Handling Holiday Consumerism with Your Class

The approaching winter holidays are a time for us to spread peace and goodwill throughout our communities. The holidays remind us of the importance of friends and our love for family. However, we are terribly influenced by the distraction of consumerism that is omnipresent in our society. It is natural for all ages to talk about gift giving and receiving during this time of the year, but among the haves and have-nots, such conversation arouses vastly different feelings.

In your classroom, you probably have students who will receive every item they asked for on their Christmas wish lists. On the other hand, you may also have students who do not write wish lists because they have never received gifts during the holidays. Some of your class may be able to afford buying a special gift for a friend or family member while others have never had the luxury of giving someone a present. At some point this season, your students will converse about holiday gifts. This topic can stir up feelings of sadness and resentment in those less fortunate in the class. How can a teacher turn kids away from consumeristic talk and steer their conversations back to focusing on the real meanings of the holiday season?

Focus not on the gift but the person.

When students talk about the latest and greatest gift they want or have received, join in on the conversation by asking questions about from whom they received the gift. No matter the response, you can ask the child about the relationship. How close is this person to the student? What is a favorite memory the student has of this person? Is the person someone who will use the gift with the child or who has sparked the child’s interest in this particular thing?

Once you have discussed this, invite other students to describe someone in their lives who is especially significant. The holidays radiate with our love for others. Keep kids thinking not about the material gifts the season brings, but about the people in their lives who make every season special.

Bring an awareness to charity.

If your students begin to elaborate on their most recent gift shopping trip, have them recall whether they noticed anyone in the role of a volunteer. Many will have seen bell ringers for the Salvation Army collecting donations in red kettles at stores’ entrances. Have students research the history of the Salvation Army or another charitable group. See if they can discover how the collected donations are used. Next, have students investigate what charitable organizations exist in your own community. What special events do these groups engage in during the holidays? Are any a kind in which the students can help?

Some of your students may have had their own experiences volunteering for a charity. Ask them what they did, what they learned, and how it was meaningful. Engaging in volunteerism is a way for young people to help others and build their own positive self-esteem. When working alongside others, they can meet new role models and begin fostering meaningful relationships. The work a student can do as a volunteer can teach one responsibility, selflessness, and kindness. Such experiences can be the beginning of a lifelong dedication to helping others.

When charitable causes are lacking in your area, see what you yourself can organize to do good in the community. Consider arranging a drive for a foodbank or raising funds for the local animal shelter. You may find that stores in your area will gladly allow you and your students to gift wrap for shoppers who in turn donate to your cause.

Turn up the holiday music.

As you hear your students describing their favorite gifts, begin to play one of your favorite holiday songs. Ask your students what songs they have been hearing on the radio and inside stores this winter. Which songs are still popular with kids today? What classics are unfamiliar to them? Brainstorm a list of songs for the holiday. Ask students to rank them from most favorite to least favorite and have students explain their reasoning. From the list, pick out one that is a top favorite among your class. Provide students with copies of the song’s lyrics. Read it together and discuss its meaning as well as any unfamiliar words or phrases. Discuss how the lyrics work to create rhythm and rhyme. Can your class make up a new verse or two for an old holiday favorite? You may even arrange for your class to go caroling. You need not leave the school to do this; you may visit other classes in your building or surprise the cafeteria with a song while others eat. Add bells or other instruments for effect!

The holidays are not about how much we buy or receive during the season. They are about spreading cheer and harmony. It’s easy to lose oneself in the presents, but it’s just as easy to refocus on the real reasons for celebrating the holidays.