Most 3.5 -year-olds know what Christmas is about: Santa. Presents. Rudolph. Presents. Snow. Oh, and presents.
We're working on combating this culture of consumerism in our house. But it's a fine line to walk. My Little One believes in Santa. (Go ahead, cast your stones at me, all of you who have decided not to perpetuate one of Life's Great Lies and have omitted Old Saint Nick from your family's Christmas traditions. I say: We spend most of our lives as jaded adults who lack imagination. I'd like her to embrace the magic of childhood for as long as possible. For me, that includes leaving cookies for Santa, hunting for Easter Eggs and buying into the Teeth for Cash program run by a little fairy with a big penchant for incisors. Really. You should watch 'Miracle on 34th Street" again.)
In any case, we're doing the Santa thing. We're also doing the Jesus thing. By that I mean we have the creche set up and she knows Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. But somehow this has still translated into "getting presents." Christmas, birthdays, it's all the same: You get stuff.
So I've been trying to instill in her an appreciation for giving as well. I mean, she's 3-and-a-half, so I can't really say how much of it is sinking in. But some of it is working. Here's proof:
We started weeks ago, actually, when we went together to an emergency homeless shelter in a neighboring town to deliver bags of her outgrown clothes. At first, she wasn't so jazzed about the idea of giving away her stuff. To be quite frank: She was pissed at me. But I kept talking to her about the little girls who maybe didn't have quite as many nice things as she did. I told her about little girls who wouldn't be able to play in the snow without warm snow boots. I made her put her feet into her old ones so she would understand that they really didn't fit, that she really couldn't use them any more. I reminded her that she had brand-spanking new ones just waiting for the first snow. I tried to build up her sense of pride in her own generosity, make her understand how many little girls she would be helping, just by getting rid of stuff she couldn't use any more anyway.
She was still pissed.
But then, when we went to the shelter, she saw some kids. She saw a little girl who was there with her mother, half asleep on the mother's shoulder. We dropped our bags in the overcrowded, understaffed, dingy little office. The Little One was silent. And she was looking around. When we left, she asked me "Will that little girl get my old snow boots?" I told her that maybe she would and she didn't say anything. We got in the car and went about the rest of our day.
But a few days later, I tried to squeeze her into a sweater from last year. After first getting her stuck then unsticking her little head, we decided on another sweater. Then, out of the blue she said "Maybe that little girl would like this sweater? It's warm. And now it doesn't fit me."
What a moment! The feeling that I had actually reached her, that I taught her something, that she could wrap her little mind around the very big concept of charity was thrilling! It was kind of a Christmas Miracle.
We have since made another trip with more bags to the same shelter, this time with no protest at all from the Little One. And while her letter to Santa still reads like an inventory check list from Toys 'R Us, this latest trip was proof she's also learning to embrace the joy of giving. At 3-and-a-half, I'd say she's way ahead of the curve on that.