Dr. Dad



From joy to dread, the holiday season brings up a variety of feelings for families. The pressures of our consumer society can make this a tense time of year. Crowded stores and traffic jams all add to the flurry of activity that often push us to the limits of our patience. We find ourselves asking the question- is it really worth it? Could we do without this "holiday madness?" Couldn't we just skip the whole thing???

It is up to us as parents, (for us as dads) to rescue Christmas from its overcommercialisn and restore it to one of the special days in our children's lives. We can help create a special time of year to celebrate children, which I believe was the original intent of this holiday. For most children, Christmas is not a religious holiday. Children don't associate a jolly fat man in a red suit with any religious symbolism. As my daughter mentioned above, it is quite exciting to have a tree in the house. When our children were young, the surprise on their faces when they found their presents under the tree was so special for them.

Christmas is a celebration of children. As I researched the history of St. Nick, I was led to his pre-Judeo-Chrisitan past. It appears Santa Claus has his origins in a pre-Christian deity who was the protector of children, a nature spirit similar to the "green man" whose job it was to look out for the welfare of children. Both Hanukkah and Christmas may have been adjusted to coincide with this earlier folk tradition which was the focus of the winter season.

Children, especially young ones, need to have special days that are just for them. Except for school graduations and various religious ceremonies, which mark memorable moments in their lives, we have few special days for children. Only birthdays and Christmas remain as days truly reserved for kids. If these days are diminished in importance, children lose some of life's joy and the good feelings that go with it. Santa Claus reaches out to children in a unique way. Presents and "giving" can certainly express love and goodwill at this time of year. Most children know Santa doesn't bring gifts to parents. Somehow, Santa Claus is just for them. For children who can believe in the Santa Claus story, Christmas can be a magical time that brings much personal happiness.

Children who can experience the ancient myth of Santa Claus can have their lives immensely enriched. The thought of a happy good person, colorfully dressed who brings presents just for them creates a sense and "magic" in their lives. While difficulties and uncertainties in life are many, Christmas and the magic of Santa Claus help reassure children and give them a sense of hope. If our own rational thinking forces us to deprive our children of this symbolic meaning, which Santa represents, we lose the beneficial effects which can extend over the lifetime of the child.

Children have a need for magical thinking. From about four to ten years old, magical thinking actually helps kids cope with the world. The hardships, difficulties, even terrors, that are part of our lives, and that as adults we "cope with," can be dealt with by young children, through magical beliefs that help them "cope." As children grow, magical thinking declines and their rational consciousness is equipped to deal with the uncertainties and vicissitudes of life.

Together, my wife and I have tried to craft a unique Christmas for our children. We have a great time choosing a tree and decorating it. Our tree is covered with ornaments the kids have made over the years. Our children feel the joy of getting gifts that are given in celebration of them, with no one but Santa to thank.

As our children have gotten older, we have begun to explore the meaning of "peace" at this time of year. This is a time when we can all wish for a world that is more nurturing and peaceful. Our children can begin to express the feelings of gratitude that reflect their own experience of Christmas and what it means to them.

The winter solstice, the seasonal change begins to mark a time of turning inward. With less daylight, the cold, the change in the landscape around us, we all feel some of the seasonal transition. Connecting with these changes is part of the experience of Christmas for us, too. My wife and I take pleasure in creating a meaningful time for us to enjoy being a family together.

For Further self-reflection and discussion:

1. What do you find is most difficult about "the holiday season" for you?
2. How did your family celebrate Christmas?
3. How would you like to celebrate Christmas and how can you talk about it with your partner?

© 2008 Dr. Bruce Linton

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The kind of man who thinks that heping with the dishes is beneath him will also think that helping with the baby is beneath him, and then he certainly is not going to be a very successful father. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Dr. Bruce Linton is the founder and director of the Fathers' Forum in Berkeley, CA. In his weekly columns he share his expereinces and insights gained from his work with fathers in his groups, classes and clinical work. He explores how parenting and fatherhood effects us as men. Bruce is a Marriage and Family Therapists and recieved his doctorate for his research into men's development as fathers. He is the father of two children. Dr. Linton is the author of Finding Time for Fatherhood: Men's concerns as parents. Visit Fathers' Forum

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