As Christmas approaches, it’s very easy for kids to get wrapped up in getting rather than giving. This gives you a hidden chance to expand an important lesson in their financial education: generosity. This is easy to do if you look at the origins of many of the popular Christmas traditions.
The Story of Santa Claus
Santa Claus appears in many variations around the world—in the West, he is shown as a jolly, fat man in a red suit, and he is known for coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve to give presents to good girls and boys. His main roots are in a real-life person, the Greek Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was devoted to God and the church, and he worked hard to alleviate the suffering of the poor. The way children hang stockings at Christmas comes from the way he supposedly threw a few bags of gold into a poor man’s house to save the man’s daughters from slavery—these reportedly landed in stockings hung to dry by the fire.
Several other concepts eventually got rolled into the idea of Santa Claus over time. Among these are the young boy or Christkindl Martin Luther promoted as a depiction of Jesus. Better known as Kris Kringle, Christkindl only would come when children slept, but when he did, he always brought presents (Luther paralleled these to the gifts of Christianity). Another story involved is that of Old Man Winter or Father Christmas, who according to legend, travels from home to home and gives blessings if you offer him something to eat and drink.
Today, commercialism has somewhat overshadowed the melded traditions present in the modern Santa, but the traditions remain, nevertheless. In all the stories that make up this figure, the theme of giving is always at the forefront. Even if you don’t want to explain how these stories joined over time (this might ruin the idea that Santa is a real being for the kids), you can still emphasize his generous spirit and the fact that it’s good for kids to be aware of what other people need. In many locations, people dress up as Santa for charity work, encouraging people to donate money, toys and other items, which presents a great opportunity for you to let the kids “return Santa’s favor” or be his “helpers in giving.”
Christmas caroling was a tradition that originated primarily in Europe. On Christmas Eve, the poor would go from house to house and sing songs. Their hope was that, in return for raising their voices, the master and lady of the house would give them something to eat or drink. Figgy pudding, which is actually a kind of fruitcake, was often provided (hence, the line from the popular carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas, “oh, bring us some figgy pudding”). When you carol with your kids, you can talk about the importance of always being ready to sustain others and of rewarding work well done.
The Candy Cane
According to various sources, candy canes got their start as a sweet treat that helped young children stay silent during church services. Eventually, however, they became associated with the messages of mercy and giving of Christianity, with the shape representing the shepherd’s hook or “J” for Jesus. The white and red stripes, added later, were paralleled to Christ shedding his blood to wash away sin and make people pure again. Even if you are not a Christian, you can use the candy cane and story of Jesus as a way to start a conversation about self-sacrifice and thinking of others.
By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux