Family LIfe

Give Yourself Permission to Celebrate the Holidays with Joy
by Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal

I am already hearing people start to say, "Oh no, the holidays are just around the corner." We feel pressured and caught; afraid we will not get the right present for someone special or measure up to what is expected of us. This rampant materialism turns us away from what is truly supportive in any spiritual fest, the nourishing of our inner being. This is particularly true of kids. So with the holidays coming up, let's look at what we can do to reduce the focus on toys, presents, and exposure to the commercial frenzy and put it back on activities that truly support our children's spiritual growth and awakening. When people ask me how much is too much, I turn it around and ask how much time with your kids is too much? They want us, not material things. Here are five things you can do:

1. Try to have one parent stay home
When my son was little, my wife needed to work during the holidays. She said, "Your job is killing you. Why not take a breather and stay home?" I actually was able to move my work into my office and become a stay at home dad. I was the only dad who didn't go out to work, and when neighbors got wind of it, I found myself not just babysitting, but when the time came, I dusted off my credentials and helped a group perform a play. If I learned one thing from all this, it was, kids don't need attention. They need us. They crave our time, devotion, and direction. Kids who have adult interest and direction in their lives-involvement, not interference-won't need massive numbers of presents. Instead they will want to make their own things.

2. Try plays and stories instead of TV
What you give value to, your kids will also learn to assign value to. Very early on, our family and friends started reading plays together. Everyone just took a part and read from the book. Then we started with actual productions and simple costumes. Once, because of the kids' love for animals, we chose the life of St. Francis, who tamed a wolf. Soon the kids were acting on stages at other schools. When kids take their part in endless and fascinating creations, a Christmas tree choked with huge presents isn't what they desire. Instead, the inner spark in them burns into a glow; they act and create the richness from their imaginations.

3. Take a break from television
In the days before radio and TV, people lived out a festival like Christmas, participating in the story. Why not try to give the TV a rest, let others buy out the toys and games from the stores, and start the season with St. Nick's day on December 6th? Even if your aren't raising your kids in the church, observe and celebrate the days of advent, building up to the climax of the visit of the wise men and of Jesus' birth. It has drama and unfolding mystery, just what will grip kids if you give your full enthusiasm to it.

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4. Create a traditional feast
Many of these days traditionally have feasts. I was fortunate enough to celebrate my 16th birthday and the whole Christmas season with a Catholic family in Holland, and one of the things we did was feast-not on supermarket food, but on dishes with high quality ingredients carefully gotten from specialty stores. Take the kids with you to get tasty vegetables, fruits, plump and tasty nuts, and create feasts together. Don't let yourself think that they slow you down and you could accomplish more by yourself; all the work and play alike will bind you together in the experience of excitement and wonder.

5. Create a spirit of common goals
Network with friends who want to celebrate the holidays as a spiritual festival rather than with presents and stores. If the weather permits, one or more adults can take the kids out to parks for soccer and basketball, or to the snow for sledding and skiing. While you're there, go out and get the right tree-I actually prefer just removing a large pine bough and mounting on a wooden stand-and trim it together with family and friends. Don't let what passes for Christmas celebrate you. This year, you can celebrate the real Christmas.

Dr. Stephen Ruppenthal is the author of The Path of Direct Awakening: Passages for Meditation. He is also the co-author of Eknath Easwaran's edition of The Dhammapada and the author of Keats and Zen. He has taught meditation and courses on Han Shan at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. Dr. Ruppenthal is an international workshop leader in passage meditation and in courses for those looking for end of life spiritual care and for the spiritual step component of twelve step programs. Visit Stephen's work at www.directawakenings.com.

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