Last year’s Christmas was so much fun. At three years old Annalyn finally understood the fun parts of Christmas, making cute crafts and opening every present with uncontrollable glee.
This year, though? This year was different.
Don’t get me wrong! It wasn’t bad. No, we had a great Christmas. It just turns out that Christmas with a four-year-old is WAY different than Christmas with a three-year-old.
First of all, she joined the ranks of children everywhere and became a victim of stupid holiday marketing. We never watch TV with Annalyn that includes commercials, but after two months of being bombarded by “what are you asking Santa for?” my normally generous and well-mannered child suffered from a case of the gimmes.
She knows better than to assume she’s getting a new toy or treat every time we visit a store and truly never asks, but this holiday season, she could not resist the mountains of toys filling Every. Stinking. Aisle.
[And you know what appeared in every one of those Toy Mountains? A giant dog that barked when you walked by and – I know, because we have the cat version – shed massive amounts of white, plastic hair all over your house. And yes, that would be the exact same toy my child decided she must have.]
I fought against the Marketing Machine by getting Annalyn involved in packing a shoebox for an underprivileged child and by reminding her that some kids don’t get any presents at all. In case you wondered, the shoebox was a great experience, but the “Don’t you know there are starving kids in Africa?” approach didn’t really work for us.
Second of all, my inquisitive child was confused for a full three weeks, trying to figure out WHEN IS CHRISTMAS? Because apparently it’s all a little hard to understand when the grown-ups talk about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, especially when you add in the fact that we went to church on Saturday night instead of Sunday morning. And then the fact that we had Christmas get-togethers with family on four separate days, including New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day? Totally confusing.
Finally, it turns out that it is virtually impossible (or, at the very least, extremely difficult) to explain to your four-year-old child [who asks about 475 questions a day and remembers pretty much EVERYTHING] that the original Santa lived a long time ago and oh yeah, Jesus was born a long time ago, too. And Christmas is about Jesus’s birth, but Santa brings presents if you’re good. But Jesus loves you even if you’re not good and He died for everyone’s sins because we all sin, but you better not shout, you better not cry.
At one point, Annalyn was “reading” a story out of her tiny pink Bible. It featured St. Nicholas, shepherds, a baby wrapped in cloths and Flynn Rider (from Tangled).
Thanks to Truth in the Tinsel, we read Bible verses and talked about various parts of the Christmas story every day – and Annalyn LOVED that. (Although, full disclosure, we only did one – ONE! – craft from that advent book.) But she also thought that she should be getting a present in her advent boxes each day, too.
And then there was our failed attempt to visit Santa Claus. I didn’t want to ruin the magic of Christmas for my kiddo, but we’d already talked about how the “real” Santa lived long ago. I blame Veggie Tales for this one, since the video she’d been watching since last year, when it didn’t really register, tells the whole story of St. Nicholas. When we went to do the annual sit on Santa’s lap, yes, talk to a stranger, no it’s okay, don’t cry, quick take a picture thing…she was not interested. You know why?
“I don’t want to sit on a fake Santa’s lap! I’m so sad the real Santa lived so long ago! WHY DID SANTA DIE? Wait – did Santa die on the cross for us? Is he alive again? Oh, okay. Why does this church have a fake Santa?”
Thankfully she said this in our car, not in a crowd full of innocent, Santa-believing kids.
Seriously. How did I botch this up so badly? I tried answering every question she had about “is Santa real?” and “can reindeer fly?” with, “What do YOU think?” That did not work. In case you were wondering.
I’m pretty sure she’s not scarred for life. I did try to answer all her questions as honestly as possible without spoiling any holiday magic. And while we tried to keep our Christmas shopping simple this year, but it’s just so fun to buy presents for her. So my normally generous but temporarily greedy child did have a little pile of gifts to open on Christmas morning, despite the fact that after a rip-roaring, ear-splitting tantrum on Christmas Eve, we decided to leave her stocking empty because “Santa heard her fit.” (Please. Do not yell at me for this. It killed me to do it, and then it didn’t even really phase her. Probably because the real Santa lived a long time ago.)
When she saw her presents under the tree on Christmas morning, she asked quietly, “Are any of these for me?” When I told they were all for her, she was upset: “But what about YOU GUYS? Where are YOUR presents??” And a couple days after Christmas, she said out of nowhere, “Oh noooo! We forgot to sing happy birthday to God!!!” (We hadn’t. But apparently she can, in fact, forget some things.)
So in the grand scheme of things, the fact that she wanted everyone to have presents, remembered that Christmas is about Jesus’s birthday, looked forward to reading our Bible verses each day during Advent and said “thank you” for almost every single present she received is evidence that she is – WE ARE – doing okay.
But for future reference, just so you know, a Strawberry Shortcake dress-up costume covered in sequins makes a bigger mess than that stupid barking furry dog ever could have.
How did you teach your kids about the meaning of Christmas?
It is SO hard, isn’t it?? I grew up with Santa traditions, as well as overt Christian traditions, and somehow they melded fine for me. But when I told Eldest that Santa wasn’t real (when she was about 9) her eyes welled up with tears and I felt like a huge LIAR. Was it worth it for the “magic” of Christmas? I don’t know. We’ve continued to do both with Middlest and Youngest, and I continue to feel conflicted. I’m wondering if pushing the “believing in Santa” thing eventually harms our goal to “believe in Jesus” teaching. If Santa is just a fun, mythical person based on an actual saint, what is Jesus? That’s what I’m worried they’ll be digesting, subconsciously.
If I had to do it all over again, I might have always treated Santa with a super light hand…maybe only having him bring one present and one stocking present. It’s part of why I wrote GOD GAVE US CHRISTMAS. But your post brought up all my Mama Angst too! Ack! Okay…*sigh*…Shoving off guilt, just striving to do my best and accept my failures too…and figuring out how we tackle Christmas 2012.
You’re right – we shouldn’t let the guilt drag us down as we figure out a strategy for next year. Still…it IS hard! We read your Christmas book, and I loved it! I actually checked out about 50 Christmas books from our library, and was thrilled to read yours because it focused on the right thing. (Some of the other books…not so much.) Next year, I’m planning to buy the Christmas books we loved most and let her unwrap one new one each day. (Okay, now that I think that through – that will add up quickly. So I’ll probably mix in the Christmas books we already have with the new ones!)
OH my word. I LOVE this post. And I am in awe of your willingness to do an EMPTY stocking. You’re an awesome mom.
Our answer to the “Can reindeer really fly?” type questions is “It’s FUN” and then we hope they drop it.
Ha! We do the “hope they drop it” thing a LOT. :)
My daughter got that barking dog for Christmas. yay. We play the “Santa Game” and know he is not real, but we do play … just like playing pretend other things or dress ups. It sounds like she’s garnering the truth well and you are doing a great job!
Approaching it like a game and make-believe is so smart! I am hoping to transition into that this year.
Oh Mary I sooooooo feel you on this one. I’m so over Christmas just for the materialism and discontentment that it brought out…
Their birthdays are coming up next month and I think clothes and swim lessons will be the only things on the list!
Thanks for writing this all out – you are NOT alone!
Sounds like a good plan for their birthdays. Annalyn is already making a list for her next one – in OCTOBER. *sigh* We haven’t quite gotten rid of the Christmas gimmes yet. :(
Our family chose to be up front with the kids about Santa and who actually gives them presents. I explained to my 4yo this year about St Nick being Santa, that he was real but no longer alive. And like a good child, promptly told a friend “Santa’s dead”. A-w-e-s-o-m-e. Thankfully, this boy doesn’t actually believe in Santa, so I didn’t get any angry parent calls. Whew.
Oh my gosh. See, THAT is my fear about going all the way with the announcement that there’s no Santa! :)
While we don’t “not do” Santa, he is barely part of our Christmas. He brings stockings, but that is it. We don’t visit him. We don’t have books about him. We don’t have any decorations of him. That being said, I play along with others and mention him from time to time. But I don’t say he is or isn’t real unless directly asked.
My oldest starting directly asking at 4. We avoided and changed the subject and did the “what do you think” thing. At 5 she looked me in the eye and said, “Mom please don’t lie. I want to know if he is real.” I said he wasn’t. She didn’t care.
I guess all this is to say I don’t feel like Christmas is any “less magical” at our house. OUr kids still love Christmas (and yes, they still get greedy). My oldest takes her responsibility as the keeper of the Santa secret VERY seriously and doesn’t let on that she knows. But they still get super excited on Christmas morning and love everything about the season.
I think you are doing a great job. It is a very hard tightrope to walk, especially with the type of child Annalyn is (super inquisitive, just like my first born). My second child is 5 and a half and has never asked me jack about it. I think you just need to do what your heart leads you to do. None of us have been screwed up for life by the Santa thing. That I know of…. :)
Thanks, Jill. It really is good to hear that a Christmas without much Santa is just as magical!
I love Annalyn’s version of the Bible story. :)
I also loved reading this post. This year with Lincoln it started becoming harder to balance Jesus and Santa, and I know it will get harder in the future. I think you did a great job and I have hope for myself!
Of course there’s hope for you. :) Just do what I’m going to do and take everyone’s great advice, smush it all up and take what works for you!
Wow this made me laugh! We carry the same struggle. We don’t over-encourage Santa, but we also allow the kids the fun of having “Santa” do stockings and a few gifts. Whenever we discuss Santa (we don’t do the visits), we emphasize that the gifts brought are to celebrate Christ’s birth.
We just try to emphasize that giving gifts (with Santa included) is how we share our love towards one another, and how God’s great gift to us through Christ is how God showed his love for us (in that while we were still sinners…)
To capitalize on the “giving” we let the kids go to Dollar Store and pick out their own personal gifts for their siblings and us.
Yes, that means Dad got a purple sign “Diva” with pink feathers around it (which I exclaimed “You can take that to work!” I’m so evil! ;-), and I got a bunch of fake flowers, but the girls are so excited to share their gifts for each other that Santa really takes a back seat to the greater giving going on.
We do presents one at a time, and whoever opened the last present gets to pick the next gift to be opened. They beg to be the first to pick out a gift to give. Their gifts to each other encourage love towards eachother. It also provides a great lesson in gift-giving. What would bless LAUREN? What would ELENA be excited to receive for Christmas? Lauren was ecstatic to get a bag of ring pops, and Elena was tickled over some new coloring books.
Another little thing we do as we read the Christmas story at night for Advent is give the girls some plastic nativity figures to act out the story. My four-year-old really loved that aspect. (we do the same for Thanksgiving – helps to solidify the stories).
We find that we can use Santa in a way that encourages those excited feelings, without having to jeopardize the bigger message we want them to understand: That God gives us gifts too, and his greatest gift was given on Christmas morning. God thought “what would bless Lauren/Elena the most?” I Know!! A Savior!
Heather, I love all this! Thanks for sharing what you do. My daughter did LOVE giving us little presents she bought at a church Christmas festival this year – it was hilarious to see what she thought was “the perfect gift.” I got a cheap-o dragonfly necklace (“Mommy, look, it’s sparkly!”) and my husband got a small toy motorcycle (“Daddy, it goes fast, just like you like!”). So much fun. :)
That’s so funny Mary! Isn’t it great to see those little brains thinking? So when are you going to wear your gorgeous necklace out and about? ;-) Dragonflies are “in”! She’s a trend-setter!
I just found your blog after following the link from (in)courage. Your posts (this one especially) made me laugh because I could have written them myself! Isn’t it hard to balance everything?? We also did a very shortened Truth in the Tinsel (2 whole lessons-sigh), downplayed Santa, and tried to really emphasize Christ. My son is only two (turns three in March), so I’m not sure he really understood any of it anyway!
So anyway, thanks for your posts… I’ll be following now, because I feel like we probably have a lot in common!
Yay! I’m so glad you visited, Jessica! And yes – it is impossible to balance everything!! :)