It’s Not All Mary Poppins

When the traditions aren’t your values: Re-working traditions

(I first posted this in 2006. It seemed worth re-visiting.)

When my oldest was very little, I noticed something. It happened in the weeks coming up to Christmas. It happened All.The.Time. It seemed delightful the first time, innocuous the tenth time, even the twentieth time, but by the hundredth time, I was beginning to have serious concerns.

I am out in a mall, first week of December. A neighbour, a friend, a little old lady approaches, smile at my adorable tot with her nimbus of blond curls and the grey eyes big enough to swim in, and said…

“And what’s Santa bringing you this year?”

You know what? Even at less than two, I wanted my child to know that Christmas is about giving, not getting. And she was understanding this! We were making presents for family. We were baking treats to give to neighbours and unexpected friends dropping by. The whole while we did this, we chatted about how happy gramma would be, or Mrs. Goodman across the street would be, to receive our gift. How much fun it was going to be to see her smile and be excited.

This was what Christmas was about, for my child. And then every single time we went out in public, ten times an outing, people would loom into her space and ask, “What are you GETTING? What do you WANT?”

This was NOT on my agenda for my child. This was counter to my values, counter to what I wanted for her.

At that time in my life, I was also a more conventionally devout Christian than I am now. I didn’t like the way that Santa had totally upstaged the Baby Jesus. How could he not? Jesus was an unassuming presence, a baby wrapped in strips of worn cloth in a dingy cowshed. The angels offered a bit of glitz and glitter, but nothing like Santa, with his promise of unleashed, unrepentant acquisitiveness, greed and ME,ME,ME, GET,GET,GET.

My solution?

We would not “do” Santa.

Not in the North American sense, anyway. Instead, we talked about St. Nicholas, “a bishop from Myra in Asia Minor (the greater part of modern-day Turkey), who used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering”. We looked at different ways Santa (St.Nick, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas) was portrayed in other cultures.

When we saw him in the malls, they could, if they wished, go sit on his lap, even though they knew The Truth. They knew these men were just nice people being kind to little children. (Not such a bad thing to know, hmm?) I even paid for the odd picture.

Not believing gave us freedom to play with the norms. Haley decided, when she was seven or so, that it made much more sense in our snow-bound country were Santa’s sleigh to be pulled by fire-breathing dragons. Her Christmas artwork that year included a few renditions of this idea. Lyrical, creative, imaginative – and shockingly untraditional!

The kids were carefully coached in not spilling the beans to friends – nor even to those well-meaning adults. It would be unkind. We don’t want to make people sad at Christmas!

So, when those well-meaning people approached with their “And what is Santa bringing YOU?” questions, the conversation would go as follows.
Child: I don’t know what I’m getting. It’s a surprise!
Me: Why don’t you tell Mrs. Sweet about the present you’re making for gramma?
Child, face lighting up in a most gratifying way, launches into enthusiastic description.

Time and again, people would respond with a wave of warmth and admiration for these kids who really did enjoy the giving. (Ironic, when you consider it was these same people who had highlighted the problem of teaching greed so clearly to me, but of course, that was not their intention.)

Now, when I greet a child before Christmas, I ask if they’re excited about it. I ask what they’re looking forward to most. (Happily, it isn’t always the gifts they anticipate!) I ask if they are doing anything special with mommy and daddy, if they will see gramma and grampa, if they have their tree up. I ask about their school Holiday Concert and/or their church Christmas concert. In short, I ask about anything and everything but presents – because Christmas is about much more than presents!

Although I’m not intending to suggest that anyone else follow my example re: Santa, I do think it’s good practice to step outside cultural norms once in a while. Think them through. Determine whether they apply to you and your family, and act accordingly. Sometimes “It’s traditional!!” isn’t justification enough.

December 14, 2010 Posted by | Christmas | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Christmas meme

Lifted from Creative Gene.

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Once upon a time, I made reusable drawstring fabric gift bags, and it’s always been in my mind to create more, so that I needn’t use disposable wrapping of any kind. I don’t think it’s going to happen this year…

2. Real tree or Artificial?
Artificial. It’s always seemed wrong to me to kill a tree every year for a few weeks’ decoration. Besides, yeah, it smells nice, but the needles and the mess. We had a real tree one year, and I kept getting stabbed in the feet. (If there’s a way around it, I smell ‘maintenance’, as in ‘more work’.) Mine looks real enough, requires zero maintenance, and we’ve used the same one for ten years now.

3. When do you put up the tree?
December 8, the day after my eldest’s birthday. FIRST she gets a birthday, THEN we look to Christmas. I promised her that when I was pregnant with her. Even though she’s grown up and living on her own, I still wait.

4. When do you take the tree down?
January 1.

5. Do you like eggnog?
Nope. Too sweet.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
I recall going mental at the age of eight when I received a suitcase from my grandparents. Squeals and whoops and dancing around. I’m still not quite sure why that was so very exciting…

7. Hardest person to buy for?
Normally my son, but this year he supplied a KICK-ASS list.

8. Easiest person to buy for?
No one. My eldest, she has a real gift for choosing great gifts for people. Me, I need lists. Lots and lots of lists.

9. Do you have a nativity scene?
Yes, though I call it a creche.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
I was going to cite the six broken cookies in a crumpled piece of wax paper (from an adult, not a child), but then I remembered the year I got Nothing.

I mean that. Quite literally nothing. The last Christmas with my ex. (We hadn’t even decided to separate then, though things weren’t good obviously! We didn’t make the break until the following November, almost a full year later.) Not only did he not get me anything, but he didn’t organize the kids, who were at that point young enough to need adult help. So, at Christmas, there were presents for the kids from both of us; there were presents for him, from me and the kids, and, when all the unwrapping was done, there was
for me.

It was bizarre. I’m not even sure I was upset. It was just so weird.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
January. Really. I like Christmas shopping. I hate feeling rushed. (REALLY hate it… :-))

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
Often. Regifting is practical, economical, and thoughtful. Just because a gift isn’t to my taste doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be the perfect gift for someone else. Why let it sit in the back of a closet, or, worse, be thrown out, when someone else can enjoy it?

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Mashed potatoes and gravy. Or stuffing and gravy.

16. Lights on the tree?
Yes. Multi-coloured.

17. Favorite Christmas song?
“Oh, Holy Night”. Or perhaps “Go tell it on the Mountain”.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
Home. Unless I could travel somewhere tropical…

19. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Yup! I can also recite the entire of “The Night Before Christmas”, and large chunks of the Christmas story from the Bible.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
Angel. She looks a bit faerie, though.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
Morning. When I was a child, we opened one gift on Christmas Eve. Officially this was out of deference to my German grandparents, but really, it was a scam so we kids could get a present early. At least, that’s what I always figured…

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?
Crowded malls. Which is why I get my shopping done before December. (See #13, above.) When I’m not desperately seeking a gift, though, I can enjoy the bustle and the lights and the music.

23. Favorite ornament theme or color?
I collect angels for the tree.

24. Favorite for Christmas dinner?
The traditional one: turkey with stuffing and gravy; mashed potatoes, three or four vegetables; cranberry sauce.

25. What is your favorite thing about the holidays?
Time off! Time with family.

December 13, 2008 Posted by | Christmas, daycare, memes and quizzes | , , , | 6 Comments