Meredith Gelman, a Fairfax-based clinical social worker who works with parents and families, said when parents have different ideas about gift-giving, the approach should be broken into three phases: creating a recipient list and budget, discussing each other’s expectations and reasons for giving, and negotiating.
“Identify ways that you and your partner might combine each other’s gift ideas: Can you still buy at the toy store while also purchasing toys and clothing for a local needy family?” she said. She suggested involving children in the conversation, too, so they begin to understand the underlying reasons for giving gifts.
Be sensitive about Santa.
If your family has children of mixed ages, keep the Santa Claus myth alive for the youngest, said Meghan Leahy, a D.C.-based parent coach. “You take the 4-year-old to pictures [with Santa], you write the list with her, you listen for the hoofs. As the parent, you use your imagination.
“As much as a preteen would maybe love to get negative attention [for spoiling it], you simply hug him and say, ‘I believe in everything good about the holidays, and Santa is part of that in our house. Especially for your little sister,’ ” Leahy said.
For families who celebrate Christmas without Santa, Leahy warned against asking a preschooler to keep the secret that there really isn’t a Santa. “It is a truism for all kids that if you look them in the eye and say, “Please, please don’t tell the kids in pre-K that there is no Santa,” that child will march right into school with an important announcement: “There is no Santa!”
Instead, she said, “concentrate on what you do believe in as a family and say things like: ‘Some families believe in Santa, some don’t. We really believe in giving back in this house. Can you help me make a list of people we can help this holiday?’ You will notice that there was no refutation in that sentence. You simply want to highlight what the family values are.”
Christmas and Hanukkah: A peaceful coexistence
Hanukkah (starting sundown Dec. 20) and Christmas overlap this year. That makes it a good time to focus on the similarities between the two celebrations, said Jennifer Kogan, a D.C. clinical social worker.
“Parents can talk with their kids about common religious principles or themes. For example, both Christmas and Hanukkah tell the story of a miracle,” she said.
In terms of deciding which traditions to continue, she said it can be helpful for each parent to think about what they loved most about their childhood celebrations. “Is it the different kinds of cookies your mom baked in advance of Christmas? Playing the dreidel game? The scent of a Christmas tree? Latkes frying on the stove? Reading stories or singing songs with family?” The answers can provide a template for the idea of interfaith celebration for your family.