Tonight I sang an a Capella version of Away in a Manger with a special choir group at church for the Christmas Eve service. My parents came to watch. I got to sing Christmas hymns with them at the end of the service. Singing with Mom and Dad reminded me of good times growing up... in church with my family, even with my Mom's friend and her kids looking at Christmas lights and singing Christmas carols.
I was talking with my sister the other day about the different Christmas experiences we had growing up. We have not "done" Santa Claus with our children. Our parents did not confuse us with the myth of Santa Claus. We did watch the kid's Christmas programs with Santa Claus on tv. I even remember sitting on Santa's lap once at the mall... I don't remember if I asked to, or what. My brother, sister, and I always knew that Santa Claus was not real. We knew that the reason for Christmas was to celebrate the birth of God's Son, Jesus. I saw kids at school who were so caught up in Santa Claus, and I remember when they found out Santa wasn't real. I know some of them felt like they were lied to. I know I felt like they were lied to. I felt bad for them.
Since we've always homeschooled our children, and I like to find out the history behind things we do (I think part of that is all the Sociology classes I took in college), I looked up the history of Santa Claus for our kids. I enjoyed teaching them about St. Nicholas and how he became the myth of Santa Claus people celebrate today. We started a tradition of celebrating St. Nicholas Day (December 6th, in case you were wondering). On that day, my children open their stockings. I had began giving them a new ornament every year for our Christmas Tree, but opening a new ornament just before you take down the tree is not so much fun... so they now get their ornaments in their stockings on St. Nicholas Day. Then they get to enjoy the ornament for a whole month!
My Dad grew up in a home that "believed" in Santa Claus. My Mom grew up in a home that only celebrated Jesus' birth. My Mom's family didn't always have a Christmas Tree at Christmas when she grew up (actually, I think she can count on one hand the times they did); if memory serves me correctly, they didn't usually have presents. They both went to church and celebrated the birth of Jesus.
So, growing up a grandchild of my Dad's parents and my Mom's parents, my siblings and I (and our cousins) experienced different Christmastimes at each grandparents home. I don't remember when I realized that we didn't get Christmas (or birthday) presents from my Mom's parents, but except for asking "why" at some point... not getting presents from my maternal grandparents didn't really matter. My grandma was a wonderful cook, and so are my aunts. We enjoyed a delicious meal and lots of playtime with our cousins (10, plus 3 second cousins... my mom is the youngest of 6). I always enjoyed just visiting and being with my Mom's parents and extended family.
At my Dad's parents, when my brother, myself, and our cousins were young (my sister is 8 years younger than me) my grandma would have someone dressed as Santa Claus stop by to visit us. My brother and I had to pretend that "Santa" was the real deal. We always got presents, but I remember being disappointed so many times... even when we thought they were getting us something we really wanted. One year we were expecting boom boxes (portable stereo cassette radios)... they were not stereo, they were mono. I remember an ugly doll that I named after a little girl I didn't like. My three cousins were all boys and they were not very nice little boys (they grew up to be nice men though). For the cousins, we drew names for presents. My aunts took turns with me, until my sister was born, because both wanted to buy for a little girl. One aunt usually made me things... doll dresses were my favorite (except the ones for the ugly doll, but they did fit other dolls later on); the other aunt always gave me something store bought ( I liked when she got me music boxes). I did enjoy quiet times with my Dad's parents, and I loved playing with the toy kitchen furniture that my Great-grandpa made my grandma. We did have some nice times playing kitchen with my cousins in the upstairs of the old farm house.
I remember visiting my great-grandparents (my dad's mom's parents... who were still living when I graduated from college!). I had a thought today about how I was a little creeped out by my great-grandparents when I was little... I think it was because they were old. Really, they weren't that much older than my Mom's parents, or my Dad's dad, but they were "great" grandparents. I remember not really wanting to give them a hug and kiss goodbye. Great-grandpa's face was scratchy many times from stubble. As I grew up, I came to know his heart and love him so much! I look forward to heaven, when I can hug him and kiss his scratchy cheek again (grandma, too... but without the scratchy cheek). My great-grandma was so sweet, she even paid me to finish an afghan doing hairpin lace; she wanted me to learn that much. She would give up her coat for someone who was cold, in fact I believe she did one time (maybe more than once that I don't know about).
I think, remembering these things that time, love, example and treasure in heaven are so much more important than gifts, trees, lights... and all those other things that appear so important to our modern world. There are people around us who don't even know who Jesus is, people who don't know the real reason we began celebrating Christmas. What a gift we could be giving.
Thank you, Lord, for giving me my family and your Son.