By Hollee Chadwick
It's the age-old question. No not: "Why are we here?" -- but, "How to I get my teenager off the phone long enough, out from in front of the television, to put down the video games, out of the bathroom, to log-off the chat room and get them involved in spreading the holiday cheer?
As a mother of two grown and on-their-own daughters, and one daughter smack dab in the throes of teenagedom, I have wrestled with this for many years.
Needless to say, it's not too tough to get any child -- or adult, for that matter -- excited about receiving presents. It's a given (pun intended). What can be tougher is to get said teenager to work up a froth about giving presents, time, money, or elbow grease to the holiday.
I'd like to share a few of my time-tested strategies. And later in this article, I'd like to give you the gift of some candid and heartwarming responses from teenagers when asked by my teenage daughter, Samantha, what Christmas means to them.
First, the strategies . . .
-- Ask your teen to design the family Christmas card this year. It's easily done with greeting card software offered by many companies, or can be done freehand with Paint or imaging software. If you have a digital camera or a scanner, or get your film developed through an online company like Photoworks, or have the option of receiving your photos on disk, your teen can design the cards around the family photograph taken at Uncle Ned's Labor Day Bar-B-Q.
-- For those of you who write "Christmas letters," you can let your teen take a crack at it, or add to your own letter. This has worked wonderfully for me. So, maybe the card isn't a tranquil snow scene with deer frolicking amongst the evergreens -- unless your teen is really good at this -- but what's more important? Aesthetics or a happy, involved, excited teenager?
-- Let your teen help you plan the Christmas feast. Do they want to research the traditional feasts of another country or of their ancestors? Great! How about letting them grill Grandma or Grandpa for the secret recipe to their favorite Christmas food? Don't want to leave the main course in the fast-food generation's hands? Let them plan desserts, or appetizers. No teen's culinary repertoire is complete without knowing how to make potato skins, onion blossoms, or truly homemade pigs-in-a-blanket. My daughters loved baking holiday breads (I haven't the patience for cookies) and coming up with their own chip-dip creations. And speaking of those tedious cookies, would your kids like to bake them? They can design their own cutouts and frost and decorate as they choose.
-- Every year, my children have each donated a new, unwrapped toy to a local toy drive of their choice. Sometimes they were able to pick a child's name and age off a tree and tailor the gift specifically to him or her. My teenager, Samantha, has decided to include that child's name in her prayers throughout the next year. Stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and shopping malls often have "Giving Trees." Other times, the girls chose to donate to Toys for Tots or the local Fireman's toy drive.
-- My kids have always personally picked out their grandparents' gifts from them. I've encouraged them to put a lot of thought into these gifts, and, surprisingly, they often chose to make them. You want a Kodak moment? There's nothing sweeter than the look on their grandparents' faces when they open that gift.
-- My oldest daughter, Sarah, spent many holiday seasons volunteering at local food banks and kitchens. This was something she chose to do on her own, and she always came away with truly heart-rending or heartwarming stories. It has brought her much joy.
-- Let your teenagers deck the halls and trim the tree this year! Every year I've presented all three of my children with their own ornament, picked by me to have special meaning to them individually. They really got a kick out of unwrapping these ornaments year after year and remembering the event or sentiment or family trip that was attached to each. When my two oldest daughters moved away from home, I gave them their ornaments so they could continue these remembrances. If you have a teenage boy, be prepared to have a tree decorated with miniature pictures of Brittany Spears and Destiny's Child, baseball cards, video cartridge cases, CD's, and strung with jumper cables. Actually, this would probably have been the choice of my middle daughter, Amanda, too. You never know! But hey, it is their tree, after all.
-- Going online, I was able to read a number of church and school newsletters that encouraged teens to offer their services as babysitters during the holiday season. This is great for the mom who needs to do her Christmas shopping sans small children, or needs time to prepare a large meal. Many teens were also organizing caroling events to local nursing homes and shelters. What a great idea!
I sent my teenager, Samantha, "out on the streets" to interview other teens about what Christmas means to them. Here are their responses:
Tella W : " Christmas means a lot to me. It is very special to my family. Every year my family and I get together and pray, open gifts, and share special things that have happened to us over the years. On Christmas I usually thank God for everything He has done for me and my family. I thank my family for everything they have done for me."
Jessica D.: "Christmas is special to me because it's the day Jesus was born and my family celebrates by making a cake, putting candles on it, and singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. [Then] we open presents and eat."
Crisjin R.: "[To me] Christmas means the birth of Jesus, coming together, seeing your loved ones, seeing my grandma, and eating her good food."
Ashley A.: "Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It means more than presents, lights, and decorations. To me it means spending time with family and celebrating the birth of our Savior. We need to remember that about 2000 years ago, a tiny baby was born in a dark and lonely manger. He had to sleep in a barn with animals when He deserved so much more than words can say. There is still hope for our world."
Amy W.: "Christmas means one thing to me -- it's to celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Eve we go to church and on Christmas we open presents, go to my grandma's and eat a big dinner."
Chris V.: "On Christmas all of my family gets together at one house a couple days before to celebrate. Mamaw always makes a big dinner and gets presents for all her children and grandchildren. And we get presents for her, too. After all of us have opened our presents, we watch Mamaw open hers."
Randi H.: "[Jesus] has done so much for me, and celebrating Christmas gives me a chance to show how much I care and love Him. Something special my family does for Christmas is we go back to our old church in Cincinnati, [Ohio], and get together with old friends. We go to my grandpa's house on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day, my whole family gets together at my aunt's [where] we have a big dinner, exchange presents, and say a prayer."
Erika P.: "Christmas is my favorite holiday, not just because you open presents, but you get to spend time with your family."
Alanna Z.: "To me Christmas means a celebration of Jesus' birthday. My family gets together at my grandmother's house and we open presents and we pray. My mom's side of the family doesn't pray as much as my dad's side does at Christmas, but we [still] pray. We pray thanks for holiday spirit, good food, and God giving His only begotten Son to us."
Rachel N.: "We give gifts to remind us of the gifts the Wise Men brought and the long journey it took to bring them. I know [Christmas] is a time to reflect and remember."
And finally, my kiddo, Samantha V.: "To me Christmas means celebrating the birth of Jesus and thinking about how He was killed on the Cross for all of us, and saying a prayer thanking Him for everything. On Christmas Eve, we open our presents around the tree and have a big ham dinner. We always save one present to open on Christmas Day. On Christmas, all my family gets together at one of our houses and [we have] a huge Christmas where we all give gifts. Then we have a big dinner. Then we talk about what we liked about our Christmas."
I agree, there is still hope for our world.
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