Christmas is all around us and for many, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But it’s easy to get caught up in the tinsel and traditions and lose sight of the messages we might be sending young people at Christmas. Without realising it, we can reinforce stereotypes that are harmful for girls and young women, simply by getting into the Christmas spirit.
Here’s our list of some of Christmas stereotypes or traditions, it can be helpful to consider discussing with young people to help them have a healthy, empathetic and fun holiday season.
Everybody loves Christmas
If you’re a Christmas fan, it’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement. But the holidays can be a really difficult time for many people. For example, children who are living in care, who have lost a family member, or who don’t have a good home life.
And then of course, there are those who don’t celebrate Christmas at all, for example if they celebrate different religious festivals. Talking about these varied experiences will encourage your child to balance their excitement with the understanding that not everyone feels the same and this is a great way to help your child build empathy and awareness of others.
Eating disorders and poor body image are a serious issue among girls and young women and research shows that girls become conscious of their weight from the age of five. So much of the UK Christmas tradition is focused around eating that it can be a minefield for anyone with these kinds of issues, particularly when followed by the ‘New Year, New Me” onslaught of diet product promotion.
There’s so much that we could say about this, but here are some key suggestions:
- Don’t comment on anyone’s weight over Christmas, especially not young people’s – and if you hear a family member doing so, politely ask them to stop.
- Avoid making negative remarks about eating too much, including about yourself, like “I’ve eaten so much, I’m such a pig” or “I’ll have to work this off at the gym tomorrow” or “this is so naughty”.
- Equally, don’t pressurise someone to eat anything they don’t want to. If they’re full after one serving, or don’t fancy dessert, that’s fine!
Instead, try focusing on the enjoyment that you get from the food, your gratitude for it and the love that has gone into making it.
You’ve got to hug your family
As society talks more and more about consent, and a person’s right to have control over their own body, parents have started to look at the way they ask their children to interact with family members in a new light.
Many of us will remember being forced to kiss aunties good bye or hug family unfamiliar members we only saw once a year, because it was polite. However, particularly for girls, many parents are reconsidering the message this sends and allowing their children to make their own choice on how to greet family members.
Father Christmas is a much-loved tradition, and we wouldn’t dare to suggest otherwise…however, you might want to consider some new rules for Father Christmas this year! Some parents have taken the decision to break with tradition and make some of the following changes when it comes to the man in red:
Father Christmas doesn’t break into your room at night
Some children won’t feel comfortable with the idea of Father Christmas coming down the chimney uninvited at night, particularly into their room while they’re sleeping. You might want to ask the children where they would like to hang their stockings and go with an option they are comfortable with.
You don’t have to sit on his lap
Many grotto Father Christmases have already made a move away from asking children to sit on their laps. Encouraging children to sit on the lap of an adult they don’t know does rather fly in the face of the ‘stranger danger’ message that we impress on children at other times. We would certainly suggest that you give control to your children and ask them where they would like to sit.
Some kids don’t get visited by Father Christmas – it doesn’t mean they’re on the naughty list
Many of us will have grown up being scared into good behaviour by the threat that Father Christmas only visits children that are ‘good’. One of our GFS staff’s babysitter would regularly “call Father Christmas” if things got a bit out of control.
While the idea of making a list and checking it twice is fun, why not remind children instead that some kids won’t receive gifts from Father Christmas – due to a number of reasons including different religious beliefs or financial hardship. It will help your children to build empathy, and help them understand that fewer material possessions or different beliefs don’t mean that another person is bad – at Christmas or any other time.
There’s only one way to do Christmas
Mince pies, advent calendars and Christmas crackers. Nativity shows, presents under the tree and leaving a carrot for the reindeer. Many of us are very familiar with these traditions, and might even say it’s not Christmas without them.
But UK Christmas traditions aren’t the only ones. Helping children understand that there are lots of different ways of celebrating the same holiday is a great way to introduce them to the idea of appreciating people’s differences instead of fearing them.
Why not have some fun exploring come other cultures’ Christmas traditions this year? You could embrace the Danish tradition of dancing around your tree on Christmas Eve. Or make a traditional Indian Christmas star lantern. Or learn about La Befana, the Italian Christmas Witch. Or take a break from the Christmas Pudding and try some traditional West Indian Christmas fruit cake instead.