Sunday, 19 November 2017

Building family Christmas traditions

I was never 'into' Christmas as an adult. Along with most reasonable people, I rolled my eyes at the waste of electricity for fairy lights, the earlier-every-year creep of its attending commercialism, the nonsense of a fat bearded man in red and white coming down chimneys. (I didn't grow up with Santa so from an outsider's perspective it just is weird to celebrate Christ's birth that way).

Now I have children, however, I have to engage with the culture around us, interpret it for them in a way... I want them to experience that deep and meaningful anchoring to the past that traditions give us.

But not with Santa. I'm uneasy about that man.

Traditions and family

I think that traditions serve several important purposes for kids:

  • identity (this is what we as a family do); 
  • anchoring (this is what we as a community do), and
  • sign posting (this is why we do this)

These are probably why I rejected the traditions I grew up with as a young adult: I did not wish to identify with or be anchored to where I'd come from, and I certainly didn't believe in what it all pointed to - Christ come into the world.

But now, a Christian, a mother, I have a joyful duty and serious responsibility to offer my children memories to make, stories to carry throughout their life. Traditions matter.

Christmas as a Season

The day itself is short - it's the climax, the fulfilment of all the preparation that's gone before... like Mary giving birth to Jesus (and after all that's what we celebrate) it's an event that is preceded by a period of preparation, of anticipation. There will be a big emphasis on advent in this house.

Advent will include:

  • Advent calendars. A lovely, visual way to build the excitement by counting down (well, up) to the big event. We've got two chocolate advent calendars - the boy is now 18 months and won't be left out - but only one 'gifts' advent calendar, for the 3 year old. It's the same one I've used since we got married, so there's already a kind of tradition there... it's got sewn fabric bunting pockets to put small items into. I bought a small nativity play set that just happens to have almost the right number of pieces; between shepherds, animals, angels, kings etc she will end up, at Christmas, with a full nativity set to play with. And each day I can explain who this figure is. 
  • Advent Sundays. They're special. In Austria we would light another candle each advent Sunday on our advent wreath, and I like that tradition so we're doing that. 
  • Also weekly, although probably not on Sundays, we'll be visiting a place (our doctors, the police, fire service, ambulance service) whose service we are grateful for and thanking them with little gifts of sweets. This way I'm looking to instil an understanding of the spirit of Christmas, of blessing others - to counter the message that it's all about the gifts you get. 
  • Lots of toddler group Christmas activities and crafts. Of course those are inevitable, but they're also useful. The kids will experience all sorts of views, images and ideas about Christmas and I'll get the chance to talk to them about it all. 

What advent won't include for us:

  • Visiting Santa's grotto. Going into what sounds like a cold, damp lair belonging to this mythical intruder is not for me, and even if we did it there would be a lot of explanation needed (is this man here the real Santa? Why sit on his lap? What has he got to do with Jesus' birthday?) which I think would be quite confusing for a 3 year old. 
  • A Christmas tree at home. Our home will be decorated, yes, but by putting up a Christmas tree weeks before the event they would become used to its presence and by Christmas it's not special any more. 

Christmas, the event

To me, Christmas is the evening of 24th December. That night is the culmination after so much preparation and excitement and I want it to be magical to the children.

They will go out with their grandparents that afternoon. Maybe to a Christmas market. Meanwhile at home, we'll put up the tree and put the presents underneath it so that when they come home after dark, they walk into a room that is lit up only by the lights from that tree. Christmas music will be playing softly in the background. We might sing Silent Night. We'll definitely wish Jesus a happy birthday and thank God for sending him into our world.

And then, somewhere between eating our Christmas dinner and opening our presents, we'll be making lasting memories of love and family.

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Thanks so much for sharing!