Friday, November 22, 2013

Our Boys' First Christmas

The day after Thanksgiving is usually our big day to decorate the house for Christmas, but with there being only three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and seeing that our three new boys from Bulgaria have been asking about Christmas. ever. since. they. arrived in June, we’re breaking tradition and getting it all up this weekend….yep at the same time as having Thanksgiving AND Hanukkah decorations up…a very flavorful house! We’ll have a mixture of Fall linens and wreaths, a beautiful menorah and Star of David lights, topped off by a Christmas tree and all the goodies that go along with it.  Some may call it tacky…but we call it “lots of different types of beauty all mixed together!”
 
                                         
 Just noticed the tin whistles in the vase!

It’s been so much fun sharing holiday activities with Steven, Benjamin, and Josiah.  Everything is new for them….baking and decorating cookies, making cinnamon ornaments, learning the words to Christmas carols, watching as little by little the house gets transformed for different holidays, etc.

We just discovered that Steven LOVES, I mean is PASSIONATE about, to the point of TEARS, sacred choir/boys choir, cathedral-type music.  I played one of my favorite Christmas Carols CDs the other night…..a 1984 recording by the Westminster Abbey choir…..and Steven was enraptured. (LISTEN HERE)
 (One more thing he and I have in common!)  The girls love it too and it’s become our “go to” music while doing stuff around the house….the kids even fall asleep to it.
 
I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook posts and blogs lately, encouraging Christians to put Christ back in Christmas. I enjoy reading the blogs because I always get some good ideas from moms who want the holiday to be sacred for their children…not just about getting stuff.  The funny thing is that ever since I was a child I recall my parents having the same conversation: “All this spending money on presents doesn’t seem right.  It doesn’t seem to be the way that Jesus would want us to celebrate his birth.” And as a parent, I’ve struggled with the same thing over the years.  Only, my “excuse” has always been that my kids are adopted and never experienced getting presents, etc. etc.  It seems we all feel uncomfortable about it but can’t seem to get out of the rut. Steven recently commented that he thinks he will get a LOT of things for Christmas this year. Now, in terms of what he is used to, I guess he will get a lot of gifts this year.….but we don’t want him looking at Christmas as the holiday for him to get lots of “stuff.” But how to get the kids’ eyes off of presents and onto really appreciating the enormous gift Christ gave us by leaving his throne and coming to earth?

When we research the origins of Christmas we find that Christ wasn’t fully IN Christmas to start with.  The holiday was started by the Catholic Church in a way that would “assimilate” the Roman pagans into Christianity.  (Same thing goes for how praying to, or “talking to,” saints and Mary started.) The Roman pagans loved to celebrate, and their big holiday, Saturnalia, was celebrated from December 17-23 in honor of the “god” Saturn. (some celebrated until the 25th)  It was such an explicitly ungodly holiday and included drunk people singing naked in the streets, visiting door to door, poor people being forced to give gifts to the emperor, child sacrifices, rape, murder, eating human shaped biscuits, etc. When the Catholic Church decreed December 25th to be Jesus’ birth, they were likely trying to find a way to usurp this wicked celebratory week for something more God honoring.  They wanted to turn the people’s attention away from Saturnalia’s traditions and toward the entry of Christ into the world.  And I think that over time they were mostly successful in doing this…..BUT the holiday season has never taken on a fully spiritual significance in many societies around the world.

In regards to “keeping Christ in Christmas” here's how some  non-believers look at our holiday.
Non-Christian Perspective on Christmas’ Origins
Jewish Perspective on Christmas’ Origins:

So, does the fact that there are pagan traditions tied to Christmas mean that Christians shouldn’t celebrate it?  I know several families who take this stance…. some of our closest friends and family members do not.  But for me, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  The Catholic Church may have made errors by allowing pagan customs to creep into Christianity in order to appeal to the masses and “convert” them to Christianity.  BUT starting a worldwide tradition that honors the birth of Christ is pretty awesome.  Think of it…..GOD, the Son, left his throne in heaven, clothed himself with humanity, took on the form of a man (a microscopic human being to start with) all for one purpose…..to die for the sins of mankind.  Talk about the ultimate humiliation, which God entered into with all his heart of love for us!  I can’t think of a greater reason to celebrate, and I’m so glad that the holiday was started, regardless of the fact that it had some awful traditions associated with it.

We enjoy celebrating the traditional aspects Christmas, but we know  that Saturnalia is still around, and that there are probably associated spiritual forces working against society….luring it toward excessiveness, self-centeredness, child worship, materialism, etc. If we really want to usurp this holiday from its pagan roots and make it fully God-honoring, then we best do it intentionally….not just “hoping” we can have the discipline to buy a few less presents this year and making sure we read the Christmas story to our kids.

One way we share with our children the majesty of Christ coming to earth is by filling our home with music that has rich lyrics and a sacred feel.  There is something touching to the soul about some of the carols and choir music out there.  In September, I gave our children each a booklet of Christmas carols for us to learn together.  Every few days we open our booklets and the younger kids color the pictures while the older ones go over vocabulary and discuss the meaning of the songs.  We always start the music in September so they have time to learn the words. The girls and Steven particularly love the Christmas music. Yesterday, David was trying to talk to Steven  during one of the songs, and Steven, in between phrases, quickly answered, "I'm singing!"  It was llike, "Hark, the herald angels sing. I'm singing! Glory to the new born king." lol

We explain to our kids how the story of Santa Claus came to be, and we also explain how the holiday started and about some of the pagan roots, etc.  We stress that celebrating the birth of our Lord is such a blessing, and that even though December 25th isn’t the real day Jesus was born, since the rest of the world is remembering his birth on this day, we are joining along (We already talked about his birth in September….as many scholars believe he was actually born in the Fall during one of the Jewish feasts—particularly the Feast of Tabernacles). And we frequently comment, “Guys, isn’t it just amazing that GOD, the Son, himself left his Heavenly throne and humbled himself to take on the form of a tiny baby.....to grow up as a man….all for the purpose of sharing the good news of God’s love and salvation with all mankind, and to die to pay the penalty for the sins of the world!!?”  Our kids can tell that we are very excited about this! We have a beautiful nativity set that we set up over the fireplace for the visual reminder of the beauty (perhaps not physical, but definitely spiritual) of that blessed night.  And the kids really like watching movies of the Christmas story….The Nativity is one of their favorites!  We don’t have a problem with the cute Rudolf or Elf movies…but they definitely are on the periphery.

All the extra traditional stuff we do, like making gingerbread cookies, decorating the house with trees and ornaments, watching Christmas movies, etc. are ways to reinforce, using the senses, the specialness of this Holy Day.  Little children (and ones who don’t understand English that well) may not fully appreciate the significance of the Savior coming to the earth, but they enjoy the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feel of all the special family activities reserved for this time of year….and they know that it is “something big” we are celebrating.  As they grow older they will better appreciate what the Lord has done for them and hopefully have many fond family memories as well. I know our boys (and all of our children)  are having so much fun with the little things we are doing together.

As for gifts, I’m thankful, in a sense, that slow business is forcing us to scale back and not make presents the highlight of the day. We came up with a couple of ideas that are inexpensive  and that our children will benefit from and be excited about.  For the boys we purchased two used junior drum sets from Craigslist, along with a Learn to Drum DVD.  All five of them LOVE playing the drums and I know will get great use out of these.  They will be stationed in the garage/game room, and I hope they won't be incredibly annoying to those of us in the house!  For the girls, I am even more excited.  Norman is making a portable hardwood floor space for our girls to tap dance on in their room.  They already have tap shoes and love to copy Shirley Temple in her movies.  So with this floor and a Learn to Tap DVD they will be good to go.

I love the idea I’ve read in other people’s blogs—that their children only get three gifts each—since that’s all Jesus got.  So, between some Legos, art supplies, bows and arrows, games, etc. each of our children will have three packages to open.  And stocking stuffers will be given on the eight days of Hanukkah…to give them some fun things to do throughout December. It might still sound like a lot, but for us, this is a trend in the right direction and it forces us to be creative and make the true purpose of the holiday come alive for our family.

Here are some pictures of the kids’ excited faces making cookies.  (Norman laughed and told me, "You tell the people how the pagans used to make human shaped biscuits and now you're showing them our gingerbread boys! lol) They are so eager to put up the Christmas tree, I don’t know how I'll manage with all those hands wanting to get in the way.  Yes, I'll admit, I’m one of those who likes the “perfect” looking tree rather than the obviously child decorated tree.  But here’s my plan….let them put up all the ornaments…..give them lots of praise……let them enjoy looking at it with cocoa and a Christmas movie……and then send them to bed and rearrange the whole thing. (This is what the adult daughter is for….bringing the Starbucks and helping fix the tree!!!) Will update with pictures soon:)

Blessings!
Lisa
 

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