Nothing says “Bellingham families” like the holidays. The long, usually rainy nights lend themselves to staying indoors and keeping loved ones close. While the community offers plenty of public events for families to enjoy together, ultimately the traditions and memories that stay with us happen beside the hearth.
The trick is making memories that are merry and bright. Simply trying to withstand the pressure to buy the latest expensive toy or gadget can create stress, not least because parents might believe their children are missing out on the spirit of the season.
Parents might lose track of that spirit themselves, whether they are deeply rooted in a cultural or religious tradition or have decided to create a new tradition, to bring meaning to the holidays for their children.
Bellingham Families asked parenting experts in the schools and in religious circles for advice on how to help children find all that’s good about the holidays.
“We make every attempt to keep Christmas simple. We generally fill our children’s stockings with goodies and give them each one larger gift and perhaps a smaller gift. We have found that this cuts down on the craziness we feel to do Christmas shopping, but it also aids in preventing the present-opening frenzy that can sometimes occur — madly opening gifts, tossing them aside to move on to the next gift, and never fully appreciating what they’ve received.”
“Most important is to limit media exposure so children aren’t bombarded with advertising. ... You can give to others by volunteering as a family. There are many opportunities in Bellingham, from the Food Bank to Toys For Tots. You can also help on a neighborhood level, informally.”
“Specific character attributes, such as being caring and compassionate, and contributing to others, are modeled and taught every day. We encourage, recognize and support actions and expressions of kindness. Gift giving is one way to do this. We model taking action in ways that do not include money.”
“Our children are not allowed to write out Christmas wish lists. If Christmas is truly about giving, then it is up to the giver to think about something very special that they could make or buy that they think another person would like to receive. Making a list telling someone what you want them to buy you just didn’t seem appropriate to us. We have the children draw names and give a gift to one other sibling. We help them to think about what that person really loves and might enjoy.”
“Our schools’ choir, band and orchestra programs perform at a variety of times — some during assemblies during the school day, others hold evening concerts. Many of our schools’ orchestras and choirs participate and perform at the Holiday Festival the Port of Bellingham organizes every December. We have several schools that perform at local nursing homes as well. At the high school level, there is an annual holiday event, the Coats Vocal Band concert. That includes the small advanced vocal ensembles from the three (Bellingham) high schools.
“As a community we have one of our major events of the year — a Hanukkah party that is a great, big gathering. We share the traditional Hanukkah foods and make Hanukkah-related crafts. The children perform songs or plays. Of course, we light the candles of the menorah.”
“An important part of The Bellingham Promise, our strategic plan, is to be inclusive of diverse beliefs and to ensure that all of our students and families are honored and respected. We take a neutral approach and do not overemphasize the holidays. For instance, fall festivals rather than Halloween, winter themes rather than Christmas. We attempt to be inclusive of any mention of holidays and let kids know that some people celebrate one holiday, while others might celebrate a different holiday. We emphasize the importance of being respectful of all beliefs. We realize our approach is not perfect, but we strive to be neutral in the schools in order to have a welcoming and respectful environment for all students.”
“Many children are excited and want to talk about their family’s holiday traditions at school. Obviously, not all families and children participate in many of the holiday traditions rooted in Christianity. It is our job in the public schools to teach, not to promote or celebrate a particular religious expression. Many schools engage students in a unit of study about holiday traditions around the world or the role of religion in societies. This creates a focus on learning about important concepts without promoting or celebrating one religion. Students are often given a choice over the topic and read, write or express in music or art when learning a concept. Many students choose holiday topics. This is student, rather than teacher initiated.”
We read make-believe, fun stories about him and enjoy winter and cultural holiday traditions such as baking together, hunting for our Christmas tree, making crafts, singing songs, looking at Christmas lights and participating in Christmas services at our church.”
“By emphasizing the beauty and joy of our own traditions and cultural customs we might be able to eliminate this factor of ‘envy’ in children during the holiday season. When we develop a cultural rhythm for our families and communities, children respond with excited anticipation and eventually contentment with their own family’s celebration and customs. In the Jewish tradition for example, there are many special holidays with their own significant foods, games or other activities that make the celebration of our tradition fun for children.
“When the time comes and the child asks their parents, ‘Why don’t we celebrate Christmas?’ the parent can remind the child that families all over the world celebrate different holidays and traditions, and the same goes for Christmas. The parent may remind the child about their own family’s special, fun traditions that are not necessarily celebrated by everyone.”