Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas' Cast Members

Now that Jacob is getting old enough to understand Christmas, there are so many more elements that play into how we approach the season.  I have known for the last three Christmases (holy cow, Jacob's fourth!), it's all been a lot of practice.  I've been trying to get better at this "parent-at-Christmas" thing before it became a big deal that could make or break the holiday for my little boy.  From start to finish, Christmas is jammed packed with things to get right.  There are traditions leading up to the day, and one major amazing day (or two) at the very end.  I'd probably panic more about doing the million little traditions if I wasn't already so busy shopping, baking, wrapping, and celebrating.  But in the grand scheme of things, the culmination of the holiday on Christmas Eve/Day seems to, by far, overshadow anything that leads up to it.  We all have memories of advent traditions, special craft projects, and Christmas programs and pageants, but doesn't the thrill of Christmas morning beat it all?

But regardless of everything else, you really want to get Christmas right when it comes to your child.  You want to make sure that you give them just the right amount of tradition, and that you create the magic that you had as a kid.  If you read too much in the blogosphere, your mind will spin from the various takes on the Christmas season presented by any number of parent bloggers.  Traditions, theories on Santa, and every craft project known to mankind can really make you think twice about how you're spending your holiday. 

More than anything this year I've been thinking about Santa and the Elf on the Shelf.  In case you're unaware, the Elf on the Shelf is a big thing now, involving a book and a creepy little elf doll that costs somewhere around $30.  I've never read the book, but the basic story is that the elf comes into your house, keeps an eye on the kids, and flies back to the North Pole at night to report back to Santa.  Presumably this makes keeping the naughty and nice lists updated much easier.  The parental secret to the whole thing is that each night (or early morning), the parents must move the elf to a new location in the house so the kids think that he flew back to the North Pole and landed in a new spot in the house upon his return.  It's a big deal the next morning for kids to find their elf's new spot.  Here's a picture of the elf at John and Kristin's home, from my trip to Portland...
I made him look a little creepier than usual by using my fish-eye setting to emphasize his head...but yeah, that's him.
Some parents have a blast with it, judging by various blog posts and Facebook photos showing the elf in fun and/or precarious positions.  I've seen a couple making snow angels in flour, one straightening the star on a tree, and numerous adult-themed ones involving alcohol and its after-effects.  On the other hand, some parents forget to move the elf regularly and blog about making up stories about why it's still sitting in the same spot.  The ultimate reward, however, is that every time their kids are being bad, they simply point to the elf and poof!  Perfect kids.  Maybe. 

On one hand I think this is a super cute tradition.  I think I'd have fun thinking of places for the elf to land (though I think I would lose my creativity quickly) and if we had time in the morning for a game of hide-and-seek, I think Jacob would love looking until he found him.  However, I'm not sure I want to add the elf to my arsenal.  I mean, I'm not sure what's wrong with just using Santa as a good behavior incentive, and that's free.  I'm just not sure we need the elf doing Santa's dirty work, too.  If it's the visual impact of it, I did read somewhere to tell your kids that smoke detectors are Santa cams (though presumably make sure your kids understand their dual purpose first).  I have an inkling that some parents might use the elf for evil, and perhaps I'm worried I might be one of them.  I try not to bust out the Santa threats too often (though admittedly, I "called" him twice the other day!), but sometimes you just have to.  It's probably manipulative and an easy crutch, since we should be encouraging good behavior for reasons other than losing Christmas presents, but hey, it's the one time of year that parents can take advantage and get a bit of a break.  It just won't have the same impact after the presents have been delivered, so get it in now.  Long story short, part of me really wants to do the elf thing, but I need a couple things to happen beforehand: 1) The price needs to drop a LOT...or we need to get the book from the library and find a cheaper version of the elf; 2) I need to get to a place where I wouldn't rely on it as a crutch, and just enjoy it more as a fun holiday tradition. 

As for Santa...well...there are a lot of people that think encouraging your kids to believe in Santa is like telling them a giant lie.  Just the other day I read that Justin Bieberthis route, however.  Because truly, even if St. Nick doesn't deliver presents to good little boys and girls, we as parents take that role so his spirit lives on.  I mean, no other time of year will I spend money like I do right now, so it has to be the spirit of St. Nick taking over, right? 

Interestingly, there was one question Jacob had about Santa already that I couldn't even answer.  He was rattling on one night about all of the gifts he wanted, and I told him how lucky he was already to have the toys he has.  I told him that some kids don't get any toys at Christmas because their families don't have any money to buy them.  To which he responded, "Doesn't Santa bring them presents?"  Shoooot.  Smart kid I have, eh?  I was stumped, and then finally revised and said that they may get one or two from Santa, but that's it.  It did sort of put the whole Santa thing into perspective, that it certainly sets things up for some confusion as to inequality, etc.  I did read somewhere that someone told their kids that Santa may bring the toys, but the parents still have to pay for them, which may be a good out for that one.

So, for now we'll do without the elf but keep Santa in the mix.  I think it's fun to see the holiday through Jacob's eyes, and this is the purest way to do it.  He'll learn the truth soon enough, and I want to enjoy this time while we can. 

The final character of Christmas is, of course, Jesus. He's the most important, yet he's probably the least understood by a three year old.   Santa is everywhere, and the Elf is something he could see and understand...but Jesus?  Well, he knows bits and pieces.  Let's just say the whole story of Jesus isn't the simplest of stories to present to someone his age.  You can try to simplify, but ultimately it's a hard one to describe.  I mean, this time of year Jesus is a baby, and in the spring he's a grownup dying on a cross?  And then he comes back to life?  Why don't other dead people come back to life?  Jacob keeps asking about baby Jesus' lack of shoes and whether "he's a baby yet".  "Not until Christmas," I say.  I did shell out a few bucks this year to buy Jacob the Little People Nativity set, because I thought it would be nice to have one he could play with, and eventually we can recount the Christmas story together with tangible figures to help him understand.  I'm waiting on our delivery of the shepherd addition, which I think is important since the shepherds' encounter with the angels, and later the Christ child, is a huge part of the story.  Anyway, Jacob knows some of the bits and pieces, but keeping it extra simple at this stage is a challenge.  I certainly want him to know what's most important, but getting past the presents is going to be a longstanding challenge.  When I was a kid we spent Christmas at church--two services Christmas Eve, one Christmas Day, whereas we're lucky to get to one thanks to our crazy schedule.  I couldn't really avoid it as a kid (particularly since I went to a Christian school and spent most of December practicing for one program or another), but Jacob's around it a bit less.  I do hope that someday we send him to a Christian school so he can celebrate the true meaning of Christmas full time, without hesitation, but the elements factoring into that decision will fill another blog post at another time. 

Anyway, the craziness is about to start and I won't lie--I'm excited.  I always take a deep breath right around this time, knowing that the next few days will be an amazing whirlwind of emotions, sleep deprivation, family, and wrapping paper.  It's truly an awesome experience but it is not for the faint of heart!  And with that, it's time to get what little sleep I can before it all begins...stay tuned :)

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