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The true magic of Christmas lies in our family rituals

QUESTION: I am the mother of two girls, ages 4 and 6. I want them to enjoy the Christmas rituals I did when I was young. But my husband says he doesn't want our kids to grow up with false ideas about "Santa". He wants our children to value real people (relatives, etc.), instead. But I so much miss these rituals, and want to create the "magic" of Christmas with my children. What should I do?


The true magic of Christmas lies in the spirit of your family's rituals, whether that includes baking cookies for a Santa who devours them or baking Christmas pie for grandparents. It is your family's rituals and the way you enjoy each other that gives meaning to the holidays!

Ask your husband to compromise. Create a blend of the rituals from each of your childhoods, that were meaningful. Why not incorporate the joy from both of your childhood experiences? You could embrace both fantasy and reality in your own family ritual. For example, one family's ritual includes reading the story "The Night Before Christmas", on Christmas Eve before gift-giving. Even though the two children always knew Santa to be pretend (and are now grown adults!), they insist the Christmas story be read! A belief in Santa Claus may simply express the spirit of generosity in all of us.

Let your husband know that fantasy, too, has its place. We teach our children the value of reaching for the impossible, in a variety of ways. Sometimes, fantasy serves the purpose of inspiring us. One mother I know believes in recreating the "magic" of Christmas through a ritual passed down from her own parents. The re-enactment of the story of Santa appearing in the kitchen to eat cookies, while children sleep, and the reindeer rattling the roof overhead is re-enacted each year. The children know it is not "real", but they enjoy it nonetheless! The true value of the ritual lies in the spirit of excitement and anticipation passed down through the generations, not whether it is "real" or not.

It is as valid to create a sense of "magic" through knowledge of the people who give you gifts, as it can be to embrace the fanciful story of the North Pole in your holiday celebrations. A beautiful sweater from Aunt Mary may remind a child of her Auntie's love. And the excitement of opening Christmas presents is not lessened because they did not come from Santa! But what would be wrong with another gift from the mysterious man and his reindeer?

If your family's holiday ritual is enjoyed and brings family members together, they learn to value family connection over disconnection. This is the hallmark of a successful family ritual. Successful family rituals develop a spirit of family that ensures the ritual continues through time, passed down through the generations.

A word of warning: Not all family rituals endure. Celebrations can become empty and atrophy when they do not meet the needs of its members. A successful ritual is based on enjoyment, which strengthens family connections. If the spirit of family ritual becomes stale, rather than meaningful, parents must create change. Family spirit does not happen "magically". Parents must stay tuned to the needs and enjoyment of all members, over time, if the ritual is to continue to bring people together in a way that proves enjoyable and meaningful.

Talk with your husband about a blend of activities that honors both of your perspectives, and stay open to the meaning and enjoyment inherent in your partner's suggestions. It is your job as parents to create your own meaningful family rituals, both in holiday celebrations and in daily life!

Successful family rituals, from weekly Sunday pancake breakfasts to annual Christmas celebrations form the basis for family relationships. Whether your family's holiday ritual is based on believing in Santa or simply enjoying the myths and mysteries that surround the holidays, make it a meaningful and enjoyable one that will make family members want to come together, again and again!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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