First - the way my parents did Christmas with us was to play the Santa game - we knew Santa was pretend, so we all "pretended" together, leaving a letter out of our Christmas wishes and leaving snacks on Christmas Eve, and my parents would sneak into our rooms late on Christmas Eve when they thought we were asleep and leave our stockings at the foot of our beds for us to find in the morning. Christmas Day was a fun time of opening our stockings in bed, THEN waking our parents up, a big breakfast together, and finally several hours of opening presents around the Christmas tree, each person taking a turn while everyone else watched.
I have wonderful memories from childhood Christmases. But when our daughter was born almost 4 years ago, we had to decide how we would "do" Christmas, what kinds of traditions we would establish, what we want her to remember when she is an adult raising her own family. This year, she is three, and much more aware of the Christmas traditions than before. So our big decisions have been in the areas of presents and Santa Claus.
So - let's start with Santa Claus. I have nothing against the jolly old elf. But I can't in good conscience look in my daughter's eyes and try to convince her that he in his current fantasy mold is real. I am the one who also reads her Bible stories about angels and miracles and God entering human history in the form of a baby, who teaches her to pray to a God she cannot see. We have been talking for the better part of a year about the difference between real and pretend (Grandma is real; Tigger and Pooh are pretend), and we have carried that on as we've introduced her to certain fairy tales (Can bears talk? No...) and Bible stories (Are angels real or pretend? Real!). So, even though I know that generations of children have believed in Santa and entered adulthood firmly rooted in their faith in Jesus, we are not going down that road. We will tell her the story of Saint Nicholas, the historical person from whom the mythical character of Santa gradually emerged. We will talk with her about his love for God, and how it inspired him to do secret acts of good for others. But discussions of Santa bringing presents if she's good - those don't and won't occur in our home.
In fact, it's only been in the last week or so that we've talked about presents at all, and mostly in the context of getting presents for other people. We've talked with her about how getting presents for others shows them love, and when we love others and are kind to them, we are serving Jesus as well. And that what Jesus wants most of all from us is for us to love him and obey him. We will give her presents, but we are trying hard to keep it low-key. I've heard others who limit Christmas presents to three (like the three gifts Jesus received from the Magi), and we know others who encourage grandparents to give "experiences" rather than gifts to their grandchildren. We like those ideas, we just weren't organized enough this year to implement them!
One departure from my childhood - we will be opening family gifts on Christmas Eve, after the Christmas Eve service. Christmas Day will be reserved for worship (especially with Christmas being on a Sunday this year), carols, time with family, and celebrating Jesus' birthday - which we have been counting down to all month with a special daily Advent Wreath we got at this site.
So that is us and how we are "doing Christmas" this year. We just want the point of this special day to remain fully on Jesus, especially in the heart of our daughter as she forms her own understanding of the world and what is important. When she is an adult, I want her to look back and say, "When I was a child, Christmas was filled with joy and anticipation as we celebrated the first coming of Jesus, with sacred traditions, songs, and acts of generosity." We are still figuring out what that will "look like" in years to come.
If you have ideas, please share them as a comment below!!