Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Whose Birthday Is It?

I have spent this rainy December morning in front of my laptop in a quiet house. For the last 90 minutes I have been pondering, researching and massaging my children's Christmas wish lists. Although our children delivered their letters to Santa Claus Thanksgiving week so we could move on to other things, it is now decision time. How much? Which ones? It has left me thinking a lot about what place Santa Claus has in our family's celebration of Advent & Christmas.

We like Santa in our house. He is not a bad guy. He brings love, hope and a generous spirit--not to mention the FUN!  There is nothing more exciting than watching the face of bed-headed children as they scramble down the stairs Christmas morning. It is the embodiment of the anticipation that Advent is about. There is an electric attitude of expectancy than we adults would do well to carry into each day God has given us.

But like all characters, Santa has his flaws. He makes vague promises and let's face it, his gifts are based on works. Christmas carols, exasperated parents and twinkly eyed strangers in the grocery store reinforce to our children that they better "be good"  if they want gifts.

In our home, Santa brings three things to each child to pay homage to the three gifts from the wise men. However, when my children delivered their 4-6 item wish lists to Santa this year, they were delighted to hear him say "If you behave, I will see about getting you everything on your list." It is bad theology and in opposition to what I hope to teach my children about life, but you'd better believe they have clung to that statement from the jolly old bearded man. They are being set up for disappointment. When there are only three things under the tree will they believe it was because they didn't 'earn' the rest? Ugh!

And this is where I have been stuck for the last 90 minutes. My children don't need everything on their list--no matter how 'good' their behavior happens to be. Some of the items they are asking for are simply overpriced, gimmicky junk. I know them each well enough to predict which gifts will leave them completely bored and unfulfilled. I also know things that would thrill them to no end, and they haven't even thought to ask for them.

It reminds me a lot of the way God deals with me. I bring Him my list of things I have seen others possess, that I want. I make requests for what I think will make me happy. But He knows my heart better than I do. He gives me gifts based on His perspective, not on mine. Some delight me, while others leave me feeling confused and/or disappointed.

God's 'yes'es aren't in direct proportion to my good behavior and His 'no's aren't a reflection of His lack of love for me. He gives good gifts to His children--for our growth and His glory. Contrary to what many of us seem to believe deep in our heart, God doesn't exist to rubber stamp our wish list after a careful evaluation of our behavior. Which brings me back to Santa Claus...

The real problem with Santa is that he perpetuates the consumer driven myth that Christmas is OUR birthday instead of Jesus'. (Major props to my friend Cabell for passing along this phrase. I had never heard it before.) So much of the refrain is 'what do YOU want for Christmas?' If you try to stop the cycle you are a Scrooge. There is such build up. So much time, money and energy is devoted to this month. It is fun to spend, give and make merry.

I love my children. I want them to be thrilled on Christmas morning. But every year when all the gift wrap is cleaned up, I look around my living room and feel a little nauseous and resolve that 'next year will be different.'

There are lots of programs, checklists and ideas already floating around the Internet about ways to lessen all the hype...but as I start to really think about implementing some of them the guilt creeps in. The month's schedule is already insane, I can't add another thing. Besides, this is childhood! It should be fun! Lighten up! It is just one month, you have eleven others to be serious. Don't steal joy from children who are too young to really get it! They will be old and overly analytical one day, for now just enjoy! And I wonder how much I have bought into it already. Why is it so hard to let go?

I don't have a neat 'bow' for this entry. I don't have an 'action plan.' But the longer I mull it over the more convinced I become that this is where God wants me...stepping back, being still, stripping it down in my heart, bringing it all to Him and allowing Him to give insight into how to keep the main thing the main thing around here. The bottom line is that it is Jesus' birthday and what He wants most is our hearts.


Dena said...

Yes, yes, and yes. I've had each and every thought here. I am *trying* this year to keep at the forefront in my mind and heart what Jesus himself said to do to remember him - give thanks and break the bread - give thanks and give myself. How this is played out with 3 kids and gifts and, I haven't figured it out yet.

Bailey's Leaf said...

Because of your blog, we have adopted the three gifts concept, too. So many people talk of Santa and all that bit. My mother-in-law keeps texting me my child's wishes. "Is SANTA buying K an iPod Touch for Christmas? You know, she HAS been talking about it." I tell K that a Christmas list is a list of suggestions. They aren't a list of demands. When I read the #1 thing on my child's list as "A real puppy," I told her that, "I told Santa no." My daughter asked for a pair of high heels for Christmas. She told me that she dreamed of wearing a pair with her Christmas dress. They were not expensive, but they were on her list. They might not be an expensive MP3 player, but it is something that truly meant something to her. I agree, so much is about ME with Christmas. By limiting K to three things that she truly loves, he makes her zero in on something that is more meaningful than the attack of the I Wants that starts in August. Thank you for sharing this concept with us.

The Niemeyer Nest said...

Eloquent as always! We do 3 Santa gifts and three small gifts from the parents-clothes, books and always a toy that I know will be enjoyed long past Christmas day. It's a hard month for those of us that see the big picture! I do love the magic but not the disappointment.

Liz said...

I too have tried to find ways to make this holiday season lessons about me/us and more about Jesus. As a family, we have committed to doing a random act of kindness everyday this month. I honestly couldn't think of a better way to honor our savior in the mist of the crazy rush.

My kids have TOTALLY embraced it. We have raked neighbors yards, carried other friends lunch trays, pushed trash cans to the curbs, left change and a note taped to a vending machine, left a tip for a waitor that was equal to the cost of the entire meal.

This has switched the talk from can I change my list and can I add it my list or I wonder what I will get to what I did for someone else today.

On a side note and something I never thought about, the example we show for our kids. The kids were with their father as he paid for the donuts of a family behind them at the donut shop. When the kids came home, they were so excited to tell the story of how dad just paid for strangers donuts. It really left an impression.

Marion said...

I just listened to Focus on the Family with Phil Vischer explaining how to help our children understand Christmas. We personally don't do Santa in the sense he is the one that brings the presents on Christmas morning. But we do Santa pictures, gifts, trees, parties and all the craziest that the holidays bring. One thing we started 3 years ago is asking our children around October one thing they really want for Christmas b/c its before all the consumerism starts to ramp up. And we end up with less junk b/c of it. Another thing we do every year is make our children give away the number of toys that come into the house. I am one that likes order and a million toys STRESSES me out. We start talking up giving toys to others kids that might have nothing weeks before so there are no melt downs. My child that is so tender hearted that give away everything to anyone in need already has a box in her room of her toys to give to another little girl.

Mary Lou said...

As usual, Jennifer a great post. Thanks for your transparency. I love reading the comments of the other young mothers and what they are doing to keep Him at the front of their Christmas celebration. Mine are totally grown and I actually did away with Santa when they were little and we opened gifts on Christmas Eve. They do not seem scarred in the least and they never complained about not waiting til Christmas Day to open gifts. It worked for me, but not may work for anyone else. I was blessed to read of all the innovative ideas that you all have come up with to honor Christ and love on your children. Gives me hope for the future of some young families.

Prairie Rose said...

My kids don't want anything. Or at least, they didn't. Why should they? They have anything they could possibly need or want. But the constant refrain of "What do you want for Christmas?" everywhere they go has got my oldest (age 5) quite anxious. She started out the season with nothing at all on her wish list. She eventually added an electric toothbrush, and then some clay. Still, I was quite pleased to not be dealing with greed. But somewhere in the last couple weeks, it's all changed. Why? Because people keep asking what do you want, what do you want, making her feel like she NEEDS to want things. Her teacher did an activity giving them toy catalogs and telling them to cut out all the things they wanted to make a list for Santa. She brought it home saying, "That's what I'm getting." Um, no, it isn't. Is she now going to be disappointed on Christmas morning because I got her something I felt she would get a lot of use and enjoyment out of back when she had nothing on her Christmas list now that everyone has convinced her she needs to make a list of a bunch of junk to want?

How do we prevent society from influencing our kids to be so greedy?? I'm at a loss. Me telling her it's not necessary to want things or that it's okay not to want anything because she already has so much is nothing against the thousands of "what do you wants?" she is hearing all around her.

The consumerism this time of year really sickens me. I can't tell you how many times I've heard parents say, "I have to clean out their rooms and get rid of toys to make room for all their new Christmas toys." What?? Why not just keep the toys they've already got!!? I have to get rid of toys so I can get more toys?? The whole thing is ridiculous.