First of all, we do not consider ourselves Christian. I am not sure we consider ourselves as much of anything, honestly. Frank grew up Catholic. I grew up in a Presbyterian household but, except for a few years when we went with our family friends a lot, I never grew up going to church or with much talk about the bible or Christianity from my parents. Most of my friends in my school growing up were Jewish and much of my childhood I too wanted to be Jewish. My first real look at the Bible, Old and New, was in my English class in High School. Around my Senior year of High School my mother started going to Tara Brach (http://imcw.org/), a well known (although not yet at the time) Buddhist teacher in the area. I really enjoyed Tara's talks/teachings, although I was not into the meditation portion at the time... Buddhism felt right to me. It wasn't an "us/them" or "right/wrong" mentality. In fact, you can be a Christian Buddhist or a Muslim Buddhist or a Jewish Buddhist. It is not a religion. It is a philosophy. It is a path or a way of life. So that is a brief look at where I stand on religion (more detail for another blog).
The above being said, we do celebrate Christmas, which, at first glance, can seem quite hypocritical.
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the most prominent figure in all of Christianity. How can one not be Christian, yet celebrate Christmas? Let me explain our approach.
I believe that there are two main elements of Christmas. Like it or not, a large majority of children have no idea that Christmas has anything to do with Jesus. Most (at least that I have come across) children (and adults for that matter) believe Christmas is mainly about Santa Claus. I have a real problem, personally with this. So, let me address Jesus first and then I will get to Santa.
This is a very sweet book about a kind old ox that has many visitors on a cold winter night, all seeking shelter. He responds thoughtfully to all of them and everyone is welcome in his "home", including pregnant Mary, Joseph, and of course, the sweet old donkey that they rode in on. It is a lovely, simple, and sweet story that I believe is appropriate as a first introduction to Jesus.
Once we had read that a few times I introduced St. Nicholas. Another real historical person. I want Hartly to understand the essence of Christmas, which easily gets lost in the glitz and gluttony of Christmas. This book is another favorite of mine because it nicely segues into how the birth of Jesus led us to the celebration, as we know it today, of Christmas.
This story talks about a modern day boy who is in the midst of the chaos of Christmas last-minute-mall-shopping when he overhears the story of St. Nicholas and is reminded Christmas is not as much about how much we want and get as it is about what we have to offer and give that feels good in the long run. St. Nicholas was a real man who had very wealthy parents and he traveled all over the world as a boy. He saw kids with no winter coats and children with no toys. Nicholas learned of those that had to go without at a young age. When Nicholas grew up and inherited a lot of money, he decided to use it to give, anonymously, to those in need. Nicholas was quite religious and decided that he would do this every year on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus as a reminder of what he believed Jesus did and sacrificed for all of us. There are different versions of the life and story of St. Nicholas, but the above is quite simple and easy for a child to understand.
Hartly learned who Jesus was and what he stands for and then Hartly learned who St. Nicholas was and why we still celebrate him.
In that same spirit, we discussed whether we needed or wanted stuff. We talked about the difference. It was a great reminder for me too. We also talked about how Mommy and Daddy get gifts for Hartly and did he want to get gifts for us. Hartly thought that was a GREAT idea and, honestly, it was a true highlight of the Season for me. First Hart and I went to the Dollar store and he chose a gift for Frank. Then Frank and Hart went to the Dollar store and Hart chose a gift for me. When I was with him he must have circled the store five full times before I had to tell him it was time to choose. He was skipping along and pointing saying, "or I could get him that or that... or that..." and was so happy about it. It was fun for him to buy stuff for us. To give to us was a new joy he discovered this year at 2 1/2 years of age.
|Shopping for Papi's Christmas gift 2012|
|wearing all my loot from Hart 2012|
Next I introduced two very fun books.
The first is about a very wealthy man who buys a huge tree that is too big for his house. He chops off the top which becomes the tree for his upstairs maid... only it is too big for her so she chops off the top and that becomes the tree for the gardener... and it is too big for him so he chops off the top which goes to a bear who finds it etc, etc. It is silly and fun and about sharing and about reusing and recycling and is an enjoyable read that is make believe (do bears really have Christmas trees?) and great discussion and role playing for pretending and using our imaginations. The other fun book is Sneezy the Snowman.
Sneezy the Snowman gets even more into the discussion of silliness and make believe. I am a strong believer in pretending and using our imaginations. Hartly and I spend much of our day coming up with silly and fun pretend scenarios. Sneezy is about a snowman who hates the cold but every idea he has to warm him up ends up in his melting. There are 3 sweet children who keep rebuilding him and sharing their clothing with him and, ultimately there is a great and happy solution. Hartly and I also used this as an opportunity to discuss the different elements and how ice turns into water when different things are introduced. We did some experimenting with ice cubes on our own and it was a fun science 'lesson' as well.
After all of the above had been introduced and played with, only then did I bring in, The Night Before Christmas.
We read it just like we do all of our other stories and adventures. Hartly had certainly heard of Santa before we read it. He had seen Santas everywhere and he heard his name in a lot of songs. We had always talked about Santa Claus but here Hartly was shown how Santa came about. We read and discussed what a fun character Santa Claus is.
What does Hartly think about Santa? Hartly knows that a lot of people dress up like Santa at Christmastime (like Halloween when we dress up). Hart knows that while St. Nickolas was a real man that lived a long time ago, Santa Claus is a pretend man that came about to honor St. Nicholas and what he did. Hartly laughs at the part of the song, "He sees you when you are sleeping...". That is ridiculous to him. Only Mommy and Papi can see Hartly when he is sleeping.
Hartly also knows that nobody is always all nice or always all naughty. He understands that we all make mistakes, grownups too. The question, 'have you been a good boy/girl all year?' drives me bananas. All children are good. All children make mistakes.
Hartly knows that just for fun we go and take pictures and talk to the people dressed up like Santa... but only if Hartly wants to... I am a strong believer that we should not force children to do anything they don't want to do, unless it is absolutely necessary (for their health or well being). To warn a child of strangers and then to force them into a huge man's arms who is in a wacky outfit and you can barely see any of his face and laugh when your child cries and reaches out for his parents while someone takes a photo...!?! Listen, I understand most of the parents who do this are lovely people. I know that they are not horrible, bad and mean parents. But, to me, that is just not funny. I think it is wrong and mean and sends very messed up messages to a little one. Last year Hartly really enjoyed Santas... from afar! Even mechanical ones, that he enjoyed looked at through store glass windows, would freak him out if we went in the store. We opted for a pretend one as our Santa shot.
This year, while in Puerto Rico at the beginning of December, Hartly very badly wanted to go meet one of the dressed up Santas. He was super excited. But Hartly asked us to go up with him and be in the photo with him. I said absolutely. I asked Hart if he was ok sitting in Santa's lap and he said yes, so he sat in Santa's lap. It was great fun. Santa and Hartly conversed in Spanish. There were no tears. Hartly trusts that Frank and I value his opinions and feelings and listen to him. Hartly trusts us. That is huge to me. Hartly also knows that while he gets to make many choices, sometimes daddy or I have to make a choice or decision he may not like so much. Hart is much more agreeable when these times occur precisely because Hartly knows that we listen and trust his judgment. Therefore, Hartly listens and trusts ours. It is a mutual trust.
|visiting and chatting with Puerto Rican Santa Claus 2012|
|Hartly asked if he could hug Panda Claus 2012|
I do not believe in lying to children. I answer all of Hartly's questions openly and honestly and age-appropriately. Hartly knows where babies grow and how they are born because he was interested and asked me about it and I answered him. Hart knows all of his (and female) body parts. Hartly knows that we don't eat animal products but that most people that we know, and love, do. Hart knows everyone believes different things are important. And Hartly knows that Jesus is real, St. Nicholas is real, Mr. Willowby is pretend, Sneezy the snowman is pretend, and Santa Claus is pretend.
Have I stolen anything from Hart? I hope not. I don't think so. We still pretend and do make-believe and use our imagination. Hartly still had an amazing Christmas morning coming down the stairs and receiving gifts. Some of them he chose to pretend were from Santa Claus. Some he acknowledged and thanked us for. Hartly enjoyed giving gifts to us. It was beautiful. Judge for yourselves.
|"Can Ba-Pa Moe and I come down yet?" 2012|
|Special Christmas waffles for breakfast|
|"I love trains! I LOVE trains! I love trains!..."|
|Night BEFORE Christmas & Night AFTER Christmas 2012 Happy sleeping baby boy!|