Friday, December 21, 2012

The Santa Conundrum

Maybe Christmas, he thought... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps... means a little bit…more.
-How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Having a child in the house for the first time this year, Christmas has taken on an even more precious meaning.  Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and getting to see the wonders of Christmas through Eli’s eyes has been so much fun!  It’s also got me thinking, though, about what Christmas really means as opposed to what modern society has made it into.  It baffles me that it is possible to celebrate Christmas without ever acknowledging the birth of Jesus.  I think that as a society, we have made Christmas about getting, not giving.  And I think that while the original concept of Santa Claus is pretty benign, it’s become a little warped – children writing their letters to him, hoping that they’ve been “good enough” this year.   Doesn’t that draw a stark contrast to a loving, forgiving God whose death on the Cross makes us all “good enough?”

In short, it’s gotten out of hand.  But before we go any further, let me drag out my first grade lesson plan book and refresh my memory on who Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, actually was:
St. Nicholas was born in the third century in the village of Patara, which is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His parents died when he was young and Nicholas used his inheritance to help the needy, the sick and the suffering. He dedicated his life to God, became a priest and the Bishop of Myra while still a young man. He was known for his generosity to those in need and his love of children.

THAT’S the man we should be celebrating - his actions pointed to God, not to himself.  Saint Nicholas is a great example of how we should give gifts to others in order to celebrate the Ultimate Gift of Jesus.

So our children will not have presents from Santa under the tree on Christmas morning.  They WILL have presents from us, because we love them and because we are celebrating the birth of our Savior.  And we will be taking part in family traditions that make the season fun, like cutting our own Christmas tree and getting new pajamas on Christmas Eve.  We will learn about Advent and celebrate Saint Nicholas day, which is more commonly celebrated in Germany.  We will celebrate our German heritage and a very special, Godly man when we leave out our shoes on the night of December 6th and wake up to treats.  When we leave out stockings on the mantle, we are celebrating how Saint Nicholas filled stockings with dowry items for poor young women so they could get married.  We plan on explaining the meaning behind these traditions and  being careful with our wording so as not to indicate that someone is sneaking into our house via the chimney to leave the presents and treats, and eventually they will figure it out – much like I figured out that the presents under my childhood Christmas tree marked “from Santa” were written in my grandmother’s handwriting.  And at that point we will explain to them that while Saint Nicholas is no longer with us, it’s fun to pretend, and that Santa Claus is a fun way that some other families choose to pretend as part of their Christmas celebration.  We will also include in that talk some clear instructions to not “ruin the surprise” for families that DO incorporate Santa Claus!

I will admit that part of me is relieved at not having to make up answers for Santa Claus-related questions – I am just not comfortable with the idea of lying to my kids in that way or threatening them with no presents if their behavior is not acceptable.   Plus, I really don’t want to deal with the new phenom known as Elf on a Shelf – I’d never remember to move that thing, and I find it a little creepy to be honest (I can’t be the only one!)
It’s not that we look down upon people who DO decide to incorporate Santa Claus into their Christmas celebration.  It’s just that I don’t have the energy to maintain the whole Santa thing when there is something much more important to celebrate – Jesus!  

We wish everyone a very blessed and happy Holiday season!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tennessee Trip, Part 5: Tuckaleechee Caverns and the Ride Home

On one of our last days in Tennessee, we took advantage of the free babysitting , left the boys with Pappy and Gigi, and took Sarah to Tuckaleechee Caverns in Townsend.  Our guide was very knowledgeable, especially about all the ways that Tuckaleechee Caverns is better than Mammoth Cave.

 The extremely low light presented some photo-taking challenges.  Most of these were taken by my brother.

We brought a hiking backpack for Sarah, but sometimes a little girl just needs her Uncle Mike.  Sarah did remarkably well on this excursion.  She didn’t really like when the guide turned out all the lights to demonstrate what true darkness looks like, but I wasn’t really a fan either!  He said that the owners used to take homemade lamps made out of soda bottles and kerosense-soaked rags and play in the caverns as children….to which I can only say: NO NO NO NO not in a million years NO NO NO.

  The stalactites and stalagmites were quite impressive – up to 24 feet high!  This cave did not appear as “touched” by humans as I remember Mammoth Cave being.  It was easy to walk through and had very high ceilings in most places.  Only a small fraction of the cave has been explored.

 One of the cutest little girls I’ve ever seen playing in some of the purest water I’ve ever seen.

 A waterfall!

We had to leave Tennessee and get back to reality all too soon.  The drive back was pretty uneventful – we decided to drive through the night, and while Eli did great and slept his regular amount, we found that it was hard for us to recover from a night of no sleep in the car.  We will have to revisit that decision on our next trip!