I’ve never been one to get very excited about the holidays, but suddenly this year I was ready to lug out all of the Christmas stuff (and shop for more) the day after Halloween (I finally understand why all the stores are decorated for Christmas in October!). The reason is my four-year-old, J, whose enthusiasm for all holidays is just infectious. I think he’s playing us though, because he told me in October that Halloween is his favorite holiday. So we really “did it up” for Halloween in a way we never would have thought to before. I even made ghost and jack-o-lantern cut-out cookies (so not my thing!) with the kids… twice. But then when Halloween was over, J told me that now his favorite holiday is Christmas. Smart kid, eh?
And that’s how I accidentally became one of those annoying people who hum Christmas songs in November. It’s not entirely incomprehensible, because we celebrate our little family Christmas on December 6th (St. Nicholas’ Feast Day – a Catholic holy day) so we do need to get ready a little earlier than most. That’s the day the kids will wake up to find their stockings filled with candy and toys, because we spend most of the real Christmas running around like maniacs trying to visit our family (all of whom live too far away). And since my two kids are (and always will be – God willing) the only grandchildren on both sides of the family, they get an embarrassing amount of things for Christmas every year. And though this poses a philosophical dilemma for me, it at least takes a lot of pressure off of this Mr. and Mrs. Claus. A stocking full of goodies from Mom and Dad is more than plenty around here.
But every year I wonder, how are my children supposed to understand the true meaning of Christmas? It’s not just that they get too much stuff, but that I sort of make it up as I go along too. For instance, originally I told J that we get “St. Nicholas Day treats,” because I didn’t really want to try to convince him that Santa is “real.” But then I read him ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and after two times he said, “St Nicholas is going to fill our stockings with candy and toys when it’s St. Nicholas Day.”
It was a statement, but he looked up at me with “confirm or deny” eyes. And I just didn’t have the heart to deny. So I said, “Yes… we’ll find candy and toys in our stockings on St. Nicholas Day.” And for now I’ll leave the rest to his imagination.
My kids are a little too young to understand the importance of charity, but I’m planning to start some traditions in the next year or two to help them learn. For now, I was going to settle for learning the reason we celebrate Christmas (Jesus). I found a great book that I’ll recommend here, MY TREASURY OF CHRISTMAS STORIES, by Gaby Goldsack, available at www.barnesandnoble.com . It has several stories, the story of “The First Christmas” among them. But every time I suggest to J that we read the story about Jesus, he says, “No! The ghost! The ghost! The ghost!”
Otherwise known as “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. At first I felt like a terrible mother for failing to interest him in the real Christmas story. And also because every time I try to sing "Away in a Manger" to my Little One (the two-year-old), he shouts, "No! Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel…” (a Hanukkah song, for those not familiar – and a rather catchy tune I must admit). But I’ve decided instead to feel like a great mother whose kid (at the tender age of four, no less) understands the meaning of (and enjoys a story about) charity and generosity. And whose two-year-old already appreciates other cultures and religions. Of course, neither of these beliefs of mine are true, but pretending is part of the joy of Christmas, right?