Ramblings and Rediscovering Christmas

Regular readers of this blog may notice I haven't posted in a month, which is unusual for me.  I'm on sabbatical, so my posting schedule will be pretty irregular for the next few months.  One of the reasons I timed my sabbatical the way I did--starting in late October and going through early April--was because one the areas I feel the most need to reinvent is the way I approach holidays, specifically Christmas.  I've been in ministry for 9 years now, and I'm finding little new to share in my approach to the message of Jesus' birth.  One of my main December goals is to go to other UU churches and see how they handle December.  My approach has been to have an every-other-year system where one year I'm doing a world-religions focus for December and the next I'm focusing in on the Christmas story specifically.  At this point in my ministry I've done Christmas sermons on the holiday blues, simplifying the holidays, Dickens, the historical Jesus, peace, hope, sharing and giving, holiday traditions, holiday spirit, and more.  I'm sure there's more to mine in the Christmas story before I do it all again, but I need inspiration.

Another way I want to experience Christmas this year is through living the experience of Christmas in a new way.  I went into ministry before I became a parent, and I'm a last-minute writer, so I haven't had weekends to do holiday activities with my child.  I'm hoping to have more time to experience the joys of the season than I've had in previous years where ministry kept me working six days a week.  My sabbatical rule: only work at most five days a week!  :) 

So in my experiencing of Christmas so far, we've gotten our tree up, and then I helped my best friend put her tree up last night--just assembling, not decorating.  It turns out, I've learned, that fluffing out the branches of an artificial pre-lit tree can take even longer than putting up a real tree and stringing it with lights, if you do it right.  While we did this, we had a discussion about believing in Santa.  Turns out a similar discussion has been happening on the UU blogosphere between uuMomma and Paul Oakley (in a comment of his on Facebook).

My discussion was triggered by a comment I made that a lot of holiday movies seem centered around the question of belief in Santa, and that having this as a theme of the movies themselves may make a child viewing it open up the question of belief in Santa.  The existence of people not believing in Santa in the movies points out that some people don't, in fact, believe in Santa, and might prompt a child to ask why that's the case.  Some examples:
  • Elf - We watched this recently with our Santa-believing daughter, which is what raised the question for me.  It's not the main point of the movie, but Santa gets his sleigh stuck because the magic has gone out of Christmas, and it takes more people believing to get it back in the sky.
  • The Polar Express - A little doubting boy is taught to believe in the magic of Christmas because of a special train ride.
  • And, of course, the classic Miracle on 34th Street, where the girl, her mother, and all of NYC don't believe in Santa Claus, until they get their Christmas miracles.
Right now my daughter does believe in Santa, and watching Elf was certainly not enough to break that spell.  She's pretty resistant to it, in fact.  She was the one who told us that Santa exists, not vice versa.  And last year when we tried to tell her leprechauns don't really go around leaving pots of gold in her school playground, and that it was really the teacher, she refused to believe us.  She was adamant that we were wrong about this.  I think if I tried to tell her Santa wasn't real and we ate the cookies, she'd argue us down about it.  Her belief in Santa includes space for the idea that some children don't believe in Santa, and that the guys in the mall in the red suits aren't really Santa, and yet Santa can still be real.  Eventually she'll be told by some friend in a convincing enough way that she'll stop believing, I assume, or she'll ask me outright and I'll tell her the truth.  Until then, her world is magical.  And that means sometimes putting up with leprechauns, I suppose.

There's a lot of debate about whether telling children the Santa myth is the right or wrong thing to do.  I've had some good debates about it in various circles.  I really believe there's good and bad both ways, and that no parent should be judged on their decision about this.  We went back and forth about it ourselves, so I have a hard time justifying either perspective completely.  Meanwhile, our child made the decision for us, and as long as she wants to believe in Santa, I'm content to let her.

Interestingly, and tangentially here, I've often said (and read other people who've also said the same for them), that I stopped believing in God when I stopped believing in Santa.  (I consider myself an agnostic, now, but I went through an atheist period.)  Right now, my daughter is also a firm believer in God.  That may change, or it may not.  I'm not trying to change it, and am okay with wherever her belief goes, outside of fundamentalism.  When we responded to her about her stance of, "I'm standing up for God," saying, "Well, sometimes we say we're 'standing on the side of love,'" she firmly responded, "It's the same thing, Mom.  It's the same thing."  And, after all, who can argue with that?


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