18/12/2018 06:00 GMT | Updated 18/12/2018 06:00 GMT

‘It’s About More Than Presents’: Jack Monroe And Other Parents On Teaching Kids The True Meaning Of Christmas

"Introduce them to the joy of giving."

Christmas is a magical time for lots of children but it easily becomes all about the presents. And chocolate. Mother-of-two Bex Ricketts from Christchurch, Dorset, knows this all too well. Halfway through the year her eldest daughter, who is six, made a comment which shocked and upset her mum: “She was playing with something a little too aggressively and I told her to be careful in case it broke.” 

To which her daughter replied: “Well, if it breaks you’ll just buy me another one.”

So this Christmas, Ricketts is making an extra effort to encourage her children to appreciate family, friends and the true spirit of Christmas – not just presents. “It has been tough,” says the 32-year old business development manager. “Every advert between children’s programmes reinforces the fact they get new shiny toys.” But thankfully there are ways to teach children that Christmas isn’t just about stockpiling new stuff. Here are some tips, as trialled by real parents.

Bex Ricketts
Bex Ricketts and her daughter.

Fill A Shoe Box

Ricketts and her daughters have participated in a shoe box appeal this year, putting together a care package for children who might not receive any other presents this year because of money struggles.

The idea is to fill a shoebox with toys and items for children in need. These might include a stuffed animal, inflatable football and pump, toy truck, doll or school supplies, toiletries and small items of clothing such as hats and socks.

Ricketts said putting the shoebox together was a humbling experience for her eldest daughter. “She felt really pleased with herself.”

Practise Gratitude

Having lived in poverty, food writer Jack Monroe knows what it’s like not to be able to afford new presents. In the past, Monroe bought items from secondhand stores, charity shops or Poundland, but this year the 30-year-old recognises things will be different. 

“Being able to give my son a fantastic Christmas after several very shitty ones, well, that’s going to be the greatest gift of all,” Monroe says. “I know it’s about more than presents. We do a kindness advent calendar each year where we each write something we are grateful for on a tag and hang it on the tree.”

Angela Cox, a mindset mentor, speaker and author, also makes a gratitude advent calendar with her two children, aged eight and 10. “24 mini Christmas stockings hang on a line and inside each stocking there are four tiny thank you cards, one for each of us,” said Cox, 40.

“Each day during advent, we pull the cards out of the stocking and write what we are thankful for before hanging [them] back on the line. This simple act of gratitude brings us together for a special moment each day and helps the children see advent is about more than chocolate.”

Reverse Your Calendar

Gemma Whates and her two children aged six and two-years-old are filling a reverse advent calendar throughout December. The premise is simple: you get a cardboard box or bag and, for every day in December, you add an item such as tinned food, non-perishables or toiletries. Then, on Christmas Eve (or whenever your box is full – earlier is better), drop it off at your local homeless shelter.

Changing Lives is among the charities that collects reverse advent calendars and distributes them. “We’ve heard anecdotes from families and schools who have used the reverse advent calendar as a way to show children a different side to Christmas,” a spokesperson said. “It introduces them to the joy of giving ... It is a really empowering way to reclaim Christmas and make it about more than receiving.”

Jack Monroe and their son, who live in Southend-on-Sea, also create a reverse advent calendar for the food bank which helped to feed them a few years ago.

Give To Charity

In the run up to Christmas, Gemma Whates asks her eldest child to donate some of his old toys to charity. The 36-year-old mum from Surrey, who founded allbymama.com, explains: “We talk about giving and being thoughtful to those in a less fortune position, thinking about how we can show kindness.”

Gemma Whates
Gemma Whates and her two children.

Kickstart Kindness

There are plenty of unique takes on the traditional chocolate advent calendar which encourage children to give back. Eimear Kelly, 42, said she makes a kindness version for her two children, aged four and seven – a tradition that started four years ago. “At Christmas we have an advent calendar with drawers, which I put notes in,” said Kelly, who lives in County Kildare, Ireland. “Each daily note contains a task for our children to do such as being kind, helping others or maybe drawing a picture for someone they love.”

Visit A Foodbank

If you haven’t got time for calendars, a visit to a foodbank just before Christmas could be a great way to teach your kids the gift of giving back.

Sima Sthanakiya

Sima Sthanakiya, mum of two kids aged seven and nine, and blogger at the Curious Pixie, says she regularly donates food to her local foodbank. However at Christmas her family makes a special trip.

“The children help to pick out treats for our foodbank drop off and come along to make the delivery,” the 42-year-old explains. “It helps to teach them that not all children and families are lucky enough to enjoy all the lovely food that they do, and how to help those who find themselves going through tough times.”