What do you do with Santa?

When I was ten, I was already old enough to have stopped believing in Santa. Maybe because in the two years since my parent's separation and subsequent divorce, he'd never given me the only thing I really wanted--to have my dad in our lives.

So when I was hospitalized with pneumonia that Christmas, I wasn't expecting him to find me. But sometime in the middle of the night, I awoke to Santa and someone else next to my bed. I closed my eyes as quick as I could because I knew that Santa wouldn't leave you anything if you saw him.

When morning broke, there on the little table next to the bed was a stack of gifts that I knew wasn't from my family; they hadn't been to the hospital yet. (Somewhere I still have the heart-shaped tiger-eye necklace that was with those gifts.) For most of the rest of that day, I was happy to entertain the idea that maybe Santa really was real.

My family came to visit. I think I liked the attention from everyone and I definitely liked getting more (and better) presents than ever before.

Later, alone in my room again, I saw a nurse open the closet across the hall from my room. The closet held all kinds of toys, including a doll just like the one at my bedside that morning. I realized that Santa hadn't brought my gifts; they came from that closet.

I was a little sad to have my illusion evaporate, but it didn't ruin my life or make me question all the adults who went to such lengths to perpetrate the fairy tale upon innocent, trusting minds.

So when it comes to my own children, I'm ambivalent about the white-haired guy. We do a lot to make sure the kids understand what Christmas is really about. We've never told them about Santa, but culturally it's out there, so they can't really miss it.

Along with our Nativity focused stories, I have read them a book about Saint Nicolaus so they understand that even Santa gave gifts because he loved Jesus.

I don't want to be the mom with "those kids" who ruin holidays for their friends, so I haven't made a big deal about Santa being a story, but my replies to their questions and conversations tend to be very neutral.

Santa's never been to our house. Bug is nearly seven, but he's never been a fan. Boo is recently 4; when he saw Santa's House was opening the day after Thanksgiving, he put in his request for a visit. That was a first.

So this year, for the first time, "Santa" will be making an appearance at our house. The gifts the boys asked him for will be beneath the tree on Christmas morning. I won't say they're from Santa, but I'll let them believe for now if they want to. Their "Santa gift" will be topped with a Christmas ornament that shows Santa kneeling before Christ. One comes with this poem. (Scroll down to read poem.)

It's hard sometimes, finding a balance between telling our children the truth and letting them enjoy the fleeting days of childhood magic.

But I don't believe my faith was harmed any by those young days of tooth fairies and Easter bunnies (my grandfather faithfully nibbled on the carrots we left out) and Santa.

And this year, I'm going to let their imaginations ponder the possibilities while I present the Nativity and the wonder that it brings.

What do you do with Santa? I'd love to hear.


"Are we going to have presents for Christmas?" asked Bug as I tucked him in.

"I'm sure we will," I replied, still trying to keep the mystery. "Why do you ask?"

"Dad doesn't have a job yet." His answer alternately surprises me and makes me sad.

I assured him we'll have a nice Christmas; and we will. Most of their Christmas was taken care of months ago. New budget constraints mostly mean no last-minute excess, and that's not a bad thing by any means.

What's not such a good thing is that my six year old is even concerned about such matters. I think we've been pretty careful not to give the boys cause to worry about things.

We don't focus on what we don't have or can't do, and we don't have worrisome conversations in front of them. We don't really have worrisome conversations at all. We do trust in the Lord's provision and we're taking this transition one day at a time as we seek what He has next for us.

But contrary to what we so often hear about kids being 'resilient' and adaptable, I think kids observe more and internalize more and are shaped more by their childhood experiences than we give them credit for.

I know I was more aware of my own parents marital issues--both before and after their divorce--than they thought I was. And moving and changing schools and having an absent father and a difficult step-parent situation all impacted and changed me in ways that affect me still.

Life is hard. It's messy and imperfect and certainly not always fun or comfortable. And while part of me would love to give my kids an idyllic childhood with nothing but happy times and warm memories, I know that's not possible.

So I guess the most I can hope to do is reassure them that God loves us and takes care of us and things will be good, even if we can't always see what's ahead.

PS--I'm blogging at Exemplify Online today. We'd love if you'd drop by and get a new view of how important certain Christmas ornaments can be.

Tiny Tim said it Best...

In this season of transition, we've been away from home on Sundays as much as we've been home. So we haven't attended the same church twice since October. While I hope the vagabond days will be behind us soon and we'll find a fellowship to call our own, I have to say that I've actually enjoyed visiting different churches.

When you're on staff at a church, you seldom get to be away on weekends, let alone visit other churches in your community. And in our 'me' focused culture, I think it's easy for each church to begin to see itself as the only game in town.

In the past two months we've gone to church with different friends, we've visited churches out of town and attended the church where Boo goes to preschool so he could join his friends singing to the congregation.

And though they're man-made creations, I'm discovering that churches are as uniquely created as snowflakes and no two are the same. That they'd be as different as they are really hadn't occured to me.

The architecture is different, the demographics are different, the preaching is different, the singing is different, the communion customs are different.

Coming from a mainly non-denominational background, I have next to no experience in a liturgical church. But today, as I sang songs I didn't know, and stood up and sat down and responded back at designated intervals, I felt oddly comfortable.

The traditions may not be mine, but the focus of it all is the same. And because the focus is the same, for today, I belonged. My God. My people.

This time of year most of all, I am so glad to be truly experiencing Luke 2:10 "...good news of great joy...for all the people."

I am glad for you; wherever you are, whatever your traditions. There is something remarkable about belonging to the same vast, diverse family. So to quote a different kind of traditional Christmas tale, "God bless us! Every one!"

Christmas Story Book

Just a quick post today--I hope you're having a blessed December so far. I've been having fun adding ornaments to our NativiTree and reading through the month with the boys.

I've been trying to read a storybook that's relevant to the part of the Nativity story we're talking about. It's not easy; there are lots of books about the animals at the manger, but not so many about some of the key figures like Elizabeth or Joseph.

Yesterday I found a great book that fills some of those gaps. The Nativity Story by Geraldine McCaughrean has 10 short stories and includes Zechariah, Elizabeth, John, Joseph and others. It's the perfect addition to a collection of Christmas story books.

Keeping it about Christmas

I didn't grow up with many holiday traditions. By the time I was a teen, my mom was making Scottish shortbread to give away, and we did always spend Christmas Eve with my dad's side of the family and Christmas Day with my mom's, but that was really about it.

I want my boys to grow up with more entrenched memories than that. I still make shortbread to give away, and am the cookie mom for the boys classroom parties. We're still discovering local traditions like parades and pajama story-times and neighborhood light displays.

Beyond being simply memorable though, I want them to be aware that this is the one time of year that all across the world people pause to remember the birth of the most important baby ever.

I'm intentional about not setting up our tree until about mid-month so the gift repository doesn't become the focus of our decor. I do set up our various nativity sets, including a couple that are intended specifically for them to play with.

But my favorite tradition is our Advent NativiTree. Each day until Christmas morning, we open a door on our "Christmas House" Advent Calendar to discover an ornament that represents part of the Nativity story. The boys hang the ornament on a small tree and we read the corresponding portion of scripture. Then we read a Christmas storybook.

This year I've added a Christmas carol to the tradition. Tonight the Christmas house will reveal an angel ornament as we read about Gabriel appearing to Mary. Our carol will be "Of the Father's Love Begotten."

It surprises me every year how excited the boys get to see what's behind the door and to hang the ornament on the special tree. By the time we put up our regular tree, we'll have spent more than a week focusing on the real reason for the season, and the 'getting' of gifts takes a back seat (at least until later).

What do you do to help your family remember what Christmas is really about? I'd love to hear your traditions.

Thought I'd share this version of tomorrow's song, O Little Town of Bethlehem. YouTube has been a great way to share some of these traditional carols with the boys.
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