I read parenting blogs from time to time. I shouldn't because they just make me mad. I am not angry that parents want to share their opinions, heck I do that too. I am angry because no matter what blog you read there is only one right way to raise a kid, the way this particular parent is doing it. I don't believe that's true, I think there are many "right" ways to raise a kid. Mostly it has to do with the decisions you make for your family, are they healthy, do they work for you? If so great, if not well you can always make new decisions, I know we have to reevaluate from time to time.
I am not setting out to write another blog post justifying why I am right in my (our) parenting choices. I fear that may be exactly what I do. Christmas time is upon us, we call it Advent in the church. It's only December 3 and the posts for and against the Elf on a Shelf have popped up, followed by the ones about Santa. They kind of make my skin crawl, how can these Christmas traditions be SO polarizing?
First I will come clean, Santa comes to our house, last year Garfleshnickle the elf joined us for the month of December. I am well on my way to being an ordained teaching elder, so you guessed it, we talk a whole lot about Jesus too. You should also know that I grew up with Santa, so did my husband. I'm in seminary, so clearly Jesus is still important to me. My hubby may not be in seminary but I assure you he follows Jesus.
Christmas morning was magical in my house as a child. The glittering tree lights, the anticipation of what would be in the wrapped packages, and cookies were allowed for breakfast. It was also one of those special days for us when we didn't think about anyone being sick, we were just a family. We weren't a family with a pediatric cancer patient, we weren't a family with a terminally ill dad or Pop Pop (grandpa), we weren't a family eating government surplus peanut butter; no on Christmas morning the worrying took a back seat. For that one day, we were kids, there was hope in the midst of those less than ideal circumstances. The first year my father was sick, folks from his work showed up with huge bags of presents so that on Christmas morning my mom would have something to give us. I learned so much about the spirit of St. Nicholas that year. Santa Clause is more than just a guy in a red suit who employs elves and flying reindeer. There is something about that moment, that day, that has stuck with me, that has made Santa forever "real" to me. I see in the Santa story a narrative about generosity, the depth of goodness in people, and the change one person can make in the life of another.
Thus far, our daughter hasn't had to eat surplus peanut butter, no one in her life is terminally ill, and since she doesn't have a sibling we aren't living with a pediatric cancer patient. Then again all those things were true for me at 4 years old too, but by 7 my story changed. I want her to experience the wonder, the magic, the anticipation, while she is little. I know I only get a few years of her being this open to it, 5 years from now the world will have started to teach her to question things, to appreciate the "real" things and brush off childish things. Remembering those Christmas celebrations, gave me hope in the darkest days, that things would be OK. Even now I remember them with great joy, I tear up remembering my dad's coworkers showing up with the presents because now as a mom, I can understand what that must have felt like to my mom. Perhaps relief, perhaps joy, or perhaps love. I don't know what beliefs were held by my dad's coworkers, but looking back, those bags seem a whole lot like an expression of God's love, or perhaps love for the neighbor.
So I am not worried about Santa and Jesus coexisting in our house. I am not worried about the day when little L figures out that Santa is more about a spirit of giving than a man in a red suit. I am not worried about her never trusting what we say again, actually I hope at some point she questions everything we have ever told her because it means she is learning to think critically for herself. (I know I will regret that statement in about 10 years.) I am not worried about her not understanding the "true meaning of Christmas", she has that birth narrative down. I will spare you all of my thoughts about how Santa actually can be a tool to explain the anticipation and hope of Advent.
Here is what I am asking of you, if you don't "do" Santa in your house, could you try hard not to spill the beans to my kid? We only get to experience this excitement and wonder for a few short years. I won't try to convince your child Santa is real, you don't tell mine he isn't, fair enough? Both beliefs are OK and we can live together with both.
Now, for what I am worried about. No matter who your family's presents come from on Christmas morning, parents or Santa, there is something that is bothering me. The toys, the clothes, the electronics, it doesn't matter if you have the 1 gift limit or if your tree is barely visible from the stacks of presents surrounding it. All Advent we will anticipate the coming of a savior, a savior who breaks free the chains of bondage, a savior who brings peace, a savior who brings hope for a better world, a savior who will call us to love with God's love. We will celebrate the birth with gifts that represent God's gift to us. The problem lies in the oppression and unjust treatment of the people who have made our gifts. How can we celebrate Jesus birth with piles of things that were likely made by people who are subject to unjust labor practices? Is there a child somewhere that is suffering, so that on Christmas morning my beloved child can have a new toy? My stomach turns at the answer, because I know that likely the answer is yes. Is it just that children around the world will go hungry on Christmas day, while my kid gets to play with her brand new toys, wearing her brand new clothes, her well fed belly in our warm home? It is not just.
I am guilty of contributing to this injustice.
This Advent, this Christmas, I will not wrestle with the idea of Santa Clause or the Elf on the Shelf. I will wrestle with how we can work as a family, as a church, as a society, to make Christmas day and everyday one that brings justice to the way in which we consume. Know this is a deep struggle for me, I just told you about the joy of Christmas morning. I have to find a way to teach my child about the injustice in the world while preserving her innocence. The damage is done for this year, my shopping is nearing completion, Christmas morning will be just like it always has. How do I change that next year? Can I preserve the magic and seek justice? There are no easy answers and I suspect I will wrestle with this for a long time.
Today I am grateful for the space to process this. I am grateful for my healthy little girl. I am grateful for my dad's coworkers who showed us God's love over 25 years ago.
May you be blessed this Christmas with a little magic and a heart that seeks justice.