you?
Wishing you all a lovely Christmas,
ps: That haunting image was captured by Ina Fassbender of Reuters.
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