Thursday, December 5, 2013

Up on the rooftop? Just shingles

We are not a Santa Claus family.

We have stockings hung by the chimney with some degree of care (though this year we have one too many for our previous decorative holders), but we don’t write letters or put out milk and cookies. We don’t do pictures at the mall. We don’t make it a point to watch the seasonal TV specials. Over the years we’ve collected a metric ton of Christmas-themed books, but I try to steer the kids away from the overtly Santa-based material.

It’s not that we’re overly emphasizing the religious aspects of the season either. We don’t do Advent calendars or have a home Advent wreath. We don’t have Christmas music playing on a loop. Plenty of those aforementioned books are about secular gift giving or animals getting together to decorate a Christmas tree. Heck, probably a full dozen are just about snowmen.

Make no mistake, Christmas is indeed a religious holiday in our family. We have a Nativity scene and always go to church on Christmas Eve. Lots of the books are indeed explicitly about the reason for the season. Last Sunday in the car, after discussing the months of the year, I asked the boys whose birthday was coming up next. Max’s hand shot up from the back seat and he yelled, “I know! Jesus!” So at least one of them is paying attention in Sunday school.

(He pays attention at church choir, too, as I learned a few weeks ago when I thought I heard him muttering “Jesus Christ!” under his breath. Turns out he was practicing “Go, Tell It On the Mountain.” Not my finest parenting moment.)

We do have a few of the hats, though.
I’m not really sure I can pinpoint a time when we decided to skip the Santa craze. Maybe it was when Jack was eight months old with two parents working full-time jobs and a 40-minute drive to the nearest mall. Maybe it was a few years later when we had to take down the decorations after a curious toddler nearly melted a hole in the living room carpet. Maybe it was when he was old enough to buy into the routine, but also very clearly sharp enough to get quite cross if he grasped the reality.

Whatever the actual reason, we don’t do Santa. Items stuffed in the stockings are a surprise, but we don’t make a production about their origin. It’s much like the Easter baskets. We do them, and hunting for eggs remains a thrill even for the fourth-grader, but there’s no undercurrent of mystery. It’s more or less just a fact of the holiday. The boys know a cow has to die in order for us to eat hamburgers, which is a thing you can teach without showing videos from the processing plant.

And that’s the wrinkle: We’re not a Santa family, but we don’t care if anyone else loves the traditions. I don’t begrudge any fellow parents their Elf on the Shelf hijinks. I certainly don’t arm my kids with “the truth” and urge them to confront their peers and burst bubbles. But according to some things I’ve seen (or heard secondhand) on social media, apparently this is a major concern for parents. Surely it’s been that way forever: School, after all, is where kids learn all the things their parents won’t teach them at home. If parents think Santa and the Easter Bunny are rough lessons, just wait to see what the precious ones pick up during junior high.

I get it. Santa is great fun. Parents love being able to let their children share in the magic. They all know it will end some day, but they’re always hoping to get through one more season of wonderment. It has to be crushing to set hopes high for late December only to have them dashed right after Thanksgiving.

That’s partly why we never started. If you don’t show them the lady being sawed in half, you don’t have to see the look on their faces when they realize the skill is in the illusion. Maybe that’s a bit like saying you don’t want a pet because it will crush the young ones when the pet’s time is through… but the love for and from the animal is real every step of the way.

I’m trying very carefully not to pass judgment here. Abstaining from Santa stuff doesn’t make us any better or worse, just different. Like with many things, we just want the kids to understand our traditions and respect the rights of other people to enjoy theirs. It seems silly to see people getting so worked up about who does what at holiday time, but it seems like as good a time as any to teach tolerance and deference, as well as a reminder to us, as a mom and a dad, to answer kids with honesty, making sure it’s age appropriate truth.

So no, we’re not a Santa Claus family. Maybe our boys will choose to go all in on the Jolly Old Elf if they become parents some day. And if so, we’ll play along. If not, that’s fine, too. There’s plenty of other things in life for more deserving of attention and concern, and only so much time and energy to expend. They key for us is knowing where to look for guidance on which path to follow.

A prayer for December 5:

Lord, thank you not just for the wonders of Christmas itself, but the gift of Advent and urging me to prepare my heart and mind. My walk through this world is so much different when I can get my soul in a proper place, and I know so easily when I am out of sorts. But I always need your help to pull me back, set my feet straight and walk by my side going forward. I am blessed to never be alone, and I hope with your help to be able to teach my children to feel the same way. Amen.

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