This Christmas we have a two-year-old and an infant, which means the holiday season is equal parts excitement and toil. This is the summation of parenting at any time of year, no?
Since this the first year that I have a child old enough to (sort of) catch the yuletide spirit, I’ve become a little frantic with inserting all the appropriate traditions, as if Molly is actively judging me—in real time– on how much nostalgia she will have for this phase of her childhood.
So far, we have decorated cookies with our neighbors, decorated the tree with real ornaments, the kitchen walls with paper ones, the glass sliding door with Christmas cling stickers, the refrigerator door with varietal Christmas magnets. We have listened to every fathomable rendition of Jingle Bells while decorating all the things.
But yesterday morning, I had a moment where I looked at the date— December 6th— then at my to-do list of menial Christmas-y tasks and realized that I had been parenting Molly into the hustle of the holiday season without ever speaking the name of Jesus.
This thought stopped me in my tracks for a moment. It was a short moment, albeit, because it was followed by the frazzled question: How am I going to lead Molly to Jesus this holiday season? Which was another way of asking: what preschool-appropriate Pinterest crafts can I arrange to secure her salvation?
Do you remember those buttons “Jesus is the reason for the season” or “Keep Christ in Christmas”? Maybe I’m the only one here who grew up in a conservative Christian household groomed entirely by Adventures in Odyssey and McGee & Me, but I used to understand the battle for Christmas as a sort of exterior culture war. But now I understand it as a more interior one. It’s not about whether or not a cashier wishes me Merry Christmas or about the color and design of a Starbucks cup. The war is over my tendency to forget altogether that Jesus is not only the premise, but the hero of this season.
I get so caught in giving them ALL THE THINGS that I sometimes forget to identify which ones are actually important.
Speaking of which, I recently asked Mike’s mom Katie about how to encourage faith in little kids, namely my own. I wanted specifics, you know? And I expected her to talk about the importance of evening family devotional times or maybe some interactive activities that would facilitate soulful conversation. I expected her to challenge me with tasks, with tips, with a manifesto of sorts. But instead—and I’m paraphrasing here— she said that kids learn most from observation. She said that kids get an impression of faith by watching how you interact with it, that a positive faith environment in the home can be natural and organic, not a collection of terribly forced moments.
That conversation came to mind this morning as Molly and I were working on a craft. My intention of the craft was trying to teach Molly about Jesus as the light of the world.
But her memory, should she retain one, is probably of me asking and answering my own questions in loud volume:
WHY ARE WE MAKING A PAPER CANDLE MOLLY—BECAUSE JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD—DID YOU HEAR ME– BECAUSE JESUS IS THE— YOU SAY IT— NO YOU SAY IT— JESUS IS THE—PLEASE STOP PUTTING GLUE ON THE— NO NOT THOSE SCISSORS— JESUS IS THE— I SAID DON’T— PLEASE STOP— YES DADDY IS STILL AT WORK—JESUS IS THE—ON YOUR BOTTOM MOLLY—SIT ON YOUR BOTTOM—ONE, TWO…….–GIVE ME THE SCISSORS—LOOK ME IN THE EYES—PLEASE STOP—-I NEED YOU TO LISTEN—- DO YOU HEAR WHAT I’M SAYING— JESUS IS THE—NO YOU DON’T NEED A SNACK— I LITERALLY JUST OFFERED YOU BREAKFAST THAT YOU REFUSED—–JESUS IS THE— NO YOU DON’T NEED A BANDAID—JESUS— THERE IS NO OWIE ON YOUR FINGER—-JE— I’M LOOKING ON YOUR FINGER AND I DON’T SEE AN OWIE—JE—JE—-JE—- LIGHT— fine, you can watch Frozen.
It is possible that our Jesus-craft did not, in fact, create a surge of faith in Molly. But I’m not calling it a failure, because for one, it reminded me to read scripture aloud to Molly, and for two, it passed forty whole minutes of the day.
I guess what I’m saying is that it’s harder than I expected to get Christmas right, to establish traditions and celebrations that are natural but also meaningful. Maybe our parents did this, too, but I’m finding that landing on our own family traditions takes a lot of trial and error. Heavy on the error.
I’m also finding that meaningful moments of our lives are stumbled through rather than glided through, that you can have a picture for how you want something to go and still no idea how to make it happen.
It seems to me that Christmas is a longing, a picture of perfection that we are trying to wrestle into existence. It’s as if the sensations of the season– the need to have something perfect and right— are all hints and whispers of the thing it’s really about.
The light of the world.
I know the answer but still I forget it. So we make crafts crafts that need saving. I parent my kids in a way that needs saving. Molly asks me to turn down my “songs about God” on the laptop so she can sing “Let It Go” with gusto while standing on the couch. But all is not lost, because perhaps this pursuit of celebration and new tradition is all means to parent the meaning of Christmas, not into my kids, but into me.