A Fine Line

I've already said, "Merry Christmas" to half a dozen store employees, startling some of them, getting a (generic) "Happy Holidays" in reply from a few. I just love this time of year. I revel in the revelry. I get giddy in anticipation of the kids' delight. My toes curl up in childlike glee at finding the perfect gifts for everyone, especially Joe.

We have a big ol' Christmas tree, lights all over the house (way before all the neighbors, many of whom never even bother hanging lights ... Scrooges!), a giant church-sized Nativity on top of the piano (that no one's allowed to touch but me). The kids even have decorations in their rooms. We have tickets to the Philly Holidays Pops concert, Emily is performing in no less than five concerts between now and December 21st, we'll go to the college's concert this Sunday. We usually drive up into Philly to see the Macy's (used to be Lord & Taylor, but before that (and everyone still thinks of it as) it was Wanamaker's) light show . We'll pop over to nearby Dutch Neck Village for their live Nativity (including sheep, but no camels), and a visit with Santa. We host a Christmas Cookie Exchange party every year for friends and family. And, this year, we're getting into the spirit of an Old-Fashioned Christmas by making many of our gifts, which we'll exchange while visiting Colonial Williamsburg for a week. We cuddle on the couch watching old Christmas classics (and new ones, Elf is a big favorite), drinking egg nog, eating baklava, beefstick, cheese and crackers.

We do it up.

And the kids are already acknowledging and looking forward to some of our particular Dugan-family traditions. They know we always get our tree and decorate on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. They know they'll get special new Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve. They know about the baklava, beefstick and cheese. They ask about the Light Show and Pops concert in Philly (even though we just did those last year for the first time).

But ... where is the birth of Christ in all this? I like to think (am I deluding myself?) that God would approve of the wholesome family closeness we're nurturing. That He's smiling down on my kids' glee and our coziness. We do go to church, and sing the hymns, and pray before meals, and I explain the Nativity scenes as they are all set up all over the house (we have five of them), we read the Christmas story at least half a dozen times in half a dozen different ways. But ... is it enough? Generally speaking my kids look forward to much about this season that has nothing to do with getting presents (although that's usually Matthew's first answer ... when prompted, he does quickly come up with a bunch more things he loves). And they honestly seem to enjoy giving almost as much as receiving.

But ... is it enough?

Would it be right to cut back on all the other stuff and focus solely on the Biblical? Would that be squandering the family-memory-building potential that this season has in spades over the whole rest of the year?

I'm not sure. What we're doing doesn't seem all that dissimilar to our own childhood experiences (except we generally lack the candlelight Christmas Eve service ... we're almost always traveling that night ... I do definitely intend to rectify that soon, but maybe not this year ... the kids don't do that well staying up late). And we both turned out all right, church-going, God-fearing.

Still, it worries me. Parenting "correctly" so the kids turn out for the best worries me more than any other part of my life. I guess it's because pretty much everything else isn't truly all that important.

I'd love anyone else's thoughts on this balancing act at this time of year.



Lisa said...
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Lisa said...

We made a decision a long time ago--before we had a child--to go small with Christmas. We don't have any 'must do' traditions, although we are at church a lot during Advent, between each of us being in a different choir and the other events (such as the 'hanging of the greens' tonight). We also try very hard to always be here for Christmas Eve, even though that means a lot of driving on Christmas Day if we're headed to be with Family (not really possible when going to PA, though). I guess that makes going to church twice and being with church friends in between the services our main tradition, and we usually drive down 'Candlestick Lane' (a neighborhood that has lights all over the place every year) on Christmas Eve as well.

Emma has a Christmas countdown that's a nativity scene, and two different sets that she can play with as well as one larger one that she can't. We also have some Holy Family creches that stay out all year.

One big decision to 'keep it small' was that Santa would only fill stockings. Last year this became an issue, in terms of how do you explain why it's different here than it is in other kids' houses without making them sound bad--I'm not sure if any of our answers last year were good ones, and I'm not sure what I'll say if it comes up again this year. I also hope that by the time she's asking for things that won't fit in a stocking, she won't believe in Santa anymore (not that I'm looking forward to this). This year it's already going to be a stretch.

We also emphasize what we give away, and involve Emma in that process as much as possible. When we take food to a family, we take her with us to help carry a bag in. When we buy toys for the local Children's Home, she generally helps pick them out (and our church will have a blessing of the toys before they go to the home, which reinforces the 'why' of giving).

I really find that focusing on Advent helps me a lot. Advent wasn't part of my church when I was growing up, and I've come to really appreciate it in our church here. The idea that preparing our hearts and souls for Christmas is a task to be completed...this makes me sound a lot more 'religious' than I am, but it does create an avenue to talk with Emma about spirituality while we're baking cookies or decorating the house or getting dressed for a party.

I think the spirituality is part of what you bring to the family time, and if you worry that you're crossing the line, maybe focus your conversations in the car on more spiritual topics.

I too worry about creating good childhood memories, and I don't think that going strictly biblical is a good answer. I remember kids at church who's family didn't do any of the 'pagan' stuff (as they called it), and I remember them as never seeming to have fun doing anything. No smiles, no joining in on games with gusto, etc. Who wants childhood to be like that?

Heidi said...

Thanks, Lisa ... this is kind of what I've been going for. I miss the Christmas Eve services and the choir preparation stuff ... we always know we'll be away on Christmas Eve. Though, a few years ago we put the family foot down about being home on Christmas morning. So, we spend Christmas Eve with Joe's family at their annual party (sometimes that's the only time we see some of the cousins, aunts, uncles for the year). Then we drive home that night and spend the night and Christmas day at home.

This year, of course, we'll be away for the whole week of Christmas. But, it's on my list to research church options in Williamsburg. Maybe next year we'll plan to leave Joe's mom's early enough to hit the last Christmas Eve service at church.

We, too, make a lot of donations during the Christmas season ... the kids have to pick out some of their things to donate to Goodwill. And we talk about the hows and whys of all that. Plus, food drives and that sort of thing. Sounds like your church has some good stuff going.

Thanks for all you've said (and feel free to say more). There are a lot of angles on this.