"Love is what's in the room with you if you stop opening presents and listen." -- Bobby, age 7

If you have a deep faith and keep the rituals of your religious tradition, then you probably have your holiday plans all mapped out, including religious services.

If, on the other hand, your observation of a December holiday is more secular, you may wonder how to help your child see beyond presents and get to the deeper meaning of the holiday.

Here are five easy ideas for families who aren't exactly religious but want more spiritual meaning in their holidays:

1. Affirm the magic.

Hanukkah and Christmas are both celebrations of something miraculous. Especially this month, try to build in enough time so you can stop rushing your child past the wondrous moments of everyday life: sun glittering on the snow, the rising moon, candles in the dark, the fragrance of green things... All remind us that we're surrounded by miracles.

2. Take time as a family for reflection.

If your tradition includes prayer, what better time than these special days in December, when so many religions celebrate the miracle of faith? But whether you pray or not, how about a family conversation about the deeper meaning of the holiday you celebrate? Maybe you'll decide to open your holiday dinner with a special candle lighting ritual or gratitude ceremony to remind you why you're all together.

3. Make generosity part of your tradition.

Giving to others and doing things for others feels good. It's our job as parents to find opportunities for our children to experience that feeling, because research shows that's what helps kids develop generosity. And at this time of year, it's a good antidote to the rampant focus on materialism.

4. Shift the emphasis from getting more possessions to creating warm family connections.

Holiday traditions can be about connection, whether you're baking or decorating. Create a tradition of meaningful gift giving by buying fewer "things" and instead giving experiences. Kids will treasure time with you more than they will toys, no matter how much they think they want those toys.

5. Let children hear the sounds of silence.

Many of us use background TV and radio as a way to avoid being alone with ourselves. Children, even more than the rest of us, need quiet time to simply be present with themselves. Music is a wonderful part of setting the holiday mood in your home, and singing is essential to celebration. But if media voices are intruding on the peacefulness of your home, it increases everyone's tension level. Why not take the opportunity over the holidays to turn off the screens, and lift the mood with inspiring music -- Or simply hear the power in silence?

Love is always in the room with you, no matter what day it is, or what your faith may be.  What better time to help your child listen for it?


"Believing in the true spirit of my December holiday, I commit myself to:

  • Remember those people who truly need my gifts
  • Express my love in more direct ways than gifts
  • Examine my holiday activities in the light of my deepest values
  • Be a peacemaker within my circle of family and friends
  • Rededicate myself to my spiritual growth."

- Jo Robinson & Jean Coppock Staeheli,
Unplug the Christmas Machine