As often happens when I read posts by Susan Gaddis, I start to comment and then find I’ve written an entire blog post myself. Please go check out her beautiful post: How to Celebrate Christmas When You’re Not in the Mood.
The last few Christmases have been a challenge for our family, financially, and living in a city without much of our extended family nearby makes it even harder to get in the mood to celebrate Christmas. But we’re doing our best!
This year, the kids and I made a Terrific Mess cutting out paper snowflakes to paste on our windows which we’ve surrounded with blue twinkly lights. Our little one especially loves to just sit and watch as they blink off and on, coloring the snowflakes white and blue. If I focus on just the beautiful window, I can almost ignore the desert landscape beyond. In our trips around town, I keep a Christmas station going in the car, and it’s fun to hear the kids’ sweet voices stumbling through the words (Oh Holy Night has become a mish-mash of made up words, Sunday school lessons, and I think even Optimus Prime got in there at one point…). Their current favorites are the rock-opera-style Trans-Siberian Orchestra versions of Carol of the Bells and Oh Holy Night.
Soon, I’m planning on making cookies with the kids and decorating them to take downstairs to our elderly neighbors who don’t have family around. I keep reminding the kids (and myself!) that we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, not getting gifts and presents. We may not be able to afford a tree or gifts this year, but between devotionals (an Advent calendar), practical acts, and praise, we’re trying to keep Jesus the focus of our Christmas!
I’m feeling especially close to Mary, Jesus’ mother, this year… being ungainly pregnant; an impending move looming right next to my due date; the alternating joy of new life within me and the crushing terror of how the heck we’re going to care for another child with our limited resources. Years ago, as a teenager, I was inspired to create a dance to Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven” and have danced it almost every Christmas for the last 10 years… so it’s a familiar song, but every time I’ve heard it this year, I’ve broken down weeping. It’s so near my heart… God what are you doing? Is this really Your best plan for my life right now? Help me be strong… help me be… help me.
But the Hope that is Advent… God encasing himself in the flesh of a helpless baby, to live like us, be one of us, so that He could save us from our pathetic existence… THIS is what excites me about Christmas. It’s what shakes me from the lethargy of my depression and causes me to turn my eyes towards the Hope of Eternity Future. This isn’t all there is to life. There is more coming. Christmas gives me a glimpse of that Joy Unspeakable.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, the-God-Who-is-with-us, is coming!
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I had a Christian Fundamentalist upbringing. And I’m not complaining about it. I think my parents did a great job of sheltering us as young children, and then letting us figure out life for ourselves as we got older. So there’s some things that my parents did that I’m doing differently and some things that I’m holding on to pretty strongly. One of those things is not participating in Halloween.
I’ve never been trick or treating. Two years ago I went to my very first ever dress-up Halloween party, but that was mostly because it was also a housewarming party for friends who’d just moved. I was a farmer, 1-week-old Josh was a pea-in-the-pod, and Anthony was Twitter.
Growing up in Santa Cruz (hippie/wicca/occult central), the line was pretty distinct between light and dark around this time of year. We actually had neighbors who would hang black cats (real ones) from trees, dance around huge Samhain bonfires, summon spirits and all the rest. It was scary, and our family wanted no part of it.
As a kid, it made sense to me that we not participate in the dark holiday, and most of the families that we grew up with were of the same mind, so there wasn’t much peer pressure or feeling like we were missing out on something significant. We’d spend the evening handing out little comic books that my mom and her illustrator friend, Katie, made that had messages of hope and light. When we moved out of town and into the country, it was a night when our parents let us watch a bunch of movies and eat candy (a BIG deal, we almost NEVER got candy!).
Now an adult, those memories have stayed with me, and we have never celebrated Halloween since we’ve been married. It wasn’t too big of a deal for us until last year, when my cousin-in-law actually sat us down and told us he thought we were being crazy for keeping our kids away from this fun family tradition. And now Jonathan is in school, and all the kids are talking about trick or treating, costumes, and candy. Plus, it seems like, away from Santa Cruz, Halloween is more like any other over-commercialized holiday: a chance for WalMart to make a ton of money off costumes and candy. So I totally get why other Christians families don’t have a problem with the season, and I’m certainly not judging any one else’s decision.
Here’s some helpful links and alternative ideas (thanks Facebook friends for some of these!) with more history and info.
– Have kids dress up during another holiday (like pilgrims for Thanksgiving). We usually did a “live nativity” at Christmas while a grownup read Luke 2:1-20.
– Attend or help with a church harvest party, carnival, or “trunk-or-treat” (where church members decorate their cars and pass out candy in the parking lot). I remember doing harvest parties a few times as a kid. When Jeffty was a baby, he was Moses in a basket, I was Miriam, and Christopher was Aaron.
– Celebrate All Saints Day by dressing up as a Saint. GREAT idea to pair with a history lesson!
– A history of Halloween and it’s traditions, including the Jack-O-Lantern and Trick-or-Treating (not a Christian source… has a scary graphic at the top of the page, FYI)
– A great blog post by James Watkins called “Should Christians celebrate Halloween?” (LOVE his conclusion with 1 Corinthians 8:4-13, about how if it doesn’t stumble your walk with God, do it! If it is a stumbling block to you, don’t do it!)
So what will YOU be doing 10/31?