December 24, 2004

The Soul Felt It's Worth

Growing up in a pagan home Christmas meant a two week vacation from school; presents; attention from people; food; and decorations. It had absolutely nothing to do with belief or celebration of the birth of Christ.

While teaching our girls the religious symbolism incorporated into our cultural celebrations and our own family traditions, we want so much for them to understand that the gift of Christmas should be recognized the other 364 days of the year. Grace and mercy and forgiveness, these are the gifts given to us without our deserving. Who are we to deny them to others?

I confess that we never taught our girls that Santa Claus was real. We did; however, tell them that it was a simple story (our favorite being the recently purchased The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum). Some of my friends and many acquaintances have asked how we managed to provide any of that wonderful magic associated with Christmas. We believe we have provided something far better. We have replaced something they will be required at some point in coming of age to disbelieve with Someone in whom they may always believe.

See, we never liked that "you better not pout, you better not cry" and "he knows if you've been bad or good" stuff. We celebrate a gift given without regard for how good or bad I or anyone else has been. Many Christians point out that the real celebration is in the spring. I beg to differ. As a child, I had no hope for escape from my misery. My body was clothed in Ralph Lauren and foreign cars filled our garage, but my soul was naked and empty. The birth of the Christ gave humanity hope. It is that hope that we point our children to, that we celebrate, and that we mimic in our giving on December 25 each year.

Every Christmas Eve, R and I make up clues for the girls to follow in which to find the baby Jesus who is not yet been laid in the manger of the Nativity set. Once the girls have finally settled down for the night, we place them around the home for them to find in succession- like a treasure hunt. When the Child is found and placed in the stable, they may then proceed to dig through their stockings. I always lay awake listening to the whispers, giggles, and gasps of delight. After some good-natured prodding and pleading for their parents to get up, R and I finally submit and head to the kitchen to make coffee. The morning cup poured, we each find a spot in the living room and read the prophecies of the coming Savior and His birth. We know they are only humoring us, as their eager little hands are just itching to tear at the wrap and find what lies beneath. It is the hope of finding something good and undeserved that draws them to the gift.

Posted by Rae at December 24, 2004 10:55 PM

This is one of the decisions that Rae and I have made together that draws curiosity from almost anyone that finds out that we taught "Satan's Clau" only as a nice story and not truth. I say "finds out" because we believe it is not profitable to offer such information to the casual aquaintance.

Many strangers in stores have asked my kids "What is Santy gonna bring you this year little girl?" Most folks who inquire about it quickly point out how we have cheated our Children of the "Magic and wonder" of Christmas. Some when they have the chance to think about it say "I never thought of it that way". Or "I didn't know you could do that" Exactly. When you do think for a moment it makes perfect sense to share a story and it's origins rather than take advantage of the precious trust that our children have in us. Of course we don't spend energy judging those who don't do as we do. Just understand that we did the trust work up front and if you teach Santa as truth you will be doing it after the fact. In my own life I saw it as a breach in trust with my parents that could have been avoided. And yes, the easter bunny, tooth fairy and any other boogie man stuff is also absent in our family except for careful explanations of the stories and origins. We still have fun with it, but the hiding, truth stretching and it's effects are absent.

Posted by: R at December 25, 2004 11:08 AM

The truth sometimes has a cost.

When I was in first grade, in 1963, I was in the wicked Mrs. Nelson's class at California Elementary School in Costa Mesa, CA. She once grabbed me by the hair on top my head with both hands and shook me forward and backward maybe ten times. She was mad. I don't remember what I did to set her off, but even at that age, I knew it wasn't that bad what I did.

Anyway, that was Mrs. Nelson. And at Christmastime, Mrs. Nelson was going to walk the whole class over to an assembly in the auditorium to see Santa Claus, and being the smart little, ADHD, 6-year-old, know-it-all that I was, I offered the information I had been taught for all in line to hear. "There's no Santa Claus, really. It's just a pretend story. Christmas is really about Jesus, but some people don't like to tell their children about Jesus."

Don't get me wrong, I was no Bible Thumper. I was just raised with an accurate reference to the origins of the Christmas celebration, all the while enjoying the less religious trimmings as well. We got to sit on Santa's lap at Christmas in the mall and tell him what we wanted--but we knew it was pretend. It was just for fun. We always knew the presents were from Mom and Dad, aunts and uncles.

And that's what I said, "Santa is just for fun. We can pretend he's real, but he really isn't." Some of the kids did not appreciate the information that they would someday come to understand as I did. They argued using the lie their parents felt justified in telling them: 'Santa is too real!"

"No he's not."

Mrs. Nelson told me to be quiet. But I didn't. In fact, I don't think I could. I knew the truth. The kids kept going on "Santa is real, you'll see."

I disobeyed. "Santa is pretend. Really!"

Mrs. Nelson pulled me out of line and sat me on the floor next to her desk at the back of the class. 'You stay right here with your feet and your hands against the wall until I return."

She dropped the kids off at the Assembly, then came back to the room and sat at her desk doing who-knows-what. Every once in a while she would bark at me to put my hands flat against the wall and "don't bend your legs."

I learned early on that some aspects of the truth make some people very mad. [Presentation notwithstanding] But I never doubted the truth.

I just never trusted Mrs. Nelson.

She was a mean liar.

Posted by: David at December 25, 2004 03:38 PM

That is reprehensible, David! I would have been down at that school in a New York minute! What a traumatic experience for a six year-old boy.

You are absolutely correct- she was a mean liar and hope that someone somewhere showed some kindness to her.

Posted by: Rae at December 25, 2004 09:45 PM
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