I had the craziest realization today. Let me set the stage for you: world’s okayest mom makes goal to create lasting memories and start new traditions as part of a family Christmas, including fun, culturally-normal activities like a puppet version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Today, I took Cora, James (2) and Kent (8 months) to see the show at the Center for Puppetry Arts, bought a few puppets, and even had my mom come with us. And in true Clark Griswold fashion, I watched the whole thing implode. Why? Because, much to my astonishment, as I sat in my seat, James in my lap, happily singing familiar songs and laughing and clapping with nostalgia, I realized something: my children have no idea what’s going on. They don’t have any excitement about Santa, they have no connection to a sparkly-nosed deer, and even I had a hard time explaining why a talking snowman was telling the story.
Bear with me for a second here- it’s not that I’m anti-Santa at all. In fact, it only occurred to me today that I had inadvertently bypassed Santa over the last few years. The thing is, since the hubs and I have worked in retail forever, Christmas Eve has always been a rush to and from work, grabbing a brief family meal (in the event we could make it work), and eagerly waiting for the New Year to roll over. We didn’t hit the mall to see Santa because: 1) Celia has been and still is terrified of crowds and anyone in costume (especially Santa) and 2) seeing the madness of retail firsthand, the last thing either of us ever wanted to do on an off day was head to a mall.
So we didn’t do that part. But I vividly remember hanging stockings, leaving out cookies and milk, and making my signature orange sticky-buns for Christmas morning breakfast. I know we read The Night Before Christmas, and tolerated a little mischief from the Elf on the Shelf (although, to be honest, I never remembered to move that stupid thing, and the kids eventually decided it was just a doll after all). We went to Christmas ballet recitals, saw The Nutcracker once, if not twice, and made Gingerbread cookies with my cousins. Imagine me right now, patting myself on the back for all the secular, western Christmas spirit I possess and am currently passing on to my children. I’m trying really hard here, people.
Beyond all that, I had a much more serious revelation: as I continue to homeschool my children, if I don’t teach it to them, they won’t learn it. At least while they’re this little. Years in retail taught me to hate materialism. So my kids don’t really like things. I’ve taught them that. They loooove Dancing With The Stars. In fact, they can tell you who was eliminated in Week 4 of Season 13, on demand. Their unadulterated love for that foolishness comes directly from me. They don’t know the Rudolph story. But they can recite every single word of Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site. Again, me. James doesn’t know much about the holidays, but he knows how many train tracks we cross between Celia’s school and our house. And he reminds me if we avoid even one. Not sure if I can take much credit for that, but I’m pretty sure I say “yes buddy, train tracks!” in agreement with him every time we cross one.
I swear, every time I get this thing figured out, I get a face-full of “oh no she di-int!” **Mental head slap.** I’ve said it before: we aren’t homeschooling to keep our kids away from the world. We want them to experience it. No, I don’t want them to think Santa Claus is the meaning of Christmas, or that Christmas is their birthdays. But Santa Claus is an important part of how our culture experiences the holiday season. Rudolph and his musical friends are as much a part of the American holiday experience as The Peanuts Christmas Special. We’ve been so hung on “cultures of the world” that I had genuinely taken for granted how much the traditional “school experience” shares with our children about their own culture.
We took our children out of the school system for lots of reasons. One of those reasons was the revision of history that’s taking place in various courses: we don’t want our kids to miss out on the valuable lessons that come from the more painful aspects of our history. And therein lies the irony. Whether it’s popular or not, my kids are 100% American. And there’s a cultural component there. In my quest to teach an appreciation for other cultures, I’ve left out important American folk tales, like Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed, not to mention our little non-religious Christmas mascots. So we’re regrouping. One new tradition I’m super-excited about this Christmas is one Cora and I invented: the 24 stories of Christmas, a different Christmas-themed bedtime story for every night leading up to Christmas. Our girls already have a bedtime tradition of hot chocolate every night (where we dispense their medicine with nary an argument), and the stories will complement that perfectly. But today, in a moment of enlightenment, I revisited our pile of literary indulgences. In addition to Little One We Knew You’d Come, and The Legend of The Poinsettia, I included A New and Improved Santa and Gingerbread Fred. There will be plenty of examples of the Nativity scene from the animals’ point of view, and the Little Drummer Boy’s story, but we’ll include Jan Brett’s The Mitten, and The Polar Express too, because those are American treasures, and I don’t want my children to miss out on the full scope of being American children at Christmas.
The fun part of all this is that I think my kids do know the true meaning of Christmas, at least as we see it. They know the Christmas story, they look forward to Advent, they love the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and they’re genuinely not interested in hoards of presents. For us, incorporating the secular traditions won’t be about overshadowing the religious ones, it will be about helping our children discern the difference between the two.
Here’s to happy holidays and family traditions- however you celebrate them.