It's that time of year when the blog-o-sphere is alive with debates about Jesus, Santa and the Elf on the Shelf. Many of my fellow natural parents don't do one or all of the above. Me, I gotta be different. I do them ALL!
I will fully admit to being a Christmas nut. I love everything about the holidays- the lights, the music, the sounds. I begin listening to Christmas music around Nov.1. (Now that Georgie is older, though, I promised no music until after his birthday. He was due on Christmas Eve and I had promised little fetal George that his birthday would not be usurped by Christmas and he would have his own very distinctly birthday gifts/celebration.) I hate the hassle of putting up the tree but I love the tree itself. And those claymation Frosty and Rudolph movies? Heck yeah!
Of course, being Catholics, we want the focus to be on Jesus. While people keep giving me snowmen items, I actually collect nativities. We read books about snowmen, Santa and deer but we also have alot of books about Jesus. We talk openly about how Christmas is Jesus' birthday and how all this hoopla is to celebrate the birth of a very special baby.
Our Christmas celebration begins right after Thanksgiving when we put up the tree. Many Catholics chose to use Advent as a time to reflect and wait. Because of our life circumstances, we begin early. Honestly, I need my husband's help to corral the children as we go down to the basement to bring up the boxes. Like I said, it is a hassle and if I go through that hassel, I want WEEKS to enjoy the decor! Plus, I don't think God is going to smite us for enjoying items related to the birth of His Son. In our house, we begin preparing for the birth of a new baby before the child is born, yet we maintain a state of excitement and anticipation. Yes, I think we have this state of mind when it comes to Advent, even though we have a lovely tree glowing the corner.
On the first Sunday in Advent, we begin our Jesse tree and light our Advent wreath that sits on the kitchen table. Before we light the candles, we say "Jesus is the light of the world" a hang-over from our CGS days.
Santa and St. Nicholas:
On December 6th, St. Nicholas visits our house. We read about the real Saint Nicholas the night before and in the morning the children receive some candy, Christmas PJ's and an ornament. This year, they put out their shoes, although we don't focus on that. I know some families fill stockings or the children get bigger gifts. Honestly, we don't need more little trinkets in this house. We chose to do PJ's because then they can wear their Christmas PJs more and enjoy the ornaments longer. Of course, who doesn't love cinnamon rolls!
I honestly don't know if the children have made the connection between St. Nicholas and Santa. I have told them that St. Nicholas was a real person who lived a long time ago and is now our friend in heaven. We have read "The Night Before Christmas" and they have heard reference to Jolly Ole St. Nick. Until this year, I don't think they were old enough to make the connection that people took the legend of St. Nicholas and "turned" him into the modern day Santa. Joseph is seven and is into science and history shows, so I think if he were to watch the one that deals with Santa/St. Nicholas, he would make the connection.
When he's older, and he asks, we will tell him the truth: St. Nicholas is our friend in Christ who is a real saint in heaven. Santa is based off that story. No, there is no fat guy in a red suit BUT there really is St. Nicholas. If the children never ask us directly, we will just allow them to "grow out of believing." I think a long time after they stop believing, they will still get gifts from Santa, just because it's fun.
I have had several people say, "When it comes to teaching the children about a being who knows everything about you, if you have been good or bad, we chose to teach them about Jesus, not Santa. I think finding out that Santa isn't real might cause them to question the existence of God, another all-knowing being that they can't see." To this I say..... Uh, no. I mean, I am sure some children question after learning that Santa is not real but I honestly think most plug along just fine. I also think alot of it is how you treat it. In our house, Santa is fun and games. Jesus is Serious Business. We don't sit down and adore the Real Presence of Santa; we do that with Jesus. We don't pray to Santa; we pray to Jesus. And so on. While, again, there is a person linked to Christmas who is in heaven with Jesus (St. Nicholas) the children have a very clear understanding that Jesus and Santa are not on the same playing field. Kids are so much smarter than we adults give them credit for!
This year, we added Tom the Elf on the Shelf to our hoopla. I wasn't going to get an Elf but the kids have one in their classrooms. To be honest, I don't like this. They go to public school and while I am certainly okay with them being taught about winter holidays and Christmas around the world (to learn about other cultures) I don't think they need to have a whole "the elf is watching you/ naughty or nice" thing going. Yes, they need to help the children learn right from wrong but not using Santa. Considering the Elf is supposed to move to different spots every morning, I could see how this could be used as a story starter- and I agree with that!
Anyway, Tom. The kids think the Elf is cute and fun. Alot of their friends have one and they talk about the silly places the Elf is in the morning. When I realized they wanted all the fun things to do with the Elf, I bought one. (I wanted to name him Percy but was out voted.) So far, Tom has hung out with the Angry Birds, sat in Georgie's Lightening chair with the remote and Starbucks and ridden a toy horse. During the day, he hangs out on the mantle. Joseph thinks he is funny and wants to see what he is up to. He's the one who told the others not to touch him because he might loose his magic. Fine by me; I don't need him pulled from the mantle all the time! Camille is slightly interested. The Little Dudes ignore him.
About that whole naughty thing:
It seems that I spend my entire life teaching kids how to behave, right from wrong, and all that jazz. The holidays are no different. Sure, we cut them some slack in what they eat and things they get. Christmas comes but once a year! That means that we are going to be dealing with some negative behaviors. My husband used to do alot of the "Santa is watching" stuff but has slacked off in the last couple of years. To be honest, we just kinda deal with behaviors the same way we always do. Santa/the Elf don't really figure into it. Yes, they watch Christmas programs on TV and they sing the songs, but we mostly don't talk about "not getting stuff" if you are bad. We don't ignore it; it just doesn't come up. Like so many other things, I want to root my children in the love of something before they figure out the negative (ie, as CGS teaches, the love of God before the wrath of God). When they ask (and they have) we remind them that Santa wants kids to be nice because that is the right thing to do.
We did have one heartbreaking moment this year. I was flipping through pictures on Facebook and came on pictures of what St. Nicholas brought a friend's children. Their shoes were full of candy and small toys. Joseph looked and said, "Mommy, if we behave better, will St. Nicholas bring us more toys?" I reminded him that different items come to different houses and St. Nicholas brings us jammies and ornaments. He was satisfied with that response.
I know I am supposed to say that we give more this time of year. We don't.We give the whole year. No, I am not a better person than you. However, our church has monthly food drives and chances to make food for the food kitchen. We make donations to charities we believe in all year long. We teach the children to do small things with great love all the time. Charities need money and help all year long, why should we give them all the money we have budgeted for charities at one point during the year? (Although, yes, we do give some holiday specific things, like Toys for Tots, to help out with the increased needs around the holidays.)
What I don't like:
Aside from "A Christmas Story" (hate that stupid movie) and "The Christmas Shoes" (makes me want to take a bat to the radio!), the one thing I cannot stand is the simpering reasons why people don't chose to do Santa. Many people come across as "I am a better parent than you and my children will be more religious than yours because we don't LIE TO THEM about Santa." Um, again, no. Christmas is a small part of the year. Whether or not Santa comes to a house is one of the smallest choices you will make for your children and it is not life defining. If you handle it well, I doubt most kids will deny their faith as adults based ONLY on the fact that you "lied" to them about Santa. Events like that are the result of much bigger issues than a fat guy in a red suit who likes cookies.
What I love:
Everything else! Wizard rock Christmas music. The Polar Express. Cookies. Sprinkles. Being Santa. Breakfast with Santa. Christmas jammies. Shopping for and making gifts. Cinnamon rolls. All of it!