What was it that used to make the holidays special when you were a kid? Was it the chill in the air signaling that Christmas break was right around the corner? Baking and decorating ginger bread cookies with a sibling or your mom or dad? Or, maybe it was that feeling you got on Christmas Eve as you waited for the morning when you could finally tear into those beautifully wrapped packages underneath your tree. Whatever may have made the holidays a special time for you, there is one thing that tends to define the Christmas season for most of us: family. When we are young, our families define what Christmas looks like from the traditions they keep to the way they express the story of Jesus to those around them. And, for those of us who are now raising families of our own, we are now defining Christmas for our families. It can feel a bit overwhelming establishing the values, traditions and attitudes that revolve around this idea of Jesus’ arrival on this Earth.
While most students may be able to tell us the “real” meaning of the season, they aren’t necessarily connecting it to the value of the Christmas story. Developmentally, our students are in a place where it is difficult to think outside of their own world and their own lives. They may have head knowledge of the Christmas story, but in order to take that and bring it down to heart level, there has to be an experience that they can call their own. This is especially important for those of us with middle school and younger high school students who are still in the developmental stage of egocentric abstraction. During this stage, your student is the center of his or her own world and is not easily able to identify with ideas and concepts that are not personally connected to their own feelings. However, when they have the chance to experience the joy of reaching out to others in the midst of other’s true needs, they can personally identify with the value of the Christmas story.
For those of us with older high school students, now is the time when they are beginning to widen their worldview and understand the world outside as more than the sum of their own feelings and experiences. For them, the experience of reaching out to others is a chance to put legs to the social and global concerns that are already stirring in their hearts. Once the meaning of the Christmas story is tangible through personal experience, it isn’t easily forgotten in the mind of your teen. Another thing to remember is that though developmentally your students are in a place where they may not fully “get” the meaning of the Christmas story, we as the adults in their lives are. It is necessary for us to set the example and show them the importance of the Christmas story. So, we may need to take some time on our own to reflect on the value of Jesus’ arrival on Earth before we can begin to define that for our students.