If your child finds Christmas celebrations overwhelming, they're not alone

Published on: 08 December 2022

There can be lots of reasons children might be overwhelmed by Christmas - perhaps it isn't celebrated, or is celebrated differently, in their family, or for others it might be overstimulating. For some children it might be associated with loss or bereavement. Sam Langley-Swain, author of Where Björn Belongsshares that it's OK to feel this way.

In children’s fiction, in movies and animation as well as books, there is obviously a great deal of joy and excitement around Christmas. But sometimes, could this be a little too much? If a child isn’t bubbling over like Buddy the Elf from Elf then they can be easily likened to the Grinch or Ebeneezer Scrooge and perhaps ridiculed, isolated or more often overlooked. Using character portrayals like this can make the festive season feel very polarised. But there might be many reasons for a child to experience this time of year differently to others.

Maybe they don’t celebrate Christmas at all due to their cultural backgrounds or religious beliefs, or maybe they celebrate but in a different way to what someone else might expect. I love books like Little Glow, written by Katie Sahota, for this, as it covers all the celebrations of light through the year across different communities. It helps children understand that in a diverse society, there are many (equally valid and beautiful) reasons to celebrate over these few months.

For some, the festive time of year can be very difficult to navigate.

It might be due to sensory issues, neurodiversity, family bereavements and a feeling of loss, or uncomfortable memories from the past. It might be that families don’t have the money for gifts, or don’t enjoy the holidays in the same way; and whilst we don’t want to dampen any child’s holiday spirits, it might be worth considering what effect our overt excitement might have on those around us who may not express the same level of excitement around Christmas, or any other celebrations.

Even as adults, we often struggle to describe the complexity of our feelings towards Christmas. For many children, this can be even more difficult as they may find it hard to express their emotions and their behaviour may take a turn for the worse. Books can help explore the conflict between what might be expected of them, and what they’re actually feeling.

I wrote Where Björn Belongs, not as a solemn and sombre reminder that ‘not everyone loves Christmas’, but as a way to look at the festive season from a new angle. My youngest son is neurodivergent (yet to be diagnosed with anything specific) but is definitely affected by the hustle and bustle of Christmas from a sensory point of view. One of my best friend’s children is autistic and a keen Arctic enthusiast – the book’s main character is completely based on him. Both children have non-typical experiences with Christmas due to sensory aspects, but as parents we have enabled them to make their own traditions and find their own unconventional joy. My book is a sensitive story of friendship and belonging, centred around the unbreakable bond between Arthur, an autistic boy, and a bear, with a magical journey to the Arctic. It also hints at the preciousness of the Arctic and helps everyone find their own magic of Christmas and their special place in the world.

This story is dedicated to all the children who may need a little extra nurturing at this time, to find their own way of enjoying it, with an overarching message that the magic of Christmas can be whatever you want it to be – and that doesn’t make you a Grinch!

Where Björn Belongs, written by Samuel Langley-Swain and illustrated by Mirna Imamovic, is out now.