And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition! – Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof
I wrote previously about Black Friday traditions in my family. Growing up, my mother and father both worked full time and I was a latch key child. There was much independence, which after 5th grade meant, much television watching. We did not hold many traditions. Every Advent and Lent we went to a penance service. It was in junior high I learned confession was available outside penance services as well. For the majority of my childhood Christmas mornings, my sister and I woke very early, as did my father. We were allowed to open our stocking and waited until my mother rose to open our presents. We opened in a round robin fashion, taking the time to thank the giver. Breakfast followed, then 11am mass. Once I was old enough, on Christmas Eve, we watched a movie, went to sleep for a couple hours and then woke to attend Midnight Mass. My mother converted to Catholicism after she married my father. My father was the typical pre-Vatican II Catholic, devout, faithful, moral, fell away for early adulthood, returned upon marriage. My extended family is not Catholic. Some are Protestant. Most are not.
Thanksgiving was typically held at my aunt’s house in Redding. Christmas was usually celebrated separate from the day at my uncle’s house outside Santa Cruz. Their house, nestled among redwood trees, with its wood-burning stoves and quiet, wet location, still feels like Christmas to me. The family is small, children are few, and once the children were grown, it seems the demands for tradition dwindled and gradually fell away.
Camping locations changed, different parties hosted different holidays, I grew up and wanted to host as well. What traditions are left?
My father has never denied the existence of Santa Claus. He has neither denied the existence of fairies or little men in refrigerators who turn the light on when you open the door. He has a touch of the poet in him. The thing to understand about poets is that there is a touch of madness and a touch of magic in how they see the world. This makes for beautiful art, whether it is technically correct will require other personality facets.
My mom does not have the touch of the poet in her mind. She is pragmatic and driven. My sister does not have the touch of the poet, she is fact seeking and direct. I have it. The man I married has it. It is the quality about him, along with faith, that I need the most in order to be married to him.
I would never consider it a lie to share with my children the Santa Claus tradition. I think people who think it is a lie, probably, lack the touch of the poet. How do you explain to a cynical society that magic still exists in the world?
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.
Telling children Santa Claus and fairies exist keeps fertile the already fertile soil of a child’s mind for the understanding of angels, the communion of saints, heavenly gates and the Eucharist. It trains their minds in receptivity of spiritual things which we can understand in greater complexity as we grow older.
What are our traditions? My husband and I are developing them. Old movies will be part of it, as will stop motion cartoons. The Advent wreath is important to us. We will maintain a focus on this time as preparation for Christmas, rather than Christmas, but without being so stogy that we can’t also enjoy the things of Christmas now. Advent isn’t Lent after all, though it does demand some penitence on our part in order to truly prepare.
I have the first phase decorations up: winter, Advent, things that reflect warmth and coziness.
On Gaudete Sunday I will hang the stockings, put out the Crèche; we will buy our tree and trim it. On Christmas Eve, a Santa figurine will come out, as will Baby Jesus to complete the Crèche.
This year we attended the Christmas Festival and parade in this little town of ours.
The children met Santa for the first time. They were not yet ready to sit on his lap and tell him their Christmas wishes. But they met him, albeit apprehensively.
Consumerism does not have to define our culture and our practices. Just because every store and advertisement tells me it is Christmas does not mean it really is, just like Charlie Brown taught us.
Religion can drive culture. Families can drive culture as well. It is our intention to be let these factors be part of our family culture. We can’t ignore that consumerism does largely drive the society we live in. We don’t have to let it define us, so we will work with it, not ignore it. Every year this will unfold more and more. I’m so glad to see how it’s shaping up.