The Santa Dilemma

One of the many quandaries a parent is faced with, is whether or not to bring Santa Claus into the holiday tradition. There are many reasons for not wanting to do so:
  • Most people view Santa as exclusive to the Christian religion.
  • It is believed that Santa Claus has nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas, or that he is incompatible with the Christian values they hold.
  • Santa is the embodiment of the commercialism and materialistic values so prevalent in our society.
  • It is perceived as the Biggest Lie ever told children by their parents (right up there with the assurance that going to the dentist is “fun”)
Having grown up with Santa, I will always treasure the sense of magic and wonder bestowed upon me as a child. There is nothing that compares with childhood recollections of the Santa experience. 
Discovering the truth when the time comes, can be painful. Yet those who want to perpetuate the notion of the bearded man in red for as long as possible, are willing to go to certain lengths in order to maintain the deception.
My children were raised with a very strong Santa presence.
We told the kids that they could ask Santa for one thing (“a purple koosh ball”, “a nutcracker”, “cow bell”, “just a candy cane- I have lots of toys already…”).
They would write letters to leave with cookies and milk (and carrots!) on the mantle, and come down in the morning to find crumbs and carrot top on the letter Santa had left for them. Of course, the handwriting was disguised.
We were involved in a Project Christmas of sorts, and as the wrapping was being done by several people at our home one year, the preschoolers were enlisted as “Santa’s elves”.
Several years later, we saw Santa on the street right after he had run out of candy canes; my youngest and I decided to be “elves” and replenish his supply. The eldest, on the verge of disbelief, was shocked when Santa told the boys that he remembered the time when their big brother was one of his elves.
 When I was a little girl, my older brother and sister wanted me to remain oblivious to the facts for another year, and together schemed to awaken me to the sounds of reindeer hooves and sleigh bells. To this day I am able to vividly recall that magical moment. Hence the perpetuation of my deceitful actions.
 When asked by my children, I told them that I believed in Santa, for one of the perks of having kids is seeing the world once again through the eyes of a child, and the magic had indeed returned. I recounted the time I was a little girl and woke up in the middle of the night because I heard Santa on the roof!
A year or two later, I confessed I wasn’t really sure about the actual Santa Claus, but that I think Santa Claus is that feeling we have when we come down the stairs to lit tree and stockings on Christmas morning and are so excited to give each other the gifts we have for them.
As children become older, eventually the need to know the truth becomes stronger than the desire to believe, and we are faced with the ultimate “yes” or “no” question: “Are you Santa Claus?” “No, I’m your mother.” “Do you fill our stockings and write from Santa on the presents?” “Well…”
My son was rather devastated by the truth, yet insisted on letting the others maintain their delusion, and became an active participant in making that happen. The others never asked. We learned later that they had discovered the packaging to their gifts in the attic.
As for myself, I was in third grade when I recognized my mother’s handwriting. I don’t remember feeling particularly lied to, but I was disappointed; and Christmas lost that magical glow. Was it worth it? Absolutely.- RDW (12-9-10)

Basking in the Glow of Family Traditions

As we enter into December, we move into high gear for another holiday season, and all that comes along with it: the joy, the stress, the commercialism, the exhaustion, the magic, the rush… As the month whizzes along, we tend to get swept away with the tide, and then heave a giant sigh of relief as it passes. 

Family traditions are what the most cherished childhood memories are made of. Take the time to sit down with your beloved to make a calendar of the holiday activities dearest to your family’s heart. Discuss your priorities so that you are able to simplify as much as possible, the days ahead.
Create two lists: Things you thinkyou have to do, and things you want to do. The idea of this exercise is to take some of the pressure off. For example, do you truly hate the office Christmas party? If so, why take the time from your family to put yourself through that? Are you sending cards because you want to, or do you feel obligated to? Can it wait until the beginning of the year, or even Valentines Day? I used to start at the beginning of my address book one year and at the end the next. 
By whittling down your to do list, you allow more time for the things that are meaningful to you and yours. The following ideas are simple, fun, and inexpensive.

  • Make Christmas cookies. Don’t have time? Use the ready made cookie dough found in the dairy case.

  • Make a gingerbread house. Graham crackers and canned frosting make an easy shortcut! 
  • Help your child make cranberry relish, fudge, or other gifts from the kitchen.

  • Rather than hosting an elaborate party, gather a group of friends to go Christmas caroling and invite them in for cookies and wassail-a traditional hot spiced fruit punch.

  • Go to a tree farm or ask a friend with land for permission to have a winter woodland adventure, perhaps even to cut your own tree. 
  • Start a collection of ornaments for each child, letting him/her pick out or make a new one each year. This creates a store of wonderful memories to be taken into their adult lives.

  • Take an “ooh and aahh ride” to check out the Christmas light displays around the village. 
  • Pick out a few select holiday videos and avoid those commercials! 
  • Make a collage with old holiday greeting cards; or weave place mats with construction paper, decorate with stickers, and cover with clear contact paper.
  • Make your own wrapping paper using post consumer newsprint or fabric, and gift tags using old greeting cards.
  • Make something special for your child. Keep it simple: a drawstring bag, a travel pillow, a painted tee shirt, a bird house, a card… Gifts made by you especially for them are the ones they remember.
Children enjoy the opportunity to get creative, and love making special presents for those most dear to them. When kids have made gifts that they feel excited about, they experience on a heartfelt level that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

If you can bring yourself to leave the TV off, not only will you have created more time for yourselves, you will cut down on the whining for this or that without the constant exposure to commercials.

Even if you do not participate in the religious aspect of the Holiday, share with your child the Story of Christmas. It is a basic element in the culture of our society. Coincidental with the Christmas holiday season is the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, or Hanukkah, as well as Ramadan, an Islamic celebration. There are many good stories and books about these important holidays. Don’t forget the valuable resource we have in the Public Library.

When things start becoming too frantic in your house, take a little break for a read with your children. The investment of your time will pay off and they will return the time you need to complete your task!

Above all, keep in mind that Time is the greatest gift you can give your family. 

To this day, our grown sons insist upon watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and the old Grinch cartoon once they have returned home for the holidays. As we decorate the tree, they pick out the ornaments they have each received over the years, and reminisce about growing up together. We still gather in the kitchen to make my great grandmother’s cookies, and drink wassail with childhood friends. 

Each Christmas morning they sit cramped in the stairwell, until we are all ready and the annual photo shoot documents their anticipation- not of what they will receive, but reaction to gifts they have chosen for each other. And in my mind, there is a time lapse vision of my childhood, and those of my parents and grandparents, as well as future generations, for I’m certain that the boys will take these traditions into their new lives.

Here’s wishing you and yours a blessed Holiday Season filled with love and warm memories.- RDW (11-19-09)

Christmas mourning and memories

My mother loved the holidays. She took great pleasure in creating a festive household: elaborately decorating our home with tasteful centerpieces and garlands, candles everywhere aglow from sundown to bedtime; house redolent with the mouth-watering aromas of Christmas cookies and wassail as we strung popcorn and cranberries to strains of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Boston Pops drifting through the house. She loved having various friends and neighbors in; preparing for family to arrive and planning gourmet Christmas dinners to lavish upon her beloved. 
In 1996 Mom lost her battle with cancer 10 days before her birthday, and 2 ½ weeks before Christmas. Until the time of her death, each holiday celebration had been an extension of former joys, as I tried to recreate for my children the magic I experienced as a youngster.
Tradition creates a bridge from the past to the present. Upon the loss of a crucial element of the past, that bridge seems to collapse, leaving us to wonder how on earth we can carry on. 

But life goes on, and carry on we must, particularly if there are children involved.

When we are in mourning, the pain becomes unbearable. As much as we wish to escape the anguish, it is necessary to face it before we can move beyond it. When the feelings come, let them. It is not necessary to put up a front; let people know if you’re having a tough day. Don’t hide your feelings from children in an effort to be strong for them or to protect them. You’ll only be teaching them to deny their own feelings.

It is best not to isolate yourself too much. You may not feel much like celebrating, but accepting a few invitations to spend time with close friends or family can provide great comfort.

Some of us are inclined to turn to drink. Alcohol is a depressant, so drinking serves only to worsen the heartache, not to mention all the other complications created by substance abuse.

Families can spend so many years following the same patterns and routines that we forget these traditions were made by others, suitable to their experience. Customs created under different circumstances may no longer be appropriate for the newly bereaved and it becomes necessary to make changes in the routine.

Change and adjustment are essential for those in mourning. The early stages of grief require new practices. Even customs “set in stone” need to be modified. We need to remember to include other grieving members of the family, especially children, in the decisions regarding family customs.
Incorporate the memory of your dearly departed into the holidays: Share your favorite stories over dinner. Make a toast or light a candle in remembrance. Making a contribution to a favorite charity, donating a book to the library or making a plan to plant a tree in their memory is of great solace. This in itself may become part of your revised holiday tradition.
Traditions bind families and societies tightly to one another. But altering our traditions to suit our current state of affairs makes sense. Each moment, each stage of life, demands its own customs and its own rituals. For while family tradition serves to build a bridge from the past to the present, an adaptation of custom is necessary to take us into the future.

Since my mother had been the cornerstone of what the holidays meant to me, it just seemed too excruciatingly painful to carry on, and every year the season’s celebration became a chore. Decorations remained in the attic, cookies unbaked.
Several years after she died, the idea of honoring my mother by celebrating her birthday was presented. Dinner on that date, consisting of her favorite holiday fare has since become part of our amended family tradition. Last year my sister mailed a package with instructions to open it on Mom’s birthday. It contained a beautiful old photo of her taken during the holidays, along with a cd of her favorite jazz band. It was as if my mother was in the room with us. -RDW (11-30-09)




Putting the heart in gift giving

Year after year the desire to give my children their world on a silver platter must be reconciled with my reluctance to become an over-active participant in the snowballing commercialism of the holiday season. In looking back at what my kids most treasured, it was the simple things: the blocks, a stuffed animal, puzzles, their own personal stash of art supplies, new pajamas, and books- not to mention all the cool boxes and bows and wrapping paper!! They did not watch commercial TV so their desires came from the heart. Once, as we walked downtown the day after Thanksgiving to see Santa arrive at his little house on Main Street, I wondered what one thing they would ask for: “a purple Koosh ball”;“a cow bell”; “a candy cane- I have lots of toys already”   

As you shop for your kids, keep this in mind. So many of the toys out there promote violence, stifle creativity, and lead to intense frustration when they break within three days. How often have we spent a fortune on something that could not be lived without, only to have it forgotten and stashed in a closet after the novelty has worn off. With the economy in its current state, what better time to introduce (perhaps again) the simple pleasures?
  • a tote or drawstring bag with fabric paint or markers, in which to carry their “stuff”
  • a special book accompanied by audio tape of you narrating the story
  • a dress up suitcase full of clothes, hats, jewelry, ties, vests, boas, face paint, costumes…
  • a creative art kit consisting of a wide variety of art supplies
  • a memory game made of snapshots (double prints) of your child
  • a bucket of ingredients, including recipes for play dough, bubbles, finger paint, etc.
  • a tool box full of safe miscellaneous tools, measuring devices, child-sized apron, and a whole supply of wood pieces
  • a coupon book made by you with special coupons highlighting special activities, privileges, fun foods, etc.
  • a gardening kit made up of gardening tools, various seeds, flower pots, soil, gloves, and a watering can in a sturdy basket
  • a jewelry or treasure box kit that you put together consisting of a plain wooden box to decorate, and a variety of decorative items like gemstones, glitter, lace, sparkles, beads, etc. (and don’t forget the tacky glue!)
Children need to understand that the holidays are not all about what’s in it for them.
  • Participate in Project Christmas. Choose a tag from one of the Christmas Trees found in grocery and department stores and banks. Help your child select an appropriate gift; or help with the packing and/or delivery of boxes
  • Make a donation to the Food Pantry through the school, your church, Tops…
  • As a family, choose a charity to send a contribution to.
  • Don’t forget the Salvation Army Santas: They are out there ringing for contributions no matter what the weather! The Salvation Army often enlists families to participate in their b
    ell ringing campaign.
  • Invite a lonely neighbor to share a holiday dinner.
While you are making plans to create a magical season for the children, remember to put the emphasis on giving. Don’t forget those people who truly need your help.- RDW (1998, revised 2009)

Getting a Jump Start on the Holidays

It has occurred to me that my most enjoyable holiday season was the one where I had actually planned ahead and incorporated holiday preparations into our normal day to day activities from early on. Try it. It is so rewarding!

  • It is apple season, so stock up on apples this fall. Picking apples is a very fun family activity. Can’t work it in to your busy schedule? Farm markets seem quite charming to young children, and even the grocery store has good apples now. Visit a cider press and see how cider is made; it freezes easily and can be used throughout the winter as needed. Apple sauce is easy to make and can be frozen as well, to be served with a pork roast or in a holiday confection. And while you are immersed in apples, why not get a few friends together to make lots of apple pies for the freezer. Take an unbaked pie out as needed, pop it in the oven and- voila- fresh baked home made apple pie! Allowing children to see where these staples come from provides an opportunity to learn about process and the work involved before these commodities reach the shelves; to their knowledge these things come from “the store”.
  • On a rainy afternoon make your favorite cut out cookies for the freezer to decorate later. This will afford the extra time necessary for child involvement, without the added tension of limited time and an overwhelming holiday to do list. And remember this: some cookie recipes are better without decorations!
  • Have a Girls Night Out with your friends to cook and freeze for the holidays: soups, casseroles, baked goods, dishes to pass. This will allow a night for friendship and hilarity or heart to heart, when ordinarily we are reluctant to indulge ourselves because there is simply too much to do.
  • Go on a fall nature walk with the kids. Collect dried milk weed pods, teazles, acorns, chestnuts and pine cones, etc for making angels, wreathes, and other ornaments. There are numerous children’s nature craft books filled with ideas and methods for making gifts and decorations.
  • Rotate with other moms (or dads!) to do gift projects with the kids. If three parents take turns, each will have a couple of hours to do whatever needs to be done, be that wrapping or spending some quiet time to oneself. Perhaps more importantly, having the kids involved in such a hands on way in their gifting to others, the focus becomes more on the excitement involved with giving rather than the commercial aspects of receiving.
  • If you are like me, you start collecting gifts months ahead of time as you find the perfect remembrance for those dear to you. Wrap gifts as you get them, or have them wrapped (eg, lots of places have free wrapping sponsored by various organizations- make a small donation, save lots of time and money on wrap). Make sure to keep a well-hidden list, lest your mind is a sieve like mine!
  • Start writing those holiday greeting cards to long lost friends. Writing letters in longhand is such good therapy, and doesn’t take too long if you do one or two at a time. Most people would rather receive a personal, handwritten letter from a long lost friend or relative than to receive another something that they have no use for. Then squirrel the cards away where you will find them, for mailing the day after Thanksgiving!

We want so badly to create family traditions and to provide the magical experience we like to remember. All too often the holidays are upon us, and we try to achieve a set of unrealistic self-imposed expectations that makes us and everyone around us miserable. By jump starting preparation, we are able to actually relax and enjoy the season in a way we would not have thought possible.

RDW (9-24-09)