Staunton, Dec. 25 – For many of us fortunate enough to be living with more than enough, the most affecting Christmas tale of all times perhaps is O. Henry’s 1905 short story, “The Gift of the Magi” which tells how a husband and wife each sacrifice what the other wants to reward in order to give the greater gift of love.
On this Christmas, those of us who have so much should be thinking about those who have so little, even if as now, they are on the other side of the battle lines. For those of us in the West who back Ukraine against Russian aggression, that means to be concerned about the fate of children in Russia as well as those suffering in Ukraine and in our own midst.
Children are not to blame for the crimes of their parents, and they do not deserve to suffer for what their rulers are doing. But in this holiday season, ever more of them are because of the consequences of Putin’s war; and ever more Russian parents are having to explain to their children in this holiday season why they won’t be getting the presents they expected.
The editors of the Takie Dela portal, a media project that seeks to help people of all kinds in need, has turned its attention to the sad fact that ever more Russian children won’t be receiving that they hope for from Father Frost, the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, and advised parents on how to cope with this (takiedela.ru/notes/volya-deda-moroza/).
As portal journalist Sabina Babayeva writes, “the past year as become financially critical for man. Some have been forced to leave their country; others have lost work; and some have seen their pay cut. Ahead is the New Year. Children who believe in Father Frost often think that they can ask him for any presents, even many which are quite expensive.”
She asked Moscow psychologist Olga Khokhlovan what parents should do when they are faced with the horrific task of having to explain to their children why they won’t be getting everything they’ve asked for and even expect. Her words are worth quoting at length:
“Parents aren’t responsible and must not be for the actions of Father Frost. Father Frost is a fairy tale person, but a tale is about imagination, a game and an indirect path to much else. The hero of a tale can hardly be subordinate to the will of the child and bring exactly what he’s been asked for. He can bring the child what the child needs.
“Father Frost is a magician and perhaps knows better what the children really require.
“It’s possible to talk about this with a child in advance, that is, to raise doubts about the notion that Father Frost must bring what he’s been asked. A magician has his own clever ideas on this account which can be a surprise for the child himself. This doesn’t contradict the idea that Father Frost will bring a present and it is unimportant how much this present costs.
“One can also say that some things which we think we want to have later turn out to be unnecessary or even bad and that we would be better off without them. For example, parents can tell stories from their own childhood, how they expected one thing but received something else entirely.
“From the point of view of psychology, a situation when you receive all that you want is harmful. On the contrary, it is useful to have experience with a certain frustration when not everything is gotten immediately or at a specific time. Shifting the focus from what the child has asked for to what Father Frost decides helps children.
“That is, it helps them separate their own zone of control from what he or she cannot control. And this is a very useful habit as it helps people cope with the uncertainty of life.
“Therefore, a child needs to be prepared in advance for the fact that he may not receive the present he expects because that depends on the will of Father Frost – and that is one of the things in our lives which we cannot influence.
“Depending on the age of the child, one can transform the expectation of gifts from Father Frost into a kind of game. Children who still believe in the magician, usually preschoolers or those in the first grades learn best by playing games. Parents can point out that Father Frost listens to them all year and not just before the holidays.
“As a result, he may remember what they wanted in the summer which may have been very different from what they want now. And that may mean that he will bring an unexpected gift. Converting expectations about Father Frost into a game in this way can shift the attention from the gift itself to how you will together react to what comes.”
That is a lesson we can all learn from in this holiday season.