In a season that often seems filled with “things”, I am finding peace and comfort in the sanctuary of friends and joy from giving to others and to organizations whose missions align with what I see as moving the world in the right direction.
Elie Wiesel: “Sanctuary is often something small. Not a grandiose gesture but a small gesture toward alleviating human suffering and preventing humiliation. Sanctuary is a human being. Sanctuary is a dream. That is why you are here, and that is why I am here; we are here because of one another. We are in truth each other’s shelter.”
If you find yourself needing a bit of a spiritual boost to keep fighting, I recommend going to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a movie written by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Themes in the movie focus on doing what is right regardless of what society and large groups of people are doing and telling you to do. Keep fighting the good fight. Protect those you can. Guard what is beautiful and innocent from corrupting, pain-inflicting forces.
As Margaret Weis said:
“Like a drop in the vast ocean, each of us causes ripples as we move through our lives. The effects of whatever we do – insignificant as it may seem – spread out beyond us. We may never know what far-reaching impact even the simplest action might have on our fellow mortals. Thus, we need to be conscious, all of the time, of our place in the ocean, of our place in the world, of our place among our fellow creatures. For if enough of us join forces, we can swell the tide of events – for good or for evil.” – The Seventh Gate
There are several good ways to engage kids in the spirit of the holidays, of charity, sharing, and kindness.
Involve children in selecting and donating to charities. Collecting toys or putting money into a collection box to later take to an organization stick powerfully in a child’s mind and memory.
Pick a Present
If you have a younger child and a household pet, consider having the child pick out a gift to give to the pet. My daughter loves to be able to give our dogs treats when they come inside as called. She learns to treat them with respect and show affection for them in ways that they appreciate. This helps her, reduces my stress that she’ll engage with them inappropriately (and potentially resulting in a nip or even just a grumpy dog), and helps the dogs, too.
This can also work well if there’s a relative that may not have a strong relationship with the child, like a homebound grandparent. Discuss why grandma or grandpa isn’t able to get around much, why they can’t play in the same way that parents can, etc. Discuss differences but also show community and family. I don’t recommend forcing a relationship that isn’t there, like if the child doesn’t like the grandparent, though. That can increase resentment rather than foster caring.
My daughter and I watched The Christmas Bunny via Netflix (if you have Netflix you can click on the link to go to it). The movie incorporates aspects of The Velveteen Rabbit, Christmastime, foster kids and what family is. It’s a good movie for pausing and discussing what’s going on, how the characters are feeling, and what the child may feel or do in a particular situation.
There are a lot of holiday movies available, so I recommend looking for some that focus on the emotional connection rather than ones that are just entertainment. Especially for younger kids, the more central the themes are to the plot rather than as a side note, the more likely they are to understand what’s going on. Home Alonemay incorporate aspects of appreciating family, for example, but there’s so much other stuff and action that it may be difficult for a younger child to pick up on that and be able to understand and discuss it.
Of course I’m going to mention books.
Prancer by Stephen Cosgrove – 5 stars
A little girl finds a wooden reindeer that fell from a town display and broke part of its leg. When a real reindeer shows up near her house with the same kind of injury, she’s sure that it’s Prancer.
There’s a movie version of this out as well, but I haven’t seen it to say whether it’s worth watching.
The Mitten by Jan Brett – 4 stars
In the cold of winter, several animals come together to share the warmth of a single mitten. In some ways this is a silly story: of course not all of the animals can fit inside the mitten. There are several ways to discuss how this can be a problem or to find solutions with children, though. Could the animals share the mitten and take turns so that everyone gets to have it a little while? Are some animals being greedy? What could the group have done differently in order to have avoided the final outcome of the mitten?
Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston – 5 stars
This book weaves a bit of history and Southern flavor into a story ultimately about family and community. Even the mention that the father goes to fight in “the Great War” ie World War invites discussion of fighting as a community, a nation.
I think some of the best children’s literature and entertainment, including shows and movies, present children as the heroes of the story, but as children grow up, they see that the parents or other positive adults behind the main characters helped them along the way. These parents often assist in important ways but not to the degree that they get in the child’s way. Yes, that may be done to help encourage parents reading the books to keep reading them, but it’s also a powerful message that children can be independent and their own heroes even if we’re present fully in their lives; we just have to back off enough that they feel empowered to take action and be independent. I want my daughter to be independent, strong, and capable of course, but no way am I backing off entirely from her life. I’d rather remove obstacles that she couldn’t as long as I can and still leave some obstacles for her to move on her own.
There are many more books that focus on the holidays and incorporate such positive messages of community, caring, and giving sanctuary to ourselves and others. I encourage you to browse the selection in your local library.
May we swell the tides within our families, communities, and into the world beyond to create a better world for all. Best wishes for a wonderful start to your holiday season, whatever holidays you may be celebrating.