Anyway, I did really want to talk about Christmas and some things I’ve been thinking about around our house lately. This Christmas will be the 10th one that Jay and I have celebrated as parents. Over the years we have settled into some traditions and ideas that I’m really happy with and others that are still not exactly what I had in mind.
Early on we decided that, as Christians, it was our responsibility to be intentional with what we teach our children during this time of the year. Our first decision to that end was that we would not be using Santa in our holiday celebrations. Not because Santa is evil or because we hate the joy of children or because we like to flaunt our super-spirituality in front of our friends and family, but because we felt that Santa overshadowed one of our easiest opportunities to teach our children about God’s love.
Every year we make a point of telling them that God loved us so much that he gave us all the precious gift of His son. Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost”–to point an arrow back toward God so that we would always know exactly how to find Him. To celebrate being on the receiving end of such a gift, we choose to give gifts to the people we love and cherish every day. Santa, while fun and jolly, made that message harder to explain to kids already distracted by new stuff. So we just don’t use ole St. Nick and that has worked pretty well in our family.
Eventually, we focused in on a sort-of two pronged approach to celebrating Christmas with our kids. We attempt to limit their materialism in order to encourage them to become generous givers and we also try to give them opportunities to do for others outside our family as much as possible.
Limiting materialism is quite an uphill challenge. Being Santa-free helps because we don’t have to make up excuses for why he doesn’t bring super awesome stuff, but there is still a temptation to give over-the-top presents just to see their faces light up. But we didn’t want to experience a Christmas morning that was just a gluttony of gifts with no meaning and so we have spent years attempting to counteract the greedy advertising fliers and crazy store displays that our kids see almost every day during late November and December.
A few years ago my friend Camilyn mentioned that her kids get three presents because that was how many Jesus got from the Wise Men. I thought that was both hilarious and practical so Jay and I have implemented this rule in our house, too. Each kid gets one “big” gift and two smaller ones on Christmas morning. Honestly, with four kids it also makes it easier to be relatively equitable. We still can’t control gifts given by others, especially grandparents who have their own need to give equitably among grandchildren, but it’s a start.
I also have the children help pick out the gifts we give to their cousins and grandparents. I want them to understand that we choose gifts others will like and spend our money on those we love in order to serve them, not because they will give us presents in return. I hope some of that idea sinks in.
Doing for others is pretty simple while our children are so young. We participate in the Operation Christmas Child program every year and our kids carefully pick out the gifts to go into the box for a kid their age in a developing nation. They pick out toothbrushes and balls and, with our boys, there is always a dinosaur I have to cram into that little box. It’s a family outing that they really enjoy and look forward to every year-even my 3-year-old who doesn’t like to share anything. I hope to add other service traditions as they get older, but we will have to see where their hearts and interests lie.
By no means do we experience a Christmas completely free of our cultural influences, and I don’t think that we need to try to do so. Even our date for celebrating Christmas is likely based on tradition rather than fact so deciding that there is only one right way is a little arbitrary (and silly). We have a Christmas tree even though I know that it has far more to do with the desire of European pagans to remember that spring would come again than it does Christ. Our children’s gifts are hidden until we reveal them on Christmas morning purely for the element of surprise. We hang stockings and fill them on Christmas Eve for no other reason than that it’s fun. We even make cookies, but instead of leaving them out for Santa Claus, we take them to the police and fire stations near our house on Christmas Eve.
My point is not that you should kill Santa, but rather that we should all really look at our traditions and actions during this month and make sure that they are teaching our children the message we want them to hear. December, more than any other month, gives us great opportunities as parents to share our values and belief systems and have those lessons stick.
Most importantly, we should continue to pray for guidance about what we do and say around these little ears concerning Christmas.
As parents, we actually already have their undivided attention about this holiday. They know that there will be lights and cookies and TOYS from every adult they know. They are eager to talk about Christmas and what they remember from last year and what they hope for in this holiday to come.
Our children will remember our traditions from year to year and hold them sacred in their hearts well into adulthood because they are (hopefully) accompanied by good memories of excitement and fun. Let’s attempt to instill meaningful traditions that shape our children into caring adults who value their fellow man and seek to do good in the name of God. I think it will make for a merrier Christmas for us all.