Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Merry Christmas? Happy Holidays?

This has been a season of contemplation for me. How should our family celebrate this season? We have friends who do not celebrate it at all. We know those who do not include Jesus as part of their celebration, after all, December 25th probably wasn't His actual birthday, but they can celebrate using Santa etc.. We have friends who only celebrate Jesus, but none of the other secular traditions. They all have their reasons and must do what works for their families. We need to decide what this season means to us and then be at peace with our decision. I think our problem has been that we never made a conscious decision, we have just floated along with traditions that we grew up with. One problem with that is neither of us grew up in a Christian home that had a purposeful way of celebrating. I was involved in a chat last Tuesday evening in which many people discussed how they celebrate this time of the year and like me there were others trying to decide a more meaningful way to celebrate. Our family has been sucked into the commercial aspect of Christmas and that is a bit shallow - so hubby and I decided this year to explore why we do what we do - it wouldn't necessarily mean we will change our traditions if they have some meaning, but we needed to find out why they had meaning. Some of our traditions include going to get family pictures with Santa, travelling out to a tree farm and cutting a Christmas tree, decorating gingerbread houses, putting up lights on our house, sometimes we make christmas crafts, watch christmas movies, sing christmas carols. We usually get a new jigsaw puzzle and work on it. We did pretend Santa for our children and they would usually get something they asked him for. They also thought that Santa, along with us, put something in our stockings. The Santa tradition got started when I was a child, my family wasn't close and Christmas was a time of year that my mom seemed to really enjoy doing special things for us kids. My parents would go all out and try to get us what we wanted for Christmas - yes there were the Christmas lists straight from the Sears catalog. Because of this, my best memories of childhood center around this time of year. Unfortunately, we got into this materialistic habit with our own children and I am sure that is part of what has made me unsettled about Christmas. We have 4 children ages 9-20, so changing our traditions suddenly could be a big upset to the family. We asked the children what they especially liked about Christmas and they mentioned most of the things that I have listed above. The one thing that I was thrilled with was that they really want to give each other gifts and yes they do get excited about receiving gifts, but they all agreed that it means more to get a gift from someone that knows you well enough that they don't have to ask what you would like - they already know. Hubby suggested that we give gifts without putting who they are from - we can be secret santas. The children, for the most part really liked this idea - it focuses on the person receiving rather than the giver. Last night we also read the history of St. Nicholas and revealed to our youngest that we had been pretending all along. He was disappointed, but he wasn't angry. Hubby read some scriptures to us about Jesus and then talked about how he was VERY different from St. Nicholas. He also talked about how St. Nicholas gave his gifts because he was trying to serve Jesus with all his heart and that he cared for children and the needy. We love the character displayed in St. Nicholas and we will still have stockings and still get our pictures with Santa because of this. I still have mixed feelings about how we handled this with our children - but they all say that they are glad we did it and that they will probably do something of the sort with their families. I have told them that no matter what traditions they choose to have, they should make conscious decisions along with their spouse before their children are born. We decided that we will continue along with most of our traditions because they are fun and seem to fit the season. We choose to put up a tree because it is pretty, smells good and cheers us up. We don't celebrate Christmas as Jesus birth because it is pretty certain that it was not his birthday - we celebrate his birth, life and resurrection every day, but that doesn't mean that we don't acknowledge that others celebrate his birth now and we certainly don't stop talking about him during December. There is only one thing left that I am a little uncomfortable about and that is our dealings with extended family at this time of year. We usually only see hubby's family during the holidays and so it seems a bit superficial to me to exchange gifts - I enjoy seeing them and love to have time of food and fellowship with them, but it almost seems obligatory to exchange gifts. We have done it many different ways, we have drawn names, bought only for the children, bought for everyone, done family gifts and one year we didn't buy anything because we had been on an extended strike right before the holidays. Hubby decided that for our family, we would just purchase gifts for the nieces/nephews that were still in school and that is what we have done for several years now. His family on the other hand not only buys gifts for all of our children, but for us too. This year I know at least one person is giving gift cards, as are we, because we don't know them well enough to know what they would like. We are essentially giving them our money and they are giving us theirs. There are also great nieces and nephews on this side of the family now and their parents, our nieces and nephews have started giving us gifts too. It is getting a bit ridiculous. I come home feeling guilty about it - we come home with a car load of gifts and we have given two, plus a hostess gift. I know that I should feel thankful that they want to give us something - but it is hard to feel good about it, when you know they are in debt and don't really have the funds to do this. On my side of the family it is not quite as bad, we do bring gifts for the children and although, with the exception of my sister, my family doesn't really know my children all that well either. The aunts and uncles do seem to keep the gifts to small items that are unique and fun. My step sister has bought the children polar fleece pullovers for several years and that is really a nice practical gift that the children enjoy. They have given us gifts too, homemade bread etc. Small tokens of appreciation. The gifts don't seem to be the big thing at this gathering. When I was growing up, the aunts and uncles bought us gifts when we were very small, but they stopped as we got older and we just got together to have dinner. I don't want to sound like a poor sport, but I sure would appreciate it if we could do that here. I don't like the fact that the children grow up expecting that aunts and uncles continue to do that and then for the great nieces and nephews etc. etc. I want our children to learn that it is the relationships with their siblings, nieces and nephews that are important and the time and fellowship mean more than any material item. If I can instill anything in my children during this season - that is what I want it to be. To sum it all up, we are at peace with how we celebrate and I have to accept the fact that I cannot control how our extended family chooses to celebrate. For more food for thought on Christmas celebrations, Mrs. Squirrel over at Deweys Treehouse has a great Christmas post here and Headmistress over at Common Room has another great Christmas post here on her Sunday Hymn post. Whatever traditions you choose to hold during this season, may your family be well and happy and may your season be bright!

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