I believe the holidays should make us think, regardless of which holiday you celebrate. Virtue = Moral Excellence, Goodness, Righteousness.
I prefer the word “Goodness.” And not as the opposite of the bad which Santa may catch you being. There is a much different connotation to Goodness than to morality, which seems rather religious in a forceful way.
I believe goodness is respect for all creatures, kindness to others, being gentle to the earth, and generally wanting to be our best selves. Those are the things I want to teach my child and those are also what I strive to help with as a parent coach and educator. I feel it is my duty to help people become their best selves — whatever that looks like to them.
I was raised in a family where we didn’t particularly strive to better ourselves. We were who we were and we were fine. We didn’t strive to care for the earth. We didn’t strive to be particularly kind, though we weren’t unkind. We didn’t strive to learn new things as a family. We didn’t strive to help the needy. We didn’t strive to fix our shortcomings or heal our interpersonal foibles. We didn’t strive to commune with or hear the messages of nature or of any God. I had wonderful and loving parents who cared for me well and loved me deeply but I was longing for all of those things and I set about on a long and relentless mission to find my own sense of goodness and virtue. I had thought that meant choosing the one right religion for me. But as it turns out, virtue isn’t particularly religious and maybe not even always spiritual. Plenty of atheists know and do what is right and also strive to be their best selves. It is inherent in the human heart (though sometimes hidden by neglect or abuse). That search for my best self, virtue and goodness, led me into chunks of years exploring spiritualities and was included in my college studies as well.
Here are some teaching points on ways to teach virtue from various traditions:
Something from Judaism: My cultural heritage, it’s a Mitzvah! A Mitzvah is a blessed action or a good deed. My favorites are Lifelong Education, Tzedakah box (giving to charity daily or weekly!), treating all books with respect (we kiss them after we drop them), caring for animals, visiting the elderly or sick, sharing food with those less fortunate. Or Hanukah celebrating miracles, light, gratefulness, perseverance and rebuilding. Mmm, so good. Happy Hanukkah!
Something from Paganism: Reverence for the planet. For the living animals and humans and trees! Specifically the Oak (Mistletoe) and apple trees which are some of the only fruits still growing now. On Solstice/Yule, we rest. On the shortest day of the year with the longest dark, people rest and then light candles and fires and meditate on light to re-welcome the sun. In some places like Nova Scotia, Solstice is also Children’s Day, where you pay attention to and revere the children.
Ah, so the holidays really are for the kids! The other pagan virtue is of com- munity and neighborliness wrapped up in song! Wassailing this time of year is the precursor to the newer tradition of caroling. Going to someone’s doorstep and singing? Such goodness.
From Buddhism: The 8-fold Path, Mindful Steps to Happiness always come up in parenting and family for me. Some of my favorites for teaching are Right/Skillful Speech (refraining from idle chatter, gossip, mean stuff, add silence!) and Right Livelihood (are we able to explain to our children how our work benefits the world and is kind work). How can we become goodness in every moment by living rightly? Skillfull Meditation is another one. Slow down and pay attention, pay attention to our children. Teach them how to slow down, notice, meditate, and concentrate.
Something from Christianity: The teachings of Christ to not judge others, to instead judge yourself and love others as you would yourself. To forgive yourself and others. No matter the sin, we are good underneath. On Christmas, we can create a time to celebrate, follow and model these teachings rather than teaching consumerism and greed. Catholicismalso makes a point just before Christmas, at Advent, to celebrate the Mother figure and pregnancy in Mary. We as parents can reflect on how miraculous and scary creating a child is, and how miraculous and scary is it sending that child out in the world hoping they have virtue and become goodness.
Combined, these are the things I look forward to focusing on during the holiday season as opposed to a focus on gifts. My daughter is too small to understand some of these things now but I am doing my best to get into the swing of it. The first year I began focusing my holiday thoughts on virtue was the first year that I had been able to give small amounts to two charities. That was also the first year I became involved in a volunteer position helping babies get breast milk from donor moms. When our children are young sometimes it is best to model virtue and try to explain it rather than teach a concept didactically.
This year, again, my hope is to take more moments to teach my child to sit and breathe and enjoy. Take a walk in the cold crisp air and be grateful for trees and stars and go as slowly as possible. Slow is an inherent virtue of winter. Many families decide to pair up with a family in need and buy them warm clothes. Some families with older children serve meals to the homeless.
Is goodness, virtue, or righteousness subjective? Or is it concrete? Does it feel most like kindness? Justice? Service? Whatever goodness feels like to you this season, take some time to model or teach it to your children.