Warning: When starting a new tradition, consider the consequences.
When our first daughter was still our only daughter, I had this grand idea to start an advent calendar. I crafted together (translation: it didn’t involve sewing) a fabric wall hanging with a large cross made of 24 two-inch square pockets.
Then I filled each pocket with a 5¢, 10¢ or 25¢ trinket (a sticker, a plastic car, a bracelet). Every morning in December, my preschooler would wake up, run to the calendar and pull out a surprise. She loved it!
I, however, failed to anticipate that this tradition would morph into something a bit more complex and a lot more expensive when (a) we had more children and (b) those children were no longer interested in stick-on earrings from Party City.
Things started to unravel, quite literally, when the wall-hanging began to fall apart. Just as my glue gun rescue flopped, I found, at the Christmas Tree Shops, a wooden, hand-painted calendar with little compartments and swinging doors for only $25. Which could be a good thing, or not, depending on your perspective.
As the girls got older, the little bitty gifts became harder to find and more expensive too!
I know, I know, Christmas isn’t about the gifts or having fun or keeping traditions. Yes, yes, Advent Conspiracy and radical living and turn your Christmas upside down and all that. But toss it! We really like this tradition and we are keeping it, so there!!!
My first compromise was to offset the cost of more expensive trinkets by filling half of the compartments with candy. (If you get on my case about sugar and trading one evil for another, I will hurt you. So just stop. Desperate times, my friend. Desperate times!) Not only does this save money, but grabbing a bag of Hershey Kisses takes far less time than tracking down 12 miniature presents.
I also make a point to include things the girls actually need (that is “need” in the first world sense, of course), like sticky notes and hair ties; thus not wasting money on useless junk that just ends up in the trash.
I know some of you are squirming in your seats and you want to know: Do I ever worry about obscuring Christmas’s big message? Or that I’m encouraging a consumer mindset? Sure I do, sometimes.
Actually, back when I worried about, well, everything, I added a Bible verse to each calendar pocket.
This assuaged my guilt for a short time…a really short time…like the first night. Because when morning came around, well…Silly Puddy or Bible verse? Chocolate or reading? I wanted to make the advent calendar more spiritual but instead I made the Bible less fun. As if the Bible doesn’t already have enough competition.
All because I had this irrational fear that my kids would grow up not knowing the true meaning of Christmas. I say irrational because what child who attends an evangelical church each Sunday, learns about baby Jesus in Sunday school, visits the local live nativity and bakes Jesus a birthday cake every year, turns to their parents at the age of maturity and asks with wide eyes, “What?! Christmas is about Jesus?!“
(Well, besides the Skit Guys.)
I got over that the day I asked my seven year old, for the 400th time, what Christmas is really about and she answered with a “Puh-leeez Mom” eye-roll while grumbling the name Jesus. Doesn’t that just warm a mother’s heart?
My kids aren’t perfect but they love Jesus and I don’t want to smother that fragile fire with my wet blanket.
Believe it or not, I didn’t give up the advent calendar. Sometimes, we Christians can be a little uptight (shocker), getting so wrapped up in “doing it right” that we suck the fun out of everything. Heaven forbid our kids start to associate our stuffiness with God!
My kids aren’t perfect but they love Jesus and I don’t want to smother that fragile fire with my wet blanket. Besides, even people who grow up with very little can develop greedy, selfish attitudes. And if that doesn’t answer your question satisfactorily, please reread paragraph six.
Now back to my point. If you want to start a new tradition, learn from my mistakes and consider the consequences. What will it look like in two, five or 15 years? Traditions are difficult to give up, especially when involving children.
Remember that one time you made potato pancakes for your kid’s birthday and the next year he was like “But you always make me potato pancakes on my birthday!” and he was like 3 and couldn’t even remember his last birthday? You get the picture.