After Thanksgiving we hauled out the Christmas decorations and decked the house for Christmas. By we, I mean my mom. She was visiting so I made her clean the house, herd the kids, unpack decorations, and tackle our tree. I figured letting her deal with the chaos of four kids decorating was appropriate payback after she pointed out that my ornaments are tacky.
Once the dust settled, we all sat together by the tree to open the gifts she’d brought. My four-year-old was excited, anticipating that he was finally going to get the Lego car he’d been relentlessly lobbying for.
My mom hates me. I know this because my son opened an obnoxious Hot Wheels “Fast Blast” toy that involves smashing a lever with your fist to shoot cars out the side in every direction. This thing has all the trappings of an annoying toy: it’s loud, chaotic and requires me to fish umpteen matchbox cars out from under the couch. Ty raised a little eyebrow skeptically at first (he mentioned this was no Lego car) but once he got the hang of it he delightedly smashed the lever and fired cars all over the house right up until his bedtime.
While tucking the little cherub into bed, he suddenly crossed his arms, screwed up his little face in annoyance and huffed that he didn’t get the Lego car he asked for. He even spiked his stuffed animal for good measure.
All of my mommy mental alarm bells went off. The ungrateful little wretch was complaining about his gift?!?! I gently “reassured” him that if he didn’t want the car smasher I would happily send it back with Grammy. Because I am sure Grammy could find a little boy who would enjoy such a nice toy. He looked a little alarmed at the thought. I sweetly told him I expected him to thank his Grammy for the nice gift first thing in the morning. Or it was gone.
The following morning he dutifully cuddled up on grandma’s lap. He looked around to ensure I was out of earshot, then reached his little arms around her neck and pulled her close to whisper in her ear, “Next time … get me a Lego car.”
We all want our kids to be grateful, gracious, and Christ-focused during the Christmas season. Clearly, kids don’t always fall rank n file into our plans. Maybe it has something to do with our commercially saturated Christmas festivities. But maybe not.
When I was a kid we just let our holidays be what they were. We romped out in the snow with our cousins. We ate tons of food. We were chased out of the kitchen by Grandma for sticking our finger in the cookie batter. We exchanged gifts and had our fair share of ungrateful, bratty moments.
God was inherently part of our festivities, but so were some cultural traditions. We sang carols at church on Sunday and watched Charlie Brown Christmas at night. Our nativity scene had Barbie for the Angel Gabriel. And we came down the stairs to a pile of presents from Santa on Christmas morning. I loved every minute of the Christmas season. And I grew to have a deep, deep love for what it was we celebrate – the birth of our Savior.
I have noticed more and more push back from Christians against the commercialization of the season. And for good reason. It’s understandable to be appalled by reducing the sacred celebration of the birth of Christ to Black Friday deals and masses of presents under the tree. But sometimes I wonder if our efforts to reject our culture’s retail frenzy have just resulted in new ways to distract us from experiencing the simple joy of the season.
Are we just pushing harder to go…go…go rather than observe and reflect?
There seems to be no end to books and blog posts with some form of 25 Days of (fill in the blank) Advent Ideas. We are bombarded with infinite ways to infuse more meaning into the season and task each day. Activities range from baking to service to crafts, to acts of kindness, to advent readings, to gift giving to gift alternatives. I get tired just reading through them all.
Another trend is to place parameters on gift giving such as:
- only give three gifts – to represent the wise men
- only give four gifts: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read
- give no gifts at all and give all your money to charity instead
- cancel Christmas
By no means do I think we should pile our kids with presents at Christmas. But it seems contrived to have to fit gifts into a category or get preachy with the kids, “You guys have TOO MUCH STUFF! So you’re gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas.”
I don’t think withholding gifts altogether is any better a teacher of gratitude than giving too many. And is the message we want to send our kids that they can earn gifts with good behavior? Seems to me its just another potential path to entitlement mentality. And it flies in the face of the unmerited gift of salvation Christians celebrate this season.
Christmas is a great time to experience the joy of thoughtful giving to the ones we love and to those in need. Its a beautiful thing to see the delight in the eyes of a child giving the gift they carefully selected.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful Christmas ideas floating around the web and in books. I’ve incorporated a few into our celebration. But perhaps we are trying too hard to make the season special rather than just letting it be special.
I don’t want to pre-plan every tradition or chain us to a calendar of prescribed activity. I want my kids to have space to process, play, and wonder this Christmas. I want them to experience the joy of giving and receiving gifts. I even want them to be age-appropriately ungrateful and learn from it.
I want my kids to have memories more than I want to make them.
I understand the desire for our kids to “get it” that Christmas is important and rich with meaning. Of course I want my kids to know this is all about Jesus. And some of the activity suggestions help accomplish that goal. But when we micromanage and frame every aspect of the season according to how we want them to understand it, we rob kids of the opportunity to process any of this on their own. In their own time.
What if we just chill out a little and let the Holy Spirit work in our kids hearts?
As you wade through all of the ideas, remember that you don’t have to chase your tail trying to create traditions you read about online or heard another family is doing. Its ok to let your family be your family and let your traditions evolve over time.
And despite your best efforts, your kids might fight. They might get greedy with the gift lists. They might be ungracious. Because they are kids and kids are allowed to make mistakes. These are issues that aren’t going to be solved in one season with an advent activity calendar or kindness elves. They will be solved with the saving and sanctifying work of the One who was born this Christmas.
Relax and let the season be a celebration of a truth so deep, so life changing, and so miraculous that we can’t add meaning even if we try:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6