17 Dec The Joy of Giving
The end of the year is usually a busy time for us, with two birthdays in the family and all the celebrations around Christmas and New Year. We do not celebrate Christmas officially, but since we live together with the extended Catholic family of my husband, we can not avoid celebrating it to some extend. Children, of course, expect to get Christmas gifts as the whole atmosphere is full of Santa-gifts advertising. I have to admit, I have never liked the commercial interpretation of Santa. Actually, I liked it when I was a kid, for the same reason the other kids like it today – to get a gift… and a lot of sweets! When I became a parent, I have started to realize how big companies, in close cooperation with modern media, misuse children`s naivety to get the parents to buy tons of unnecessary things, toys, and junk food. And in December, it reaches its peak, under the flag of Santa Claus and the huge consumer machinery created around him.
The true story behind the Santa Claus euphoria, as we know it today, is the story about Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a Christian Bishop living in the time of the Roman Empire. He was known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of Saint Nicholas’s life and deeds, on account of which he has been revered as a protector and helper of those in need. The spirit of these stories is far away from today`s Christmas consumer mentality. The emphasis of Saint Nicholas`s activities was on giving and helping the poor and the unfortunate, and today`s Christmas holiday is wrapped in the expectation of getting the gifts that are going to enhance the sense of enjoyment of the receiver.
Even though we buy or make some gifts in the name of “Santa” in this time of year, we try to minimize the big expectations based on commercial advertisements (especially now in the time of financial crises that hit us among all). Last year we have started a beautiful tradition of a simple letter exchange with “Saint Nicholas”. On 6. December, which is official Saint Nicholas day according to the Gregorian calendar, there is a custom that children clean their shoes or boots and leave them outside for Saint Nicholas to put in a gift. Along with the gifts (usually some homemade sweets and a very simple single toy), I put a letter in them. This year I purposefully highlighted the words of praise in the letter, for all the good deeds the children have done. And I added a request for them to write what good they think they have done, and what good they wish to do in the future. I was happy to see the eyes of my children shining with pride and satisfaction for being helpful and good in the eyes of “Saint Nicholas”.
My husband asked me: “Is it possible that they still believe that it is coming from Saint Nicholas? Come on, they are 10 and 8 years old!” Of course, they are aware that mommy and daddy make all these arrangements, but still, they accept it as a pretend play. And they live in it as if it is real. This is the special beauty of childhood and a very valuable tool for educators and those who take care of young children. We can reach our educational goals through play more effectively than through direct instruction with the children of early years (even up to 10-12 years).
I desire that my children become good devotees and good people as well. Many times in the circle of devotees we can hear that being good is not enough, that we have to become transcendental. That is very much true, but on the way to becoming transcendental, it is much better if we behave as good people – helpful to others, ready to sympathize with others, ready to get out of our comfort zone for someone who is in need. As devotees, we should develop many good qualities to be able to serve Krishna and devotees purely. So, I believe that we should consciously work on developing those qualities, in us and our children. We all know devotees who are very strict in sadhana and following rules and regulations, but not enough helpful and compassionate. Maybe, at some point, we were like that – focusing on our path of perfection and not caring much for other people`s struggles. Sometimes it is needful to be like that, for some specific purpose. But not to stay like that. As personalists, we develop our devotion and purity through the relationship with devotees, Guru, and Krishna. And, it reflects the relationship with other people as well. It is not possible to be nice and loving with Krishna, and rude with devotees and other people. If it`s like that, something is not right.
Acquiring good qualities starts at home. Usually, we say for a person with good manners that he or she has been well trained at home. But, we mostly overlook the fact that those manners are just the tip of the iceberg. They are the result of the long process of influencing the child through every day caring, nurturing, guiding, conflict resolving, modeling with our example, assisting in his/her big and small achievements, petting, correcting, and loving. To me, the parenting task is a life task. We model and build for the child the basics of his or her future life, and we mature ourselves during this process. And good manners are just the external manifestation of the values and believes that we pass on to the child.
So, for the Christmas holidays, we have been trying to make a shift in the consciousness of our children from expecting to receive to willing to give gifts (a bunch of fragrant sugar-glazed prasadam cookies to the neighbor children, a handwritten postcard or drawing for the grandparents and auntie).
On a deeper level, we try to decrease our desire for enjoyment and to increase our service attitude, both in our children and ourselves. As I have said, it is a long process, I would say a life-long process. But, even the longest path consists of a lot of small steps. Which always starts from home.
Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it!