First, let me say that I will be continuing the series on teen pregnancy! I took a break to address the Sandy Hook tragedy last week, and since this is a holiday week, I thought I might do something more timely (and happier than unwanted pregnancies). For the rest of that series, stay tuned next year!

Given that many people will be celebrating, or have recently celebrated, a holiday, I wanted to talk about discussing the deeper meaning of the holiday season with your teen, and ways to help them develop their thinking around the topic, whether or not your family is religious.

Children often love holidays for the tangible benefits: food, family, and presents. Around this time of year, especially presents. Most children are materialistic at heart, savoring the prospect of a new toy or gadget. It’s age-appropriate, and we love them anyway. Teens (and adults) can also have strong desires for the latest electronics, tools, or fun experiences. However, teens are getting to the point where they can start thinking about the deeper meaning of the holidays, and if they feel like talking, try exploring it with them.

Dr. Evans already discussed how to encourage your teen to show compassion this holiday. But if your teen does not seem overflowing with compassion, that’s okay. It’s normal for teens to think that they are the most important person in the universe, and that their own problems loom larger than anything else. If your teen is a compassionate one, they’re already ahead of the curve. If not, they’re still well within the normal range!

We all know that most of our winter holidays have grown and changed over time. Santa Claus has evolved considerably; according to Washington Irving’s American history, he was “at first pictured as a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat.” Chanukah, and in some places Solstice/ Yule, have come to incorporate gifts for children. Kwanzaa was originally created as an alternative to Christmas, but many people nowadays celebrate both. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses find meaning in not celebrating winter holidays at all.

Whether or not we are religious, many of our dear childhood memories center on around how our families chose to celebrate certain holidays or milestones. I know atheists who love waking up to presents under a Christmas tree, Christians who fry up latkes on Chanukah, Jews who decorate their “Chanukah tree” with stars of David, Buddhists who are obsessed with making the perfect eggnog, etc. Some families consciously choose to change their holiday traditions for the sake of their own beliefs, or to create new traditions of their own.

It’s great to try to get your teen involved in some kind of giving activity this holiday season- making snowflakes for the new Sandy Hook school is easy, creative, and quick- but if they balk, try talking to them about your holidays traditions and what they mean to you. What traditions have you held on to, and why? If you are religious, how do you see the holidays confirming or celebrated your beliefs? If you choose not to celebrate, what meaning do you take from the contrast between your tradition and those celebrating around you?

But first, focus the conversation on them, too. What do they find meaningful? What (if anything) will they change when they are grown up and celebrating the holidays for themselves? What do they wish could change now? If they want to have children, what would they want their children to enjoy?

I’d love to hear what holiday traditions are the most meaningful to you, and what your teen enjoys over the holidays. Have a great winter holiday, or simply a great winter season, and welcome to 2013!