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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

simplifying christmas

It seems Christmas season comes earlier every year. It's not even Thanksgiving, and I've already heard the first Christmas song blaring over the speakers at the grocery store.

As a Christian, I love Christmas and everything it means -- God became flesh, became one of us, entered our world to save us from ourselves and enable us to enter God's kingdom.

And yet, every year I dislike the Christmas season and everything it has become in the United States. I'm reaching the point where I want to just go away at the first sign of the "holiday season" and not return until the middle of January.

Christmas ought to be a sacred time, a time to step back from the bustle of the modern world and focus on that silent night two millennia ago.

As a parent I want my son to know why we celebrate Christmas. I don't want him to get the idea that this is the time of year to satisfy all his material wants.

In the past, my wife and I have made a conscious effort to see that -- at least in our home -- Christ is the focus of Christmas. One of my memories from childhood was lighting an advent wreath each week with my family. My wife did not grow up with that tradition, but had heard of it and wanted to make it a part of her family tradition even before we met.

We put up a nativitiy set every year and use it as a prop for telling our son the story of that first Christmas.

We've decided to tell our son the truth about Santa from the beginning. Last year, age three, he was able to grasp effortlessly that gifts from "Santa" were really from his parents or grandparents, and that we do this in honor of a person who lived long ago who really was named "Santa" (essentially). But he also knows that the one we really celebrate at this time of the year is Jesus, who also was born long ago and is both God and human.

We've been stymied somewhat by the grandparents on both sides, who love to give gifts and love to have everyone at their homes (in different towns) for the holidays. I do appreciate them, but honestly I don't think I can stand one more Christmas sitting in a living room full of wrapping paper, wondering whether we really need half of the presents we received and how we are going to fit them in the trunk for the trip home.

I'd rather spend Christmas with my wife and son, lighting the Christ candle on the advent wreath, enacting a nativity set drama, remembering why we call ourselves Christians in the first place.

But the grandparents -- both my parents and Nicki's -- are very persuasive, and they are getting older. Who knows how many more Christmases we will have with them? And they are not going to change. For more than a decade I've been making suggestions to my parents that maybe we could do without so many presents, or have the gift exchange on a different day, to no avail. Nicki's parents insisted last year that we drive into their city some weeks before Christmas to get our son's picture taken with Santa, even though we've told them how we are handling Santa.

Has anyone out there faced this dilemma? What do you do to celebrate Christmas rather than consumermas? What's the secret to letting relatives understand that we want to keep Christmas sacred?

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