While it seems the run up to Christmas gets longer each year, with mince pies and brandy butter appearing on supermarket shelves well before Halloween, many still prefer to see the end of the month of November before decking the halls. Indeed, for centuries, the first Sunday of Advent (this year falling on the 3rd December) has marked the beginning of a season of preparation.
In its religious context, Advent is the time of year wherein Christians prepare for the coming of Christ, and includes practices of penance and charitable giving. Of course, in today’s increasingly secular society, the focus on penance has been diminished considerably. Nonetheless, there remains a certain yuletide commitment to higher ideals, or as it is sometimes known ‘Christmas spirit’. So evident is our appreciation and appetite for something more noble at this time of year, even adverts, produced to influence our spending behaviour, appeal to our better nature. It seems incongruous that adverts as touching as John Lewis’s Monty the Penguin are produced at Christmas time to boost sales; or that the aim of adverts like German chain Edeka’s, appealing to the loneliness of the elderly at Christmas, is to increase our consumption of material goods.
As such, if there is any time of year where people are particularly susceptible to ideas about virtue and character, it must be Christmas time. As Winston Churchill put it, ‘Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection.’ It is a time to think about how we have done over the last twelve months. Have we advanced on our path to virtue? Have we spent the last year cultivating good character? Or have we slipped into bad habits?
For parents, these questions have another dimension; Christmas marks a time to think about the character formation of children. Many examples exist, both contemporary and historical, showing the prevalence of this parental reflection on children’s character. Perhaps the simplest and clearest is Santa Clause’s ‘Naughty or Nice’ list.
So, what can parents do to help children cultivate good character? Parents have been asking the Jubilee Centre this question a lot recently. In fact, there has been so much interest, on the part of parents, in activities and advice on how to foster good character in children that the Jubilee Centre has decided to create a dedicated parent section of its website. This section will provide parents with age appropriate character education resources. The idea behind this initiative is to give parents tools to help them help their children on their path to virtue action and practice. As an introduction to this initiative, and given the season that is upon us, the Centre has produced an advent calendar. In place of daily chocolates, the calendar will give parents/guardians and children opportunities to discuss various virtues (e.g. courage, good judgment etc.) and do something kind for themselves and others.
The Jubilee Centre has always recognised the role of parents as the primary educators of children’s characters. In fact, the very first lines of A Framework for Character Education in Schools say just that. It is encouraging that more and more parents are recognising the Centre’s work, and how its research and resources can be utilised in their pursuit of promoting virtue among their children. One new path the Centre’s research is taking is to learn more about this centrally important parental role through examining how parents/guardians collaborate with teachers on character education. At the core of this new research is the idea that:
If parents/guardians and teachers forge successful partnerships on character education, it will increase the likelihood of children and young people developing positive virtues constitutive of individual and societal flourishing
In sum then, Christmas is a time of year that naturally lends itself to character education; no one wants to end up on that naughty list. We here at the Centre hope you, and your family, enjoy our Advent calendar. We also hope you join us in our plans to use our research and resources to reach out more to parents, and help them in their pursuit of virtue for their children. In this, we might even keep the spirit of the season alive long after Christmas has ended. As Dr Seuss so eloquently put it, ‘Christmas will always be as long as we stand heart to heart and hand to hand’.
Download the Jubilee Centre’s 2017 Advent Calendar here.
Dr Katy Dineen and Dr Catherine Darnell, Research Fellows, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues