Saturday, December 3, 2011

Evolutionary Parenting: Thoughts About Holidays

by Jon Cleland Host

Though I mentioned some resources for Evolutionary Parenting in my previous blog post, I never meant to suggest that it is easy – it’s not (heck, good parenting of any kind isn’t easy).  Like so much in life, however, that extra intentional effort is very rewarding.

Right now, at the beginning of December, many of us are indeed spending effort – preparing for the holidays.  But which holidays?  From the many available, nearly all of us are celebrating the holiday our parents taught us, perhaps including minor tweaks from our lives or our spouses.  That’s not a surprise, given that holidays are one of the most common ways that values are passed on to the next generation, answering our human need for both celebration and meaning.

Why “No Holidays” Is Not an Option

Our involvement in holidays, in terms of both time and money spent on the kids, is especially clear for many of us at this time of year – showing that we care about them.  After all, it is where we spend our time and money that shows what we really care about.  Children know this.  They see us with more unvarnished honesty than we may realize, constantly learning from what we actually do, nearly heedless of what we say.  Children see through hypocrisy like a picture window, especially as they get older.

So, what then are we teaching them with our chosen holidays, which speak to our children more loudly than anything we tell them?   What is all our holiday effort working to build?  Because honesty is one of the most important aspects of good parenting, my wife and I carefully chose which holidays to celebrate, and how to celebrate them.  Like a culture’s origin story, a culture’s holidays also must be both meaningful and real (or believable).  Real, for a holiday, includes being both fun and factual.  Holidays that aren’t fun backfire, leading to resentment that only teaches avoidance or antipathy towards the parents as well as whatever idea is otherwise intended.  Conversely, a holiday that is fun, but has no basis in reality or fails to teach good values, is little more than rank consumerism, teaching children greed and gluttony.  Does that sound like some holidays we have in America today?  Is it a surprise that so many Americans have grown up to be greedy, gluttonous, and empty of deep values, having learned exactly what they were taught?

What can be done?  Jettisoning all traditional holidays without replacing them is like having holidays that aren’t fun – especially when all your children’s friends are having a blast with those traditional holidays.  Do we have any choice other than empty holidays based on consumerism and superstition?

The answer is yes.  We do have another option, one which draws on the love, creativity, and effectiveness present in today’s parents – we can craft holidays that are meaningful, real and fun.  How that’s done will vary from family to family, and so what follows are just the solutions that Heather and I have found to work well for our family.  These may be a useful starting point, but ultimately it is up to each parent to find their family’s solution themselves.  For many, some adjustments to their old holidays may be all that is needed, and any holiday solution must be sustainable in today’s modern culture.  Too radical a departure will become an effort to maintain over the years, especially if they are celebrated on significantly different dates from traditional holidays, and are thus more likely to be abandoned over time.  The rest of this already long blog post describes our family celebration.

The Cleland-Host Family Approach to Holidays Around the Winter Solstice

Obviously, our whole year of family holidays is beyond the scope of a blog post, so this will cover only the Winter Solstice, which is December 22nd this year.  In this darkest time of the year, the returning light and the hope that light brings has been enough to make this time sacred for literally millions of your Ancestors for thousands of years.   Our modern understanding of the Universe gives us many other ideas to celebrate as well, and we have chosen stars (our Sun and other stars) as a central theme of our family Winter Solstice celebration.  Included in that theme are also supernovae, the stardust that makes our world (and us), the winter season, and connection to all humans that comes from realizing that ancient people on all continents celebrated the Winter Solstice millennia ago.  The Winter Solstice is, after all, the reason for the season – both meteorologically as well as culturally!

Holidays (and family cultures) must also have practices.  Our traditions for the Winter Solstice are similar in many ways to practices our kids see their friends doing.  They include a decorated Solstice Tree (with a star on top). Solstice lights are strung indoors and out (we point out to the kids that the different colors of the lights are like the different colors of the stars, and talk about star colors and types). Stockings are hung, as well as decorations with stars, evergreens, and snow.  We open a door in an “Advent” calendar every day, counting down the days to Solstice with small surprises, and tell the stories of stardust and of Kabibonokka (the north wind) over eggnog and cookies made in the shapes of stars, snowflakes, and evergreens.  See here for related resources.

This all of course culminates on the Winter Solstice itself.  After weeks of anticipation, we eat a decorated ice cream Yule Log on the night before Solstice, pointing out that our bodies’ metabolism will be burning that Yule log all night.  The next morning, the kids usually wake up before sunrise, and are allowed to go through their (now filled) Solstice stockings.  Soon, we gather up the kids in the dark blue of morning, trekking out to see the Sun return, victorious after its long decline.  The rising Sun is greeted with songs and poems, and then we take some time as a family to enjoy wherever we are — which is often the Lake Huron shoreline, as our home is in Midland, Michigan.

The kids are jumping with excitement by the time we return home, reminded that love from the Universe can make wonderful things happen.  They rush out to our family’s sacred space, a stone circle in our wooded backyard, to find gifts for all.  The gifts are brought into the house and opened one at a time, to start a sacred day with no work, instead having a party, visits with extended family, or other family time.  If asked, we truthfully answer questions about how the gifts got out there, if those questions are supported by evidence and good reason.  We never lie to the children, and they know that.  When a child uses their own reason to discover that we put the gifts there, we point out that what we told them first was true, because we parents are part of the Universe, and that they are not allowed to tell their siblings, who must also figure it out themselves.  So far, only our oldest child has figured it out, though his brother came very close last year, and I expect him to figure it out easily any day now.

How ever you choose to celebrate the season, our family extends the warmest wishes to you.

Happy Holidays!

~ Jon Cleland Host

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