Saturday, November 28, 2009

Santa, Mikulas, and the Baby Jesus

Last year, this is what happened when Santa walked into the place where we were eating dinner:
One year later, we met Santa at the Pioneer Courthouse Square tree lighting, and this happened:
He's just nonplussed by the whole Santa situation. At least there's no more terror involved. This opens up a topic that I'd love comments on: how does your family handle Santa? We have thoughts on the matter but are unsure how to talk about it with Abe because we don't want him ruining anything for his friends. I'm trying to be purposefully vague here in case any young eyes are seeing this. We love Santa in the Rooney house but are not sure what we want our kids to believe about who brings them presents.

I've always liked the Slovak way: Jezisko (the baby Jesus) brings gifts on Christmas Eve after everyone has eaten the Christmas carp and potato salad. On December 6th, Mikulas (Santa) puts candies and fruit in the boots of children who leave them on their windowsills before going to bed. On December 5th (and sometimes on the 6th too), people will dress up as angels or devils to remind children the consequences of being good or bad. At the school where I taught for four years, one teenager would be a devil, another an angel, and another Mikulas. I recently found out that the angel costume was the old wedding dress of one of the middle-aged vice-principals. This revelation made me all kinds of happy and is a perfect example of why I loved living in Slovakia.

We're trying to figure out what works for our family without getting sucked into the traditions of the culture at-large. We have nothing against the culture-at-large necessarily. We just know how easy it is for kids to start expecting more and more at Christmas, and then we get sucked into the pressure to buy up all we can during the holidays, ending up with a bunch of junk that we'll never use.

I am torn. I like the idea behind Advent Conspiracy a lot. I also really like the idea of having at least something to open on Christmas morning. My parents never gave us anything hugely extravagant, but some of my best holiday memories involve the gifts we got, like the barbie house one year and the small black-and-white tv another. I remember these gifts. In Ted's family, all nine kids had to wait on the stairs until everyone was there and their mom could get a photo. Then and only then could they rush down the stairs to open gifts. This is one of the best collective Rooney memories, which wouldn't have happened if the opening of gifts were not involved.

So we're trying to find a balance. What does your family do at Christmas when it comes to gifts? Do you make your own? If you are participants in Advent Conspiracy, do your kids feel disappointed that they aren't getting many or any gifts? If you are one of those families with the mountain of boxes underneath the tree, what is your rationale for doing so (and I'm not judging--I'm always kind of jealous of you when I go to your holiday parties). Have any of you found a balance? If so, can you tell me how?


Danni and Tommy said...

We are a family with a mountain (sad, but true), but only buy gifts that somehow give back. My mom is very good at this- so I've always had that example. It's fun, even as an adult, to open something like a bracelet and know that it has a story and the purchase helped to support something we believe in.
It's harder to do this for gifts for Judah, but, I'm going to try.

emily said...

Our family was similar to the Rooney clan and I have done the same with all the kids on the stairs, etc as they wait expectantly to open their gifts- too many of them actually. I am doing it differently this year. I will let you know if I think long lasting therapy will result- they seem ok with it so far. I would usually have long lists to look over by now. Many friends were crazy busy shopping all weekend and I had a moment where I thought- oh, I need to get busy and then remembered that I really don't have much to buy this year! :) Very freeing so far.

Stephanie said...

What I know after having all three kids grow up:

1. Whatever your traditions are will be your kids' traditions - "normal" is something they sort of absorb through their pores.

2. I came from extravaganzas ... my husband from not so much. We compromised at carefully chosen not so much.

3. We told our preteens that Santa doesn't come if people don't think he's real. They stopped trying to press the point even though they'd far outgrown the notion - and we still do stockings on Christmas morning.

And what I wish, wish, wish I'd known about early enough for that pore absorption thing is the stuff you experienced in Slovakia.

Have you seen this place?

Eryn said...

Oh, we were downtown too! It was so fun! We went to Macy's to see Santa though. We are in the same family always did Santa growing up, and we still grew up normal, considerate people I think. And, we still believe in Jesus, that he is the center of Christmas. My folks didn't go overboard with lavish gifts, usually one special gift. I think it's so important to talk about WHY we give gifts, because God gave us the greatest gift of all, by sending his Son.

I do like the concept of the Advent Conspiracy as well. good luck thinking through it all and finding what's best for the Rooney Clan!

Eryn said...

Oh, we were downtown too! It was so fun! We went to Macy's to see Santa though. We are in the same family always did Santa growing up, and we still grew up normal, considerate people I think. And, we still believe in Jesus, that he is the center of Christmas. My folks didn't go overboard with lavish gifts, usually one special gift. I think it's so important to talk about WHY we give gifts, because God gave us the greatest gift of all, by sending his Son.

I do like the concept of the Advent Conspiracy as well. good luck thinking through it all and finding what's best for the Rooney Clan!

Christina said...

We do five gifts per child: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read, and something to share. Still seems like a lot, when I look at it, but it's just an attempt to keep the gift-giving appropriate and under control. Right now, I'm really enjoying that I control the "something you want." God help me when they start asking for things like the Purple Plastic Hipposaurus 5000. We also do The Twelve Books of Christmas: every day one book appears on the mantle for the twelve days leading up to Christmas, with a second copy being donated to Ethiopia Reads.

I'm sure these will change over time as I figure out what works and what doesn't. Holidays are a parenting challenge, no?

Gretchen Magruder said...

Our oldest is 11 and we're still trying to figure this out...I like Advent Conspiracy because it doesn't necessarily mean giving up gifts altogether - just thinking about it differently. We're trying to give things as a family - - we picked, peeled and cooked apples for apple butter together - we'll give this to all of the kids' teachers this year. As a family, we also decided to give extra money to our compassion child and our adoption agency's Christmas project. We tried to include the kids in thinking about how we could pay for the donation, and what we wanted it to go towards.

Our kids pretty much get 3 gifts - something to wear, something to read (and this has most recently been a yearly photo book for each of them), and something they really want. So far, it works pretty well and I don't think they feel deprived OR spoiled. We'll see how that changes over the years...

Faith said...

My mother always told me the truth. "Christmas is all about Jesus. Some people choose to believe that Santa brings them their presents but really the moms and the dads buy the presents and wrap them and put them under the tree. It is OK if other people believe that. We do NOT need to tell them anything about it. We don't need to talk about it with anyone."

Something happened when I was younger that made me want to be sure to never lie to children.

I grew up in a Christian home and was taught at an early age that lying is a sin. I was taught that Jesus wants us to be truthful and that we make Jesus' heart happy when we tell the truth.

I was 5 when my little brother was born. I remember my mother once telling me that my brother was sleeping with his eyes open. She let me sneak into his nursery to see it because she thought it was so cute. Being a small child I thought that he would be sleeping with his eyes wide open as if he were awake. I did not know that she meant that his eyes were just barely open. When I looked at him and saw that his eyes were shut, I believed that my mom had lied. I was heartbroken. I couldn't believe that my mom would lie. I was shocked. I was very hurt that she would hurt Jesus' heart like that.

Those memories are so vivid that I know that I will be very, very careful to never lie to children.

Emma said...

I won't go into my fanily's traditions because as a mixed faith family we are still figuring this out ourselves! Personally, I like the idea of treating Santa likeany other story character they read about at that age - no obsessing over it but taking some joy in the charcter/folk story - not insisting he is real. As they get older I like the idea of discussing Santa as a symbol. As for presents, I will probably get one or two things my kids want for christmas and a few things they need. My parents were really good about making sure the majority of gifts I got in my life were books or things I could use creaively like colered pencils and art paper.

I know some parents ask their children to select some things each year to donate to charity as well. I really like that idea.

I don't believe that giving gifts takes away from the celebration of Jesus as long as that remains your family's focus but I do think our culture has gotten a bit out of control.

coffeemom said...

We do the gathering at the top of the stairs and pic too...then the rush down to the tree. Fun! We have struggled with this as well over the years....essentially we really like to celebrate ADVENT. And then Christmas begins on Christmas Eve, Midnight Mass (a beautiful beautiful tradition). Then we have Christmas to Ephiphany. As for presents: we have one Santa gift, stockings, and a parent gift. The extended family is large enough that even that ends up being such a even on the years when we have tried to stay very small, not lavish, just the sheer abundance does turn it to lavish in a way. And that's ok, but balance is key. It's tough. Plus one of our girls is a Christmas baby, so we also have her bday in the after-noon. It's a big juggling act.
I don't know that there is any perfect way. But I agree w/ the comments above: that your ways BECOME the traditions that soak in and become so important. And that in itself is so beautiful. Yours will end up just perfect, just for you.

Christy. said...

First of all, I loved reading everyone's thoughts on this.

Santa... We don't tell our kids he is real or not. We have stockings and they get filled with just 4 or 5 little things that actually fit in the stockings. Our 8 year old knows that Mom and Dad do this but our 6 and 3 year old haven't said anything yet about Santa not being real. We believe that Jesus is the reason for Christmas but we don't want to steal the fun mystery of Santa, so we do it in a very subdued way.

Presents... Our kids get one gift each from us. It is always something that they have really wanted but there is no price limit, we just use our judgement. This year our girls asked for Nintendo DS but we told them they weren't going to get them because we don't want them to have video games. But, we have come up with an idea for each child that they will love! They get so many other presents from extended relatives and we think it's important to get them something nice, not a lot of low-priced junk.

We always do something during the holidays to help others. We do Operation Christmas Child and then we participate in any other opportunities that our church has to help those in need. It gives the kids the chance to help others in a time of giving!

So, that's how we do it at our house. It works and makes Christmas a great time to celebrate Jesus' birth.

Nicole said...

We've always let Lil' Bit believe in Santa for as long as she wanted. My reckoning was that she would only be a kid for so long and if she wanted to believe in a magical being who brought her presents on Christmas, then I would let her have that. It's what my parents did with me. And I am a semi well adjusted adult :-)

In our family, we do 'Christmas' on Christmas Eve. This has always been done. The entire family gathers and we eat, drink and be merry and eat and drink some more. We play The Night Before Christmas with 5 dollar gag gifts that get passed around every time the word THE is read aloud (this is best played if the Reader is tipsy and stumbling over the words). And at 10 pm, all the kids open their presents from the family. We only buy gifts for the kids name we have drawn. And we have to keep it under 20 bucks. It's just always what has been done and like most traditions, no one sees any reason to break with it.Then at midnight, we all go to Midnight Mass. It's our way to combine to commercial side of Christmas with the Holy. If it's worked for our family for 50 years, I say why change it.

Now, on Christmas morning, with Lil' Bits presents, we've always done less is more. Since she is getting older, this is ironically easier for us. When she was smaller...not so much. We do a single BIG gift for her from Santa every year and then we get a few smaller things to tuck, also from Santa, in her stocking. She's never complained about this (and I know she has compared notes about whom got what with her friends the day after Christmas).

So I guess that is our balance to Christmas Consumerism. One big gift from Santa and the family gathering on Christmas Eve. And really, all those memories of the family on Christmas Eve is what *I* remember all these yearslater, not the presents I got. I hope it will be the same for Lil Bit.

I am not handy, so I rarely make homemade presents, although I LOVE to get those myself, especially from Lil Bit.I treasure those the most and those are the presents I still think of.

Amanda Kester said...

We have told our children that there is no santa from the beginning and here is why: The true Christmas story is about God giving us His most precious gift when none of us even remotely deserved it. The message that santa comes with is that people have to deserve gifts and earn them by being good. We find that to be totally contradictory to the entire point and message of Christmas.

I do worry sometimes that they will ruin Christmas for other kids though!

Still not sure how to give meaningful gifts to my kids. They are four and three. I still wrestle with how to make our gifts meaningful without being boring.

The H Family said...

Santa was the big gift bringer when I was growing up, and about 5 years ago my mom mentioned that it was always a little disappointing for her because Santa got all the credit for the hard work she did shopping for all of our gifts. And all the hard work my dad did earning the money to buy them. That really stuck with me! So with that in mind, we do 2 or 3 gifts from Santa, and not necessarily the best ones.

And lately, as the boys have asked me about the flying reindeer or about what Santa does at the North Pole, I say things like: "Well, we imagine that his reindeer fly all over the world, but nobody has ever seen them. And we imagine that Santa has elves at the North Pole, but nobody has actually visited." Kind of lame, but it makes me feel better than outright lying and telling them reindeer fly!

jen said...

I loved reading this post and all of the comments.

Family is such a gift.

Kerry said...

My family was fairly secular and I am not up for debating the "real" meaning of Christmas. As for the commercial traditions... Growing up we had giant, commercial Christmas (my mom started shopping in July). There were dozens of presents under the tree (and only two children). Some presents were wrapped in tissue (from Santa) others were wrapped in paper with a code on them. My sister and I had to break the code to figure out which presents belonged to whom. Regardless of all of this, by the time we were in middle school (maybe even earlier) we would be trying to get the other family members to open the gifts we got for them first. We somehow learned the joy of giving (probably because that is what our parents were actually modeling).
In our family Christmas was about being with the family and celebrating your love and caring for each other - in part by giving gifts that you really, truly believed would bring joy to the receiver.
I will be quite happy if my children learn and celebrate the same lessons.

PS Have you looked into Kwanzaa at all? We plan to incorporate some of those concepts in future years.

Erica said...

Love this post! We have gotten gradually "simpler" in our Christmas gift giving. I love advent conspiracy and plan to incorporate even more of it this year.

Our kids have always known that santa wasn't real but we read the story of St. Nick and they have always liked to pretend to be santa. We've left milk and cookies before but the kids know who their gifts come from and that santa is just for fun.

For us the true celebration of Christmas is the birth of Jesus. We bake a Happy Birthday Jesus cake each year, the kids each get three gifts, I figure if it was good enough for Jesus its good enough for my kids. Something they need, something they want, and something to wear. They seem pretty okay with that arrangement. This year they all want pretty practical things so its been fairly easy to shop. I think simplifying Christmas and giving to others teaches kids gratefulness and reduces the gimme gimmes that can often appear this time of year. (we've had that here as well and its not pretty)

We've done Operation Christmas child every year for as long as I can remember. This year we're doing something a bit more local and giving blankets/coats/socks to the homeless in our area. Its a hands on opportunity for the kids and its a reality check for the way some people in our own backyard live. Excited to see what the Rooney family decides to do!