It’s started. That Christmas expectation. It came at me from unknown corners and now we’re in it. Yesterday, in an attempt to entertain Olivia so I could have some rest for my head cold I opted for letting her watch some videos. She started the morning with a Veggie Tale Christmas double feature, then followed it with three viewings of Polar Express. Yes three. What can I say? Our video library is lacking. She loved them though and was thoroughly entertained, all day.
But, I now find myself being bombarded with talk of Christmas. And, I’ll admit I’m okay with that. Secretly, I’ve already been thinking about it for a couple weeks. It’s my favorite holiday and I can’t help it, the bug bites me early. I think it stems from growing up in a home where Christmas was much loved and anticipated. I think that’s one good thing about Canada – we have thanksgiving in the fall, in October, and we celebrate, then allow the seasons to change and can look forward to celebrating Christmas with lots of lead up rather than doing turkey one day and seeing stores slathered in Christmas decor the next. I like the ease in.
I’m already thinking about staff Christmas parties, doing our Christmas shopping, and planning for our Christmas vacation. Hosting a Christmas BBQ here for our missionary friends is on the list too. I know, crazy right? BBQ and Christmas in the same sentence. Did it a couple years ago though and it was a wonderful afternoon so we’re going to do it again, and add it to our family cross-cultural Christmas traditions.
And that’s where I find us. Trying to blend our own culture with the realities of being here.
Chris and I have talked extensively about how we’ll do Christmas with our kids. We both grew up in homes that talked about Santa and we both grew up anticipating his visit each year and then going through the let down when we learned he wasn’t real after all. I was SO into the whole Santa visit when I was a kid that I literally would not sleep on Christmas Eve. I remember making trips upstairs from my basement bedroom several times on Christmas Eve night with my hand blocking my view of the living room on my way to the bathroom so I wouldn’t see what Santa had left until my brother and I got up in the morning. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. I would spend hours pouring over the Sears Wishbook making lists and comparing them with my best friend then showing them to Mom and Dad, hoping that the number one thing would be waiting for me Christmas morning.
Now that I have kids it’s a whole new world. Not only is it a whole new world, our world consists of a world that is broken, poor, and not on Santa’s flight plan on Christmas Eve.
One thing that is very important to Chris and I as parents is that we are attempting to teach our kid(s) not to lie. As parents, it’s important for us to model that to them. If we strive to always be honest, can we tell our kids, with good conscience, the whole story of Santa Claus? For us, we can’t. So we don’t. Last year was the first year we were anywhere that Santa was represented, and the first year that Olivia was old enough to understand any of it. We talked several times about Santa not being real, that he’s part of the Christmas celebration and that he symbolizes certain things, but that Christmas is really about the birth of Jesus. We did pretty well I think. She got to sit on Santa’s lap at school and had a picture taken. It was cute and fun, but she knew he was just a guy in a suit.
The other side of it for us is cultural. We come from a culture where there is plenty and stores ooze with gifts and decorations come October/November. We see add campaigns encouraging us to shop and consume. We know our kids will be exposed to that, and we try to handle it appropriately. On the flip side though, we live and minister in a culture where people struggle to eat every day. How do we tell our kids that Santa comes to them, but not to the kids of Haiti? The folklore says that Santa visits the homes of kids all over the world on Christmas Eve night, but lets face it, he doesn’t. There are kids all over the world who may not ever even receive a Christmas present. We want to have our kids develop a healthy, realistic view of the world and the traditions that we celebrate.
Enter yesterday. After watching Polar Express THREE times all Olivia talked about yesterday afternoon was Santa. And it was fun, but I still made a point of telling her that Santa isn’t real and is just a fun part of Christmas. She insisted he is real. I know that there are certain battles you can’t fight with a three year old. Especially when they are praying for dinner and they thank God for Santa. :)
I don’t want you to think that we’re big goons when it comes to Christmas. We aren’t. We enjoy all of it and we have fun with all of it. We just want our kids to focus on what we believe is the true meaning of the Christmas celebration – the birth of Jesus and the anticipation of what that birth meant for mankind. We have fun with the whole Santa thing, like running out to the street on the night that the fire department came by with the lit up antique engine with Santa on top handing out goodie bags to kids in town. That was fun.
We want our kids to have fun with all parts of Christmas, we just want them to do it from a point of view of knowing the truth. I think kids can know the truth and still have fun. It took me a while to get there. I sort of fought it when Chris and I first had the discussion, but I realized that for us, it was the best decision.
So how do we balance it, so far? As I said, we talk to Olivia about Santa not being real, that he’s imaginary. As she gets older and has more understanding we’ll tell her more of the history of where the story of Santa came from. We still have fun with it, but we do it from an educated point of view. I read this article/blog post last year by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, and I appreciated it because I think he and his wife handle it well with their kids. I appreciated the history of Santa that he provided and I know it’ll be useful as our kids get older and understand more.
We do stockings in our family but we told Olivia they were just fun, small presents. We enjoy all the decorations and lights and talk about how people get excited about the holidays and decorate to celebrate. One thing I loved was that last year when Mom and I were decorating the house the thing Olivia got most excited about was the nativity set that Mom has. As Mom set it up she told Olivia the story and Olivia loved it so much that we often found her playing with the figurines over the coming weeks.
This year we’ll be traveling to Canada for Christmas, so we’ll get to celebrate there with all the bells and whistles, but I want to do things here to start some of our own traditions as a small family. I have a nativity set here that’s made out of clay and a coconut shell that I’m looking forward to bringing out. It was made here in Haiti and all the figurines are black. I want to tell Olivia the story of Jesus birth as we set it up. I hope it provides lots of opportunities to talk about Christmas before we got to Canada.
I also love the celebration of Advent. I remember sitting in church Sunday after Sunday during the lead up to Christmas and having families light the Advent wreath candles in celebration of the coming of the Christ child. It saddens me that a lot of churches don’t celebrate this way anymore, like it’s not cool or something. I have always loved the quiet moment of reflection that the pause in the service called for. Like a time to quiet our hearts and remember what all the fuss is about. A few years ago we hosted a missionary meeting at our house (we do them every two weeks with our local missionary group) in early December and we celebrated Advent together. Because we only had the one meeting I set up 5 candles and as we read through different scripture we lit them. Many of the missionaries said they had never celebrated Advent and that they really enjoyed the time to reflect. I think I’d like to start this with our family, and perhaps each Sunday evening starting with the last Sunday in November light the respective candle and read and talk about the coming of Jesus.
I want our kids to love all aspects about Christmas, but at the core, I want them to know the real reason that we celebrate, and that that reason is why we are here in Haiti loving other people and being obedient to the call God has given us. It’s all connected.
How about your family? If you have small kids, how do you approach it? Are you a Santa celebrating family? How do you deal with those conversations? If your kids are older what did you do?