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Monday, December 10, 2007

'Tis a Gift

A few days ago a friend who works with low-income students told me that one of her students was sharing Ramen noodles with his siblings this month so that their family could afford Christmas. It was my friend’s impression that they might be saving, not just for a simple gift, but for some higher status electronic item.

This story reminded me of my mother, who always said that Santa was a cruel story to tell poor children. She and my father went bankrupt when I was a baby, so they couldn’t afford nearly as many gifts as the cousins whom we usually visited for Christmas dinner. My mother didn’t want me to believe that I was naughty and they were nice just because I got fewer toys. She also didn’t want me to ever be without healthy food or a good education, so she put her money into that which she thought would nurture me, even when it wasn’t what I most wanted. Coming up on the two-year anniversary of her death, I appreciate my mother’s practical wisdom much more than when I was a child.

It is so difficult to resist the consumer competition that Christmas has become. Even religious people seem to have surrendered. Last night we attended a mass geared for children where the priest told a story about Santa during the homily and in his closing remarks reminded the children that “Santa loves children who are good,” so if they were good, they would “be surprised by what Santa would bring them on Christmas morning.” When afterward I gently suggested that it was really hard for families like ours to keep the focus off the consumerism, the priest nodded in commiseration, not realizing that his remarks contributed to the problem.

I guess I shouldn’t be too aggravated at my daughter for asking (repeatedly) for an iPhone for Christmas. She’s just doing what her culture tells her to do. The question for me is how to swim against the cultural tide without drowning (see last year’s post). I’m pretty sure that giving my children an alternative example will work better than giving speeches. So although I was kind of thinking that I’d like an iPod myself this year, I told Tom not to get me one. Instead I asked for a retreat sometime early in the new year—and a few pairs of warm socks for our trip to Wisconsin. (Like Albus Dumbledore, all I really need is some warm socks.) Tom also wants a retreat, and a shirt to replace the one that just got ripped. The children might not notice or appreciate the example now, but maybe they will in forty years, the way I appreciate my mother’s approach to Christmas now that I’m on the other end of the gift-giving.

In the meantime, Tom and I are trying to figure out how to give them some gifts they can unwrap, but ones that will nurture them more than Ramen noodles.

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Blogger naturalmom said...

You speak my mind, Friend.


12:09 PM  
Anonymous Joanna Hoyt said...

Hard questions and hard work--good for you!
Are you familiar with alternatives for Simple Living? They offer a lot of resources for simplifying and refocusing Christmas celebrations; some is for sale, but there's a lot of free stuff available in the archives section of their website,
My mother raised us with their Advent calendars--containing a mix of prophecies, stories and reflections on the Birth, and activities to help us realize how much, on a global scale, we had, and think about what we might give. I still love Advent, and I think it helped provide some consumerism immunity.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Timothy Travis said...

Santa rewarding good children, and punishing bad, is reiterating a certain theological take on God into a secular form.

We never allowed our girls to believe there was a Santa. Rather we told them that Santa was in all of us (the old Quaker doctrine of "that of Santa in everyone"), that we were all Santa, that we all created Santa for one another.

You cannot lie to them...


6:59 AM  
Blogger anj said...

Thanks for this; we struggle with this too. In the past, we have gotten one large family gift, and a few small ones for each son. My husband and I usually only give gifts to each other when we find something that we know is right. This year is more of a struggle for me, and it is helpful to read your words of nurturing the soul. I think this year the large family gift will be five (there are five of us) goats to provide milk for babies of HIV infected woman and orphans. Oh, about the Santa thing - my mom had similar feelings to your mother, and I never believed Santa to be real, just a representation of the spirit of giving. I raised my sons the same way. We also celebrate St Nick's day, because it was a custom brought to us by a child carer we love.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks all for the great suggestions. I love the idea of "that of Santa in everyone" and the gifts that are simple and/or benefit those other than ourselves.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Tania said...

This year, I made a point of shopping for Christmas gifts primarily through the Greater Good Network stores (at, etc.). This way, I was able to buy people presents they'll enjoy (I hope!) and do some good at the same time.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Cloudscome said...

"the old Quaker doctrine of "that of Santa in everyone")" ROFLOL that is perfect!!

3:03 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

Hey cloudscome - don't I see you somewhere else?

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am pleased to read this, because I have always said that if I had kids, I wouldn't tell them to believe in Santa. First of all, it is lying to them. They get sad when they find out it's not real. I always thought, what if one day my parents tell me "by the way, Jesus isn't real either." And why does Santa always give the rich kids all the good presents? When I've mentioned these things, people have said it's just for fun, but i think it may be just for materialism or just to get kids to behave in december.

7:15 AM  

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