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We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus our Advent and Christmas on JESUS!”
*****The Santa Question
Since last Christmas, when my son was finally getting old enough to comprehend was Christmas was all about, I've been struggling with the question of whether or not we should continue to encourage and teach the legend of Santa alongside the story of Christ's birth or not. I've been thinking and reading about it all year, and here's what I've finally concluded.
I do believe it's possible - even in this culture - to "not do Santa" in your family. True, Santa brings a wonderful sense of "magic" to Christmas. But if you celebrate the feast of Christmas well, there is absolutely no lack of magic in the incomprehensible beauty and wonder of the Christmas story (see, for example, this account of how an American family celebrated in the German tradition).
I have spoken with a couple adults who were raised without the Santa myth, and don't feel that they were at all deprived. However, Santa is a part of my family's celebration of Christmas, and both Tom and I still have some nostalgic attachment to him. I decided that if we can work him into our otherwise Christ-centered Christmas, we don't have to cut out Santa entirely.
In many parts of Europe, the little children would write letters during Advent to the baby Jesus (remember that adorable one that Pope Benedict XVI wrote as a child?), and they believed that He was the one who brought the gifts. Here in America, it's Santa who's solely responsible for this. I'd like my kids to understand that Santa/mom and dad/relatives/friends are giving gifts at Christmas *in celebration* of the birth of Christ. And I came across a wonderful little passage that suggests a way to keep Santa, but relegate him to his proper place:
The fairytale of Santa Claus will not be abolished easily, despite the efforts of well-meaning people. Nor does it seem necessary. Children do like fairytales, and Santa Claus is one of the most charming of them. Catholic parents might use it without harm, provided they apply some safeguards to avoid undue overstressing of the Santa Claus figure….Keep the Santa tale in its simple, appealing form and shun the corruptions introduced by commercial managers….Never allow the figure of Santa Claus to dominate the child’s mind. The Child Jesus must be the main figure in all his Christmas thinking. Picture to him Santa as merely a servant and deliveryman, delightful but not very important….Do not let your children present their wishes to Santa. If you want them to write down what they desire, let them write to the Child Jesus according to the old Catholic custom. Santa does not give the presents, he only delivers what the Lord sends. The above suggestions will also help to lessen the "shock" when the children find out that "there is no Santa." As one mother did when her little boy came full of doubts and asked her if there was really a Santa Claus...."Of course not," said mother quietly, "that's only a story for very small children. You are a big boy now, so you understand how it really is. Our dear Lord does not need a deliveryman. He has already given you somebody who loves you very much and who is happy to give you the Christmas presents in His Name. Do you know who these persons are?" The child thought for a moment, then he said, "Daddy and mother?" "Yes, my dear", answered she, "and would you not rather that father and I give you the presents? We love you more than Santa Claus does."– Francis W. Weiser, S.J., The Year of the Lord in the Christian Home
I think this is a very good approach to take. Ultimately, I don't intend to discourage belief in Santa, just to downplay some of his influence over my children's understanding of the meaning and purpose of Christmas. [In case anyone is wondering, I have some issues with considering Santa the same person as St. Nicholas. I won't go into them here, but we will celebrate St. Nick separately on his proper feast day of December 6th.]
Here are some of the ways we will observe Advent/Christmas this year:
Replacing our Secular "Advent Calendar" with a Jesse Tree
We grew up with a cute advent calendar with velcro "ornaments" that you add to a tree each day of December. My mom was so excited to pass it on to me as soon as I had kids of my own. There's nothing wrong with this Advent calendar, but as the other moms and I at the latest discussion group lamented, "there are so many cool Advent practices you can do with your family, but you just can't do them all!" The symbols in our calendar are mostly items like presents and toys. And the calendar culminates on December 24th with a Santa face. Not exactly the message I want to get across to the kids about what Christmas means.
I think I'm going to keep it in the box this year, and try out a Jesse Tree in its place. Again, I don't think the calendar is harmful in itself. But we can only fit in so many "you have to do this once a day" items, and the Jesse Tree is one I've wanted to try for awhile. For those who are unfamiliar, it's a way to walk through the Biblical stories of salvation history, culminating in the birth of Christ. You have ornaments with symbols that represent each of those events in salvation history, and each day you add one to a little "Jesse" tree. I participated in Karen's ornament exchange this year, and received a set of very cute and creative ornaments from other bloggers. Now I just need to figure out which ornament corresponds to which story AND find some sort of (free?) transcript of little-kid-friendly prayers or readings for each day...and I think I'm good to go!
Also, our children's Christmas book collection is about half-and-half religious and secular at this point. This year, I think I might weed out some of the ones that focus too much on getting presents as the main excitement of Christmas.
Actually Remembering to Light Our Advent Wreath Each Day
This has been a big problem for Tom and I during Advent. We always seem to start out with grand plans about saying nightly prayers around our lit wreath, but then manage to only do it one or two nights a week. This year, the plan is to say our prayers and let Sly add an ornament to the Jesse Tree right after dinner - before anyone gets up from the table. That way, we won't run the risk of forgetting or running out of time later.
Last year, we tried to sing one verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel each time we gathered around the wreath. It is a long song with many verses, but...it would still be nice to have some other Advent songs in our repertoire. Does anyone know of any others that are good for group singing, and written in English??
Using Representations of the Nativity to Tell the Story of Christmas
We have two nativity sets right now. Our "nice set" is made by Fontanini. I don't really let the kids play with it, but all the figures are actually made from plastic (my favorite part is that they don't *look* plastic at all), so I don't have to worry if they do. I like to set out the figures for this set slowly, in the order they would have actually arrived at the scene...some cows and sheep and shepherds hang around the stable during most of Advent; Mary, Joseph and the donkey arrive on Christmas Eve, the baby Jesus shortly after, and then the angel, followed by the wise men and their camel on Epiphany.
We also have the Little People set. It's not my favorite children's Nativity, since the modern-day Little People are so chunky and the animals are non-posable (unlike the Little People animals of my own childhood). But it's great to not have to mind if they get roughed up a bit by the kids.
One of my favorites - and something I saved up money for a year to purchase! - is my lifesize Christ statue in a manger. They make them in smaller sizes, but it was important to me to find one that was life-size, because I thought that would help us all the understand that Christ was really once a tiny baby on this earth. This is VERY breakable, so I have to keep it up on a table. The wooden manger sits out, empty, during Advent. Last year, when Sly was only two, I had him add a piece of "straw" (cut up yellow paper) to the manger everytime he did something "good." He really enjoyed this, and was pleased to help "make a soft bed" out of his sacrifices for the baby Jesus, who we brought out on Christmas morning.
|Sorry, but I can't find a link to this right now. It's a 20" "Florentine" statue with manger. It took me over two years to finally track down a retailer that had them in stock. Very difficult to find! So keep an eye out throughout the year.|
A friend of mine also called my attention to what I think would be a really fun tradition to start. I've been trying to think of good ways to continue the celebration of Christmas day to extend to all "twelve days of Christmas." One family came up with a great alternative to the silly Elf on the Shelf thing that does just that. The three wise men travel throughout your house on those twelve days, searching all sorts of silly places, wondering where they can find the newborn king. If I can get ahold of the Playmobil Three Wise Kings this year - and I've already mentioned it to the grandparents who were looking for gift ideas for our kids - we're definitely going to try it!
Not Starting Christmas Too Early?
Well, except for one thing: I do like to find most of my Christmas gifts as early as possible, ideally before December. The sooner I do that, the sooner I can stop stressing out about it, and just wrap myself up in the peacefulness and expectation of Advent.
Though it's difficult, I try to resist listening to Christmas music for most of Advent. I bring out the Christmas decorations slowly, bits at a time. I wish I had the resolve to not even trim the tree or light the lights until Christmas Eve, but these things usually happen a week or so before. It's not a great excuse, but I hold an annual cookie exchange at my house shortly before Christmas, and I like to be decorated by then. Advent is a good time to try out some simple recipes - soups, meatless meals, and similar. Make these little sacrifices for Christ now, and the joy of Christmas will be all the more.
I think if you try maintain the right attitude about Advent in your home - this exciting time of quiet and waiting - then you can enjoy a very peaceful and holy season. And hopefully, by the time Christmas actually arrives, you are jubilant rather than feeling sick of it!
Visit these participating blogs for awesome posts about Keeping Christ in Christmas!
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