Christmas is absolutely my favorite time of year. It's even better now that we have kids, and also now that they are a little bit older. When Korban was really little, winter was awful because he was sick ALL the time, and this was before we knew about immune deficiency and how to treat it, so it was just one sickness and asthma issue on top of another and the whole season honestly just sort of passed in a blur. Also, he wasn't very communicative back in those days and it was hard to tell what he thought about things.
Now it's easier. Winter is still tough as far as getting sick, but nowhere near as bad as it used to be. I think about when Korban was about 18 months and had just been diagnosed with asthma after we had all been scared out of our minds by his first (and worst!) asthma attack. I remember sitting and looking at his Christmas gifts that we had stored up for him in our spare room and crying because I was honestly scared he would die before we could give them to him. I don't say that to be morbid, I say that to explain how sick he was and how terrified I was. Also, let me clarify that no doctor ever gave us any sort of grave prognosis and that I was over-thinking things, but when your baby suddenly wakes up and can't breathe and you don't think you are going to be able to get him to the hospital fast enough, it does something to you.
We had our two-year anniversary of being on IViG last month, and it has been such a game-changer for our sweet boy. He's so much healthier, and he can communicate with us now which automatically eases my worry. And we also have Selah, who of course communicates her thoughts and opinions on everything in such a big way. Our kids are a good match for each other, and they make everything more special for us.
Here lately, Brad and I had been talking about exactly how we wanted to approach Christmas traditions with our children. We both grew up in Christian homes, and we both learned that Christmas was to celebrate Jesus' birthday. We also both believed in Santa as kids,and when we found out the truth we weren't devastated or scarred for life or anything like that. It was a fun part of our life, and neither of us had any regrets about the way our parents handled things in that regard.
But after much discussion, we felt led to do things differently with our own children. We didn't want them to miss any of the magic of Christmas, but we also didn't want to do anything to confuse them. We always have to think of how literal Korban is, and also Selah is not autistic but she is a bit of a concrete thinker herself. We didn't want them to learn that Santa was not "real" and then decide that Jesus was a fairy tale too. Now this never even crossed my mind as a child, and it probably wouldn't have been an issue with our kids, but we didn't want to take the chance.
We had also been discussing whether or not to start the Elf on the Shelf tradition with our kids. We both thought it looked like fun and had seen some great ideas online about how to incorporate Biblical principals into elf play. So Brad bought us an Elf on the Shelf the other day.
That night, after our city of Burnsville's Christmas Parade, (December 2nd, the night before Selah's birthday) we sat the kids down to introduce them to our elf and have a little talk. We started out by asking them what Christmas is about. They both immediately said "Jesus!" so that was a good sign. Then we started talking to them about real vs. pretend. We asked them if Dora was real or pretend. ("Pretend," said Selah, "but I can watch her on TV.") We asked them if other things were real or pretend. They both seemed to understand the concept, and they both said right away that Jesus was real when asked. We asked if Santa was real or pretend. Korban didn't answer, and Selah said "Real!" So we took that opportunity to explain that Santa was pretend. We told them that St. Nicholas was a real person who loved giving gifts, and that we love to give gifts too. We explained that we love for them to have good gifts because they are our children and we love them, like we are God's children and He loves to give good gifts to us. We told them they would get gifts at Christmas just like always, and that we would "play" Santa, but that we wanted them to know that Santa wouldn't be what we were focusing on but that it would still be fun to play.
They took it well. Selah kind of dropped her head and thought on it for a few minutes, but she was fine. She said it was fun to pretend, and that Santa was like the magic on Dora, or like when she gives me play food and I pretend to eat it. I thought that was hopefully a good indicator that she understood what we were trying to tell her. Korban remained completely non-plussed by the whole thing. I don't really think it was brand-new information to him. In his practical little mind, I'm pretty sure he didn't really think a fat man in a red suit was popping down or chimney with gifts anyway. So he was fine with it.
Honestly, Brad and I struggled and fumbled around so bad in this conversation and we were worried that we had totally confused everybody because we felt it confused us. But God knew the intent of our heart, and I feel like He honored that. We certainly weren't eloquent or perfect, but I'm glad we tried to explain to them. In the days since then, we have had peace that we did the right thing and maybe didn't mess it up as bad as we thought we did. ;)
We also showed them our Elf on the Shelf that night and read the book that went along with it. It focuses a lot of naughty vs. nice, and Santa, but Brad had found a letter online that tied it into a Biblical perspective and we used it to get started. It was excellent and massive props to the family who did this. Their web address is www.crayonmarksandtigerstripes.com and the elf note can be found on www.crayonmarksandtigerstripes.com/1909/elf-on-the-shelf-jesus-style/. We told them that the elf was pretend too but it was going to be a fun game for us to play. They were excited about it. We pulled out a package that came from Santa with the note with it. We read the note first that tied together the true meaning with the pretend pretty well. Then we read the Elf of the Shelf book, went over the rules and let the kids name him. Korban just wanted to name him Elf, and Selah wanted to name him Ribbit (after the sound her beloved frogs make) Korban liked it to, so he officially became Ribbit the Elf.
The next morning was Selah's birthday, and Ribbit the Elf had a birthday message for her. The kids were super excited and it's so cute seeing their little faces. I'm such a sucker for fun traditions! Like I said before, we were so worried that the real meaning of our conversation the night before didn't penetrate, but even though we didn't do the best job, God still blessed us.
One example: We were in the grocery store that afternoon, and as I was checking out the cashier complimented the kids on how cute they are and asked me how old they were. I told her that Korban is seven and that it was Selah's fourth birthday. She wished Selah a happy birthday, which tickled Selah. Korban was standing behind me, but at the mention of a birthday he made his way around to the front between me and the register, looked the cashier in the eye and said proudly "We celebrate Jesus' birthday at our house!" So precious! "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!" (And the cashier said she did too. :)
For the record, we have told our kids that not everybody does things the way we do, and that people have different traditions. Let me clear this up right now and say that if you are a Christian and your kids believe in Santa, I think that's absolutely fine. Remember, it's the way I grew up and I enjoyed it. We just made our decision based on what we thought was best for OUR family. We told our kids not to talk to other kiddos about Santa being pretend, because we didn't want them to ruin anything for anybody else. How do you guys handle this at your house? I'm curious and we are still looking for good ideas to help all the pieces click with our sweet kiddos, so feel free to share.