Making Holidays Bright

December 20, 2017

ChildSavers’ annual Children’s Holiday Party is a wonderful event! We get to see children light up when they receive gifts, explore craft activities, and have fun with friends and family. For those of us who have the opportunity to be a part of this magical evening, it is a particularly bright spot in our holiday season.

One of my favorite experiences is working in the Santa line. I get to chat with the kids and families as they wait to visit with Santa. They tell me what they are going to tell him is on their wish list. I always try to prep the kids for their questions, and sometimes I’m  mischievous and suggest questions to stump Santa. Questions about the elves, the reindeer, and even questions about his summer holiday. I also enjoy speaking with the families in the line and getting to know them better.

Your Children’s Joy: The Greatest of Gifts

ChildSavers Immediate Response team with Santa at the Children’s Holiday Party.

One family from two years ago stands out to me in my memory. The kids were really excited. They were over the moon about the opportunity to talk with Santa. I think it was their first time ever speaking with him. The father was in his mid-30’s and obviously loved his kids. He was smiling and laughing, soaking up the joy. I asked him what he wanted for Christmas.

Through his smile I could see this was a difficult question to answer. He said, “I just want someone to pay my bills.”

The father told me that what his kids would get that day at our Holiday Party would probably be the only gifts they would receive that year. Their family was buried in medical bills and debt. He was so appreciative of the gifts his children received that evening and as he left he smiled at me, giving me a thumbs up and pointing at his beaming kids.

Holidays and Loss

Holidays are times of celebration and merriment. They can also cause us to remember difficult times and losses of our past. My own mother passed away two years ago. Christmas was her favorite holiday. Her love language was gift giving. She would have her holiday shopping done each year by October, but then she would always pick up new things along the way. My mother always wanted family close on Christmas day. She left two memorable Christmas gifts for our son, now 10-years-old: a book in which she recorded her own voice reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and a giant red Santa bag with our son’s name embroidered in gold letters (big enough, still, for him to hide inside). We bring these gifts out each holiday season to remember her.

Holidays can be difficult for those who have experienced loss. As with any anniversary, it can be triggering for feelings of sadness. As Brené Brown writes in her “Manifesto Of The Brave And Brokenhearted”, we must be the authors of our own stories. What happens to us does not define us.

We will not be characters in our stories.

Not villains, not victims, not even heroes.

We are the authors of our lives.

We write our own daring endings.

But what happens to us we can never erase. We must incorporate all of our history into our story and we get to choose how big a role any event, experience, or relationship plays. We can choose to give emphasis in our story to our sad moments or our celebrations and heartwarming memories.

How to Brighten Someone’s Blue Holiday

If someone you love this holiday season has difficulty celebrating it because of an experience of loss or because the gifts will not be as fruitful as they might have wished, here are some suggestions to overcome:

  • Don’t be afraid to help a child remember good times of the past. It is important to remember the positive things. Sometimes questions such as:
    • What are your good memories of her?
    • What reminds you of her?
    • Tell me about a time when she made you smile.
    • What would she tell you now if she was here? How would she want us to celebrate the holiday?
  • It is important to not dwell on sadness. Try to help your child have moments of fun, excitement, laughter, and happiness. These are not mere distractions. They are ways we create an important positive psychological experience which is like medicine for a sickness. It helps the sadness be less overwhelming.
  • Money may be an issue this holiday and your child may have unrealistic hopes for gifts. It is important to focus on the gift that most desirable for any child yet, seldom requested: time. Children want time with their parents and caregivers. As much as we love our kids, we can get caught in the routines of the day and give our children attention only when they need our help or when they are having problems. We forget that kids want time with us. Creating lasting memories with our children doesn’t have to cost money. Some ideas include:
    • An adventure through a park together
    • A family sleepover in the living room together
    • Cooking together
    • Making a pillow/blanket fort together
    • Letting your child teach you something
    • Playing a family game
    • Having a family sing-along night
    • Volunteering in the community together
  • Helping children give to others can help them feel less entitled and more appreciative of what is given to them. Role model volunteerism and charity as you are able, and share those experiences with your family.

Lastly, we wish you and your family peace and happiness during this holiday season, regardless of what and how you celebrate.

By John Richardson-Lauve, Director of Mental Health and Trauma and Resilience Education

John Richardson-Lauve is a licensed clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience working in community mental health. He is committed to supporting and strengthening individuals and communities that struggle with adversity. His experience includes work with chronically mentally ill adults, substance abuse, residential youth care, foster care, and outpatient mental health. He has worked with homeless veterans in New York City, in a hospice home for those with HIV in the early stages of the AIDS crisis, and six years living in a home with eight teenage girls in foster care. John is an experienced trainer, lecturer, and keynote presenter. He is the Director of Mental Health and Lead Trauma and Resilience Educator at ChildSavers. John and his wife have a nine-year-old son and together, they have worked with over 50 children in foster care in their home.