When I was in elementary school my family lived in Germany. Even though I attended an English-speaking Department of Defense school on an Army base, all students were required to take Host Nation, a course led by a German woman who taught us all about the country’s traditions, holidays, and history. We also learned basic German – enough to order from menus, to ask how much something cost in a store, and how to find the bathroom. We lived on base for only a short while, until my parents found a rental house in the German town. We became immersed in culture, riding our bikes back and forth to base, going to German shops, and swimming at the city pool. The best memories, however, were from the Christmas holidays.
St. Nicholas Day is a big deal in Europe. Children leave their shoes outside the front door so St. Nicholas can fill them with little trinkets and coins. He’s the centerpiece of every town parade and festival, dressed as Father Christmas the religious figure, not like Santa who slips down your chimney.
Like every other religious holiday, we’ve done well to commercialize it. St. Nicholas is why we hang stockings on the fireplace, after all. But originally, St. Nicholas was a compassionate bishop who cared for the “least of these,” particularly children. It is his goodness and generosity that we celebrate.
Since I put my shoes on the front porch for St. Nicholas when I was a kid, I decided to make that a tradition with my boys. They put their shoes outside last night and paced the living room this morning until I finally gave them the okay. The each received a few chocolates and a little toy. Then our advent lesson was on generosity.
I wouldn’t say that I’m anti-Santa Claus, because I’m not. I’m just pro-St. Nicholas. I just like having the historical reference to lay as a foundation next to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. I like that we can marry Christmas traditions together instead of picking sides.
Traveling St. Nicholas is our tree topper. Oh – and guess who used my typewriter last night without permission? Silly elf.
We’re hitting all the angles this Christmas, from religious to silly, and we’re taking them all very seriously. We read scripture every morning in celebration of Advent, but only after the boys have searched the house for Timmy.
We also have an Advent house with 25 little doors, and inside each tiny compartment I slip a small piece of paper. Some mornings bring a piece of candy or a coupon for one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. Sometimes it’s just a reminder of how much they are loved, and other times it’s a special gift. For example, on the first day of Advent I gave the boys each a new Webkinz, which rocked their little socks off. To ensure the secrecy, I had to make SURE they wouldn’t open the December 1st door without us there.
Though all of our interior and exterior decorations are up, we are still without a Christmas tree. Years ago we started the tradition of cutting down our own tree, which was suspended while we lived in Amarillo since there aren’t any tree farms in the area. Last year we found a local farm with good trees, but it didn’t measure up to the wonderful farm we used to visit while living in North Georgia. Rumor has it we might just take a little road trip.
In keeping (mostly) with the Four Gift Rule, my Christmas shopping is complete. I wrapped everything last week and ALL of the gifts fit in ONE Rubbermaid container. That has never happened before now and it actually makes me feel good that we’ve not overdone it.
It’s everywhere now that Halloween is over. Retailers pounce on the first of November ready to suck you into the “season of giving” and I have to physically restrain myself from joining in early. A few years ago Chuck made this crazy family rule about not putting up the Christmas tree until after Thanksgiving and because I choose my battles wisely I’ve not contested it. (Even though I totally disagree, Scrooge.)
Anyway, it’s been on my mind in recent years that my kids are getting too many gifts for Christmas. I know that sounds weird, and in comparison to other families and folks I know the amount of loot my boys get is noticeably less. Still, as they get older they ask for more things and Christmas becomes more about getting than giving. Thanks to the people of Target, who sent their Holiday Toy Catalogue to my house somehow, the boys are now obsessed over what might come their way on Christmas morning. I hear about it every day. They even flip through the catalogue while sitting on the toilet. No lie.
And then I saw this on Pinterest:
It’s almost like a challenge. How brilliant! When the boys were toddlers I attempted a three-gift rule (Jesus got three gifts so you get three gifts) but I failed miserably. I kept finding great deals or little things I knew they’d love to have, and that problem is no different today. Shopping for them is a blast! I’ve already found three or four things for both of them and tucked them away in my closet for Christmas. But now with this Four Gift Rule in mind, I’m reconsidering. Perhaps I’ll keep things tucked away for birthdays or special treats throughout the year, or maybe I’ll give these things away to other children on behalf of the boys. I’m not sure how it will play out but I’m trying hard to listen to the voice in my head telling me to scale it back.
Last year was the first year I made a bigger deal about Advent, which totally debunks Chuck’s argument that Christmas is a day and not a season, which is the foundation of his argument about no Christmas trees before Thanksgiving… But I digress. (I love you, babe!) Christmas is absolutely a season. It’s all about the preparation of our hearts and minds for the birth of Christ, but I’m afraid we’ve conditioned the boys to instead prepare their hearts and minds for the receiving of toys and video games. They might be disappointed this year when all of their hopes and dreams don’t come true under the Christmas tree, but I’m thinking this shift to a less-is-more holiday is necessary.
Remind me of this when I find a massive Lego sale or all the Avengers toys are half off.
In lieu of candy or trinkets I’ll leave little a Post-It note of privilege for the boys’ Advent gifts. Today was Jackson’s turn. His love language is Angry Birds.
This is the first video I shot with the new camera. The clarity rocks my socks off.
I was all excited to make my Tennessee Vols pumpkin in early October.
And then it rained.
Cruel omen, no?
Anyway, let’s move on to Advent, shall we? I don’t have an official wreath but I’ve printed off a number of coloring pages and art projects to teach the boys about the season of Advent. December begins on Thursday, so we’ll have a lesson each day (even on weekends, which feels so wrong) leading up to December 25. We started talking about it this morning and Jackson’s eyes sort of glazed over, but for a five year old, he hung in there.
We also started decorating the house for Christmas yesterday and I found that I preferred some of the DIY holiday decorations I made last year while we were still in Amarillo and our things were in storage. I’m making the entire house as lovely as possible in anticipation of my family’s visit. This will be the first time they come to east Tennessee since we moved here in March, so I’m not leaving a single room untouched.