The festive season is a joyous and exciting time for children, with advent calendars often filled with chocolates used to count down the days in anticipation for a special visitor on Christmas Eve.

As a child, at the beginning of December, I remember coming down the stairs and opening the door to my lounge to see the wondrous, brightly coloured decorations adorning the ceiling, a Christmas tree beaming from the corner of the lounge with flashes of multicoloured lights, and bowls of chocolates and sweets placed on the side – a tradition only for this time of year. The TV was always on, with Christmas cartoons broken up by toy adverts that filled the screens with ideas for gifts for children to add to their letters to Santa. Local shopping centres played festive music that, for me, invoke happy memories of trips with my family to see the themed Christmas display of elves busy in their workshop and animals sat on a bed of fluffy white snow. The sound of laughter echoed through the shopping hall as children rode on the carousel, bobbing up and down on the horses as they spun around and around, waving to family and friends. Market stalls selling their unique gifts and treats and the smell of turkey, cranberry, stuffing and fresh roasted chestnuts filling the air that were sure to make any tummy grumble.

                                           (Central Milton Keynes December 2023)

Now, as a parent to four children, there was nothing I wanted more than for my children to look back on the experiences and memories we share at Christmas. When my children were younger, we spent hours making homemade cards and gifts for family and friends. When they gifted their presents, their faces lit up with joy as they welcomed the warm comments about their unique designs, and for each year after as they see their creations being displayed around the house. One can never grow out of wanting to be creative and make homemade gifts to share. Each year, my children receive a handmade item from their grandparent and while other toys and gifts may be played with for a short while, or eventually grown out of and donated to charity, these gifts make their way to their memory box where past times can be shared and remembered for many years.

It is no surprise to anyone that for children, the anticipation of ripping open wrapping paper to see what they have is a wonderful moment for all to see. As social beings, our brains are wired to derive pleasure from the act of giving, bringing feelings of love and happiness at many special occasions across the year. Sometimes referred to as the love hormone, oxytocin is released when gifts are shared, playing a crucial role in forming social bonds between people. That said, without spending quality time with others, to discover interests, likes, and dislikes, how much value can the gift have? Are you confident you will feel warm and fuzzy in your tummy when the present is opened and joy is seen on the recipient’s face?

By tradition, the practice of giving gifts at Christmas stems from the Christian tradition where presents are viewed as symbolic tributes presented to Baby Jesus from the Three Wise Men in the Nativity story. But has this customary practice of giving presents lost its true value? Is Christmas becoming over-commercialised with the view that presents are more important than the presence of family and friends? 

As a parent/carer, the greatest gift for a child is made with being present, sharing love, spending quality time, and making happy memories. The wonderful thing about these gifts is that regardless of one’s financial situation, these hold more value than money and can be afforded by all. Time is our most valuable commodity which waits for no person and before you know it, the calling from children to come and play, to read a book once more and the sticky handprints on walls and doors, will become a distant memory. 

Take time to slow down this festive period and appreciate the things and people in your life, being more mindful rather than a mind full of lists, jobs and the endless events clogging up the calendar. Being mindful helps to soothe your soul, relax your mind and body, saving energy for essential psychological and physical wellbeing.

So, why not start your own festive traditions and create memories with your children that will spark joy and happiness this year, and many to come. Don the cooking apron and fill the house with seasonal aromas, make gifts with children and gift them to friends and family, go for wintery woodland walks, play games, and listen to your favourite Christmas songs.


Becky Watanabe