The Character Movement

What matters most this holiday season?

This post was written by Susan Harris, Communications and Marketing Manager for Youth Frontiers. Susan is married with two elementary-age children and lives in the Twin Cities area. Susan has worked in various youth-focused nonprofits for the last fifteen years. When she has time to blog, you can read more at

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I wish it didn’t come with freezing temps, but even the snow adds a special sparkle of magic to the season. Christmas is also the only time of the year when my husband and I agree on music and the Hallmark Channel plays non-stop holiday movies for six weeks.

As a mom, I love to share my love for the season with my children. Twinkling lights, decorations, school concerts, cookies and music are parts of our family tradition. Like most kids, my children tend to focus on the presents they will open on Christmas morning. I’m sure I’m to blame for some of this single-track-mindedness. For the past couple months, anytime my kids would tell me they wanted something, I would respond by saying, “Put it on your Christmas list.”

Needless-to-say, their Christmas lists were a mile long and expectations were running high coming into December. As a Christmas-loving fool, it’s hard not to get caught up in the material delights. It would be so easy to make their every wish come true and spoil them in the name of St. Nick. Not so easy on our pocketbook, but easy none-the-less.

What stops me? My own memories of glorious Christmases when I was a kid. Yes, I remember the year that I got my first Cabbage Patch Kid doll and the year that I got “A Light in the Attic” by Shel Silverstein. But that’s it.

What I do remember is how my mom used to work some Christmases (she was a nurse), so we would celebrate on Christmas Eve and visit my mom at the hospital on Christmas Day. I remember how fondue became our Christmas Eve tradition as we got older – one that we still do.

I remember how I would wake up early on Christmas morning and go running down to my parents’ room. Together, my dad and I would wander back upstairs to try to wake my older sister. That was rough during the teenager years!

I remember how we didn’t have relatives in town and so we spent nearly every Thanksgiving and Christmas with one particular family. After the dishes were washed and put away, we would play Pictionary.

I remember the people – the relationships that meant the most to me – and the time that we spent together at Christmas. And that is what I want my kids to remember. Traditions around presents aren’t nearly as meaningful as traditions around relationships.

To simplify the gift giving this year, we told our kids that they would be getting four presents: something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read. Surprisingly, they didn’t bawk at this idea.

Instead, we’re going to try to focus on others this Christmas. We’ve signed up to ring bells for the Salvation Army and are going to donate toys to kids that may not get anything else. We’re planning a lot of activities that we can do together – movie nights, carols around our fireplace, s’mores in the backyard, driving around and looking at lights. And we’re focusing on the family time we will have with cousins and grandparents.

Even without all the presents, my kids are enjoying this holiday season and looking forward to Christmas Day. It IS the most wonderful time of the year, after all. And my hope is that my kids remember how Christmas was about family, friends and helping others.

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