Christmas Song Blog Day 6 – Christmas Like A Child
Jackie’s elf arrived last night. I have to admit I’m not a fan of the elf. He’s cute and all, but he’s kind of a pain. I know that’s my own fault because I couldn’t just do the standard Elf on the Shelf routine. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Elf on the Shelf, it’s a relatively new gimmick that parents use to frighten their children into behaving, by putting a toy elf on (you guessed it) a shelf so he can spy on the kids and send nightly reports to Santa. Every morning when the kids wake up, they know he’s been to the North Pole and back because he’s in a different place than where they left him.
Don’t get me wrong. I totally get using every tool at your disposal to get kids to behave, especially this time of year when adults are busy and kids seem to have never ending access to massive amounts of sugar. One year I had so completely lost my will to parent, I offered Jackson a piece of candy for every piece of formal clothes he put on. Socks, underwear, pants, belts, shirt, tie, vest, shoes, and two for combing his hair before church. That’s a lot of candy. I’m not proud; I’m a parenting realist.
And yet, still I couldn’t bring myself to embrace the creepy elf narc. Maybe because I don’t want my son to grow up thinking police state surveillance is normal. Maybe because I believe that what you do in the privacy of your own home is protected by the 4th amendment. Maybe because the mere thought of an elf creeping around Jackson’s room while I sleep would give me nightmares. But the main reason the standard Elf on the Shelf narratives don’t work for us is that we don’t buy the whole naughty/nice Santa Claus biznatch.
The idea that Santa brings presents to nice kids and ignores bad ones caused a great deal of hurt for one of my son’s friends at a very young age. Her family is Jewish, so they don’t celebrate Christmas, but the kids at school didn’t get that. They only got that Santa brings presents to good kids, and she didn’t get any presents from Santa, ergo she must be a bad kid. Take a second to think about what that must feel like to a four-year-old.
The same can hold true for poor kids, who may get little to nothing from Santa, while kids from wealthier families getting truckloads of new electronics. If you believe Santa rewards good and punishes bad, don’t you start to wonder if maybe you aren’t as good as those rich kids? Do the rich kids start to wonder the same thing? Do either of those kids start to act according to those observations? It’s not unreasonable to think they might.
Finally, though, even if you aren’t worried about other people’s kids and the messages we send by tying gifts to someone’s self-worth, you have to admit those ideas run counter to a Christian understanding of Christmas. Christ is the true gift of Christmas. All other gifts are merely meant to be a reminder of the joy we have in Him. And if all gifts are meant to represent the love of Christ, they have to be given unconditionally, because that’s how God loves us, unconditionally. God didn’t keep a naughty and nice list that first Christmas. God sent Jesus to be a savior to all, without reservation or fine print. Peace on earth, good tidings to all. The radical message of Christmas is the new covenant written not on stone, but on our hearts, that we are saved not by works, but by the grace of God.
So what does that mean for our elf? It means no spying, no nightly trips to the North Pole, and no snitching to the big guy in the red suit. It also means no easy moves from the bookcase to the dresser. In one of our better parenting moments, we decided Santa would send our elf for a sort of pre-Christmas recalibration. Santa would tell Jackson (via letter) that the elf had spent so much time working on toys all year long that he’d started to think Christmas was about toys. Santa would then ask Jackie to help teach the elf the true meaning of Christmas.
Over the next few weeks, the elf does things like crumble some cookies overnight, so Jackson could come down and tell him we don’t waste food because Jesus called us to feed the hungry. Or the elf draws on our mirrors in dry erase marker so Jackie can redirect him to draw on cards for people who are in nursing homes, because God wants us to show love to our neighbors. Slowly, he begins to make better decisions. By the end of the month we find the elf close to the nativity or reading the story of Jesus’s birth in the Bible.
I’m proud of the thought we put into the idea in our better moments, but its also a lot of work, and I don’t just have to parent in my better moments. I have to parent in all the moments. It never fails. Four days in, Susie or I sit bolt upright in the middle of the night and shout, “We forgot the elf!” And some days I’m too busy to take food to the food pantry or mittens to the clothing drive or cards to shut-ins. I have a job and a house to clean and gifts to buy and meals to cook and errands to run. I have to admit that while I LOVE that my nine-year-old still believes in Santa and elves, I was sort of hoping he’d forget to ask Santa for an elf this year. That way I’d have more time to focus on my to-do list.
Except my to-do list doesn’t bring me any closer to Christ this year than a rich child’s wish list does. In fact, the chores and cooking and cleaning and lights and presents are a lot like an adult version of the naughty/nice list. What if they are just ways to make us feel good and important and productive? What if those things are more mature ways of trying to “earn” our Christmas. What if those things just distract me from the idea that God loves us all so much that God came into this world to be near us, to teach us, to guide us regardless of how many items we’ve checked off our lists?
What if stopping each night to ponder how I can use a creepy little elf toy to teach my son about sharing some of the love that God so freely shares with us isn’t just one extra chore? What if those elfish little lessons are actually Christmas in its purest essence?
If that’s the case, maybe that sneaky little elf isn’t really for Jackson after all.
No comments yet.