My book club is reading Jane Austen this month and the mommy card exchange reminded me vaguely of the calling cards that ladies used to leave. There are tons of free business card templates online....I think I know what I'll be doing this weekend!
Let us love the Child of Bethlehem. Come souls and love a God who has become a Child, poor and so lovable, in need of our tender love, who has come down from heaven to give Himself entirely to you. If we but ask for pardon and salvation, He has come to pardon us and to save us.
-- St. Francis of Assisi
Merry Christmas from our families to yours.
May the peace and joy of the birth of Christ be with you!
All of the pre-Christmas madness came to a grinding halt this weekend as the northeast, and particularly the Philadelphia area, was paralyzed by a massive blizzard. We received 23 inches of snow--2 feet!!!--on Saturday, and the main roads in town are still a mess. (The above photos were taken after only 1 foot fell). The snow started falling at 3am on Saturday, and didn't stop until 4am on Sunday morning. That's 25 hours of snow. Mr. Red went out to shovel 4 times, and thanks to his efforts we were able to dig our car out and head to Mass last night (although I'm still doubting the wisdom of our decision to drive on the roads last night).
One wintry evening Brown Bear
came rushing out of the woods.
The big brown bear smiled. "I have a secret!"
"It's wonderful! It's fantastic! It's shout-out-loud
and jump-for-joy great!"
"What is it?" asked Fox.
"What is this secret that's so great?
Can you eat it?"
"No! No!" said Brown Bear impatiently.
"You wouldn't want to eat it! You'd want to snuffle
and nuzzle it. You'd want to lick it all over from
the top to the bottom and then some more!"
..."My secret isn't cold. Although you might want to wrap
it up warm and hold onto it forever."
..."My secret cannot fly. But I will
throw it up in the air, and when it sails down I'll catch it
in my big strong arms and never let it go."
..."Oh, I'll tuck it under my fur all right." said Brown Bear.
"Don't you worry about that. I'll tuck it, but I'll take it out every
day and just look and look at it because
I won't be able to believe my luck!"
..."It's not just wonderful," said Brown Bear.
"It's FABULOUS. It's so marvelous and magical...
it's miraculous, even..."
The Gasperini-Ville Census came and went the other day and found a little something.
A quite wonderful little something. A 13-week-old secret little something.
And guess who can't wait to hold it in her arms come June? (~June 23rd to be exact!)
I've been holding out on you all a little while and it feels good to finally come clean!! :)
Thanks for rejoicing with us!
If you're looking to start a new Christmas Eve tradition in your home, this tidbit might be of interest to you.
According to this month's Magnificat, the Irish tradition on Christmas Eve involved families preparing a meal for the Holy Family and setting the table with three place settings for them. Afterward, they left the doors unlocked or even wide open and put more wood on the hearth, so the Holy Family would have a place to rest and bless their home. This tradition was especially important to the Irish during the persecution when priests were not allowed to say Mass and Catholics were not able to receive the sacraments except in secret. They placed a candle in the windows of their home to signify to the priests that they were Catholic and that the priest could come in and say Holy Mass. It is said that on Christmas Eve special graces came to them and to all of us.
Today, families in Ireland have simplified the tradition by leaving a tray of cookies and fruit for the Holy Family with a set table of three plates for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Since most of us grew up with setting a plate of cookies for Santa Claus, perhaps this is a great way to replace that tradition with one centered on Christ!
Despite all efforts to avoid the Christmas rush during Advent, it seems that each year I let materialistic concerns--from getting my mailed by a certain date to finding the perfect gift for a niece or nephew--get in the way of what should otherwise be a time to spiritually prepare for the coming of Christ. Mothers have a lot of necessary preparations to do during Advent, but we all must fight against consumerism and other cultural pressures to keep Christ the center of all we do during our Advent preparations. And it is with this in mind that I read this entertaining piece by C.S. Lewis. I laughed out loud. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.
As I sit down to write this post, I am aware that I have some boxes sitting in the front hallway, waiting to be wrapped and hidden before my 5 year-old gets home from school and my 2 year-old wakes up from her nap :) We have been receiving Christmas gifts in the mail for a couple of weeks now - since we don't have any family in town, all gifts need to be shipped. Don't get me wrong, it's not like we have 5 boxes arriving daily, just a couple here and there. But since we lack extra storage space, we're having to get creative with our wrapping and hiding techniques :) My husband is a much better wrapper than I, so thankfully he has pretty much taken over this job. Our children will be delighted with their gifts on Christmas day and I am very grateful for everyone who has been generous enough to send us a gift!
We spend the majority of our time and space on this blog discussing the inception of life-- the baby days, preschool days etc.-- however, this Christmas we are near my 92-year-old grandmother, which has provided me the opportunity to think about life at the other end of the spectrum.
My parents are hosting my three young children and I at their home in San Diego while our Daddy is deployed this holiday season. They live in a cottagey home that is located several blocks away from the Assisted Living Facility in which my grandmother lives. The decision as to whether or not my grandmother needed to be moved into a near-nursing-home-type-thing was an emotional one in the family, but that is not of immediate relevance to this post. I feel that my job, in this less than ideal situation of a woman with failing mental and physical faculties, is to foster as much of a relationship as I can between her and the three great grandchildren that I have brought to town.
So far we have been here for three days, and have visited her twice. My goal was to go every day, but inclement weather sometimes makes it more difficult. We traipse into her small room every afternoon not knowing what to expect. I am filled with complicated adult emotions about whether GeeGee will call my children by the right names or have her blouse buttoned in order to avoid embarrassment. But let me tell you what I learned very quickly - my three children have none of this on their mind. They are thrilled to visit her. Eldest Daughter enjoys the opportunity to write GeeGee notes on her whiteboard, since she has been deaf for the last decade. Middle 2-year-old Boy loves to show off his light-up sneakers and even operate GeeGee's electric chair if no one is paying attention. New Little Guy is happy to be rescued from his plastic bucket and placed into warm, adoring arms, even if we aren't sure she knows who the baby is or from whence he came to be placed in her arms. My three kids explode onto the scene in those hallways full of wheelchairs and walkers, and the eyes glow.
I have spent a great deal of time philosophizing on the meaning of life at its end. We, as Catholics, are committed to defending life from conception until natural death - but things get muddled at either end. Babies are easier to defend and go "ga-ga" over than a woman who cannot control her bodily functions and spends her days going in and out of sleep in front of a television. Nonetheless, my children have, once again, taught me to see with the eyes of a child. This is a soul who prays for all of us. She spends several hours each morning in prayer - and if those prayers are muddled on their way up to Heaven, God sorts them out before they even arrive. Beyond her spiritual life, her remaining time on Earth is teaching my children the value of human connection. Her intrinsic value is obvious to all three of them and they relish the gleam they inspire in her eyes by their mere presence.
I pray that your Christmas Season will be blessed with the love of an old earthly soul and that your children will have the opportunity to bestow the same love on an elderly member of your family - even if it has to be by mail or telephone.
Over the years since my marriage on the Feast of St. Juan Diego, I have developed a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. In New York, I went to her feast mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral one year and it was amazing, lots of people wore shirts or tilmas with her image, there were roses everywhere, and it was a joy to see a busy, secular city, full of lively prayer processions.
Head on over to paperdali and download these terrific OLG and Juan Diego coloring pages, complete with a seperate tilma to color, and your children can do a little play of Our Lady's appearance to this humble Mexican Indian. (hat tip O Night Divine)
Read the Tomie de Paola book, The Lady of Guadalupe, or watch the CCC movie about St. Juan Diego.
And, who needs an excuse for Mexican food for dinner? We will be having enchiladas, followed by cinnamon cookies and hot chocolate, while we trim our tree, which we (and by we I mean my husband) cut down today at a farm down the street from our home!
If you don't get to this today, do a Posada (christmas play) later in the week -- there are paper dolls available for that, too, and have your Mexican food then!
The comments from the last post overwhelmingly voiced a desire to continue the Santa discussion.
I have recently come to realize that this is a more sensitive topic than I thought. I brought it up at my book club last week, the day that I learned my son had told his class Santa was dead and in Heaven. I think I have been a bit naive about the subject, thinking it not so big of a deal. Because of our son's intolerance for large crowds and noise, we tend to stay closer to home at this young age and many of our friends in the area do not do Santa. But, by virtue of his participation in his class, Santa has made his way into our lives. Below my post, you will see Red's family tradition, which does incorporate Santa.
Because of my oldest son's fierce love for truth and justice, I was afraid that telling him Santa wasn't real, even thought other kids believed, would spur him on to a crusade of telling the truth about Santa. So I thought that by downplaying, noting that some people called St. Nicholas Santa Claus, we would gloss over the differences and everyone would be happy. I was wrong. Of course, the problem is that Santa Claus and St. Nicholas are not the same in today's world and I have since told him that some people like to pretend that Santa lives at the North Pole, has flying reindeer etc. I'm not so concerned with the precise historical metamorphosis of St. Nicholas into Santa. But the cartoon Santa with the flying reindeer and toy workshop is not exactly the same at the Bishop of Myra who shared from his own wealth and gave his life in service to the Church.
Let me be clear. I don't hate Santa. I don't think that doing Santa is wrong or bad or misguided. Santa is not an issue of moral absolutes. I do think Santa can be done in a way that does not lose the true meaning of Christmas. We don't forgo Santa as a pious, holier-than-thou act. We don't forgo Santa just because he is secular. Many things we do during the Advent and Christmas season are not overtly religious, but add to the specialness of the season. I am not a theologian or a historian. Just a mom trying to navigate culture, faith and family.
Here are some of the reasons that we do not do Santa, some paraphrased from the discussion our book club had on the subject:
1. We love fantasy. I believe it plays an important role in a child's development emotionally, morally and spiritually. However, I do believe there is a difference between entering into a fairy tale world and having an imaginary character come down your chimney and into your home. For our son with sensory issues there must be a very sharp line between reality and fantasy. I have heard several stories, and some mentioned in the comments, that kids are afraid of a strange man coming into their home at night. This is not an issue with our second son, so I think it depends on the temperament of each child. For our oldest son to feel safe, we must suspend reality and enter into an imaginative world. Knowing that it is pretend allows us the freedom to be imaginative without fear. I am asked 14 times a day if things from Curious George to our mailman are pretend and don't think that all young children are comfortable with a vague understanding or what is and is not real. I don't intend for this to turn into a discussion of the nature of fairy tales and fantasy, just trying to make a distinction.
2. In order to convince our son that Santa was real we would have to lie or come up with an insanely outlandish story to explain everything at the age of 3. A cursory "Santa has some helpers..." would not do the trick in our home. I would be peppered with questions incessantly and Dash would probably insist on trying to go down the chimney himself. When he asked me if Santa was pretend, I told him yes, but that we don't need to tell other kids that. Honestly, Dash is not yet of the age of reason and a stickler for truth and I am afraid that he may tell another child who believes in Santa that Santa is not real, but I can't lie about it. But, after explaining that he is a pretend character, Dash seemed happier to play along with everything, knowing it is all a story. It is not the fact that Santa is secular that makes me refrain...it is having to lie about it. Again, our second son would swallow the Santa tale with a smile on his face and ask no questions. I am okay with pretend characters as long as we call a spade a spade.
3. Santa adds to the consumerism of the Christmas season. The Christmas shopping season that begins in August and ends December 24 is outrageous and over the top. Buy, buy, buy, Get, get get. Questions about Christmas revolve around, "What did you ask Santa for Christmas?" Though, during our discussion, one mother brought up how she likes doing Santa because it allows them to be super generous to their kids without blowing their "frugal facade."
4. I do think that a sense of magic and the miraculous can spur a child on to a deeper understanding of things unseen. However, if a parent has been lying to a child about Santa, then would they not call into question other truths about God and the saints that are being taught? I remember being totally scandalized to learn that Santa was not real. I was riding home from school in the way back seat of a station wagon and Diana and Molly told me that Santa wasn't real. I guarantee you I would not remember those names were it not for that awful day. There are many real miracles in addition to, or course, the Incarnation, to elevate a child's sense of the divine. My children never tire of hearing the story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe all year round.
Why we celebrate St. Nicholas on December 6:
1. It is a feast in the liturgical year. Even though many legends surround what good works the Bishop of Myra did or did not perform, the Church in her wisdom has declared December 6 a day to honor and remember St. Nicholas.
2. Celebrating the lives of the saints is a great way to teach moral lessons. Ours focuses heavily on sharing and generosity, especially with respect to the poor, which ties in very well with the Advent theme of preparation. We can prepare to welcome to baby Jesus into our hearts and homes when we are generous and detached. We usually purchase and wrap our angel tree gifts and try to give some of our extraneous toys/possessions away during this week when we read about St. Nicholas and bake our Speculatius.
3. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, an intercessor and a friend in Heaven.
4. December 25 is Jesus' birthday. We exchange family presents on December 25th in honor of Jesus' birthday and with the other side of the family on January 6, Epiphany, but the focus of the day is celebrating Jesus' birthday. I don't really remember the boys' reactions to opening presents last year, but I do remember them running around to all our nativity scenes to add, finally, baby Jesus. We bake a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.
5. Christmas morning is magical whether or not you do Santa. We enjoy a warm breakfast and hot chocolate, attend mass, sing Christmas carols and share gifts as a family. Joy exudes from each well-prepared heart as we give Jesus the gift our ourself, striving, however imperfectly, for holiness.
A different view from Red:
When I was a young girl, the magic and mystery surrounding Santa Claus was always a special part of Christmas morning. Thanks to my grandparents, both of my parents had strong memories of Santa from their youth, and it was with great joy that they passed that tradition on to me and my siblings.
When I was in first grade, my neighbor and best friend was the daughter of the local baptist pastor. Their family didn't do Santa, and, in fact, they vehemently opposed having Santa as a part of the Christmas tradition. One day, my friend proudly told me that Santa was a lie. I was quite disappointed (and my mother was very irritated!), and I wished my friend hadn't taken it upon herself to end the childhood magic my parents had worked so hard to create. I do remember, however, that I wasn't shocked at the news. I was at the age where I was questioning certain things about Santa (the wrapping paper was a big tip-off for me), but I desperately wanted to believe. I was going to find out sooner or later, but the manner in which my friend broke the news was a sad memory. Fortunately, I have used this memory to form my own approach to Santa with my children.
First, I think it goes without saying that every family is going to have their own Christmas traditions. Extended family situations can get complicated, so even the best intentions for certain family celebrations may be altered to appease disapproving grandparents. In our case, we have found Santa almost impossible to avoid, particularly when it comes to my own extended family and even our local parish! Family Christmas traditions are such great fun, so I think it is important to consider (but not cater to) the feelings of grandparents and extended family members. If we had ditched Santa completely, making a strong break from the way my parents celebrated Christmas with me, and the way their parents celebrated Christmas with them, it would be rather harsh. In addition, if all my siblings and their young ones are celebrating and including Santa, it gets complicated to have our family not participate.
I found great joy believing in Santa as a child, and I do want my children to experience some of that joy. I do think that the magic of Santa helped me to embrace the magic and mystery of my Catholic faith. At the same time, however, I want to avoid my children having a moment like the one I had with my baptist friend. So I have instituted the following guidelines for Santa:
1. We make it very clear that Christmas is about Jesus, and the character of Santa exists because Jesus is so special that he wants all of us to have gifts on his birthday. Our children get three gifts because that is what Jesus received from the 3 wise kings.
2. I do not lie to my children. We read books about Santa, and we talk about the story of Santa. We explain that St. Nicholas was a real person, a Saint, who lived and served the poor. Santa Claus is a modern character in the spirit of St. Nicholas. Santa is like Elmo. I read books about Elmo and we talk about Elmo--and we even go to Sesame Place where Elmo "lives." I don't feel the need to explain that Elmo is really just a weird man wearing a big suit. At some point, this will become obvious, or my kids may ask, and then I will explain fully that Elmo is just pretend and what they see is really just a man in a suit. I do not tell my children that Santa is coming to our house and bringing them presents. I do say, "there will be presents under the tree on Christmas morning" and my kids let me know that Santa will put them there! Last year Gianna asked me if Santa was dead (similar to the conversation Texas Mommy had with Dash). I went so far as to tell her that Santa was a character like Elmo, whereas St. Nicholas was a real person. I thought she understood, but immediately afterward she asked how Santa would get into our house because we don't have a chimney! The line between real and make-believe is very faint for a young child, and I think as long as that line is faint, it is great to pretend in regards to Santa. Once the line starts to make more sense, I think the truth is important. I do think that belief in things like Santa, and fantasy in general, helps lay the foundation for a lifelong belief in God. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out--belief in God is belief in the ultimate mystery.
3. Santa is not a big part of our Christmas celebration. We do not go out of our way to "visit" Santa. We do not write him letters asking for things (I have a general aversion to children getting greedy at Christmas). We do not leave cookies for Santa. We do not sign the gifts from Santa, rather, certain gifts are from mom and dad while others have no tag. Not doing some of these things tones it down a bit, and helps to keep us focused on Christ. I have found it to be a nice balance and it helps us to avoid the materialistic nature of Santa. The kids know about and believe in the tradition of Santa, but it isn't overwhelming.
4. When a child is asking questions and the line between pretend and make believe is gaining clarity, I plan to tell them the truth about Santa, and then solicit their help in pretending for the younger children. I will also share with them the importance of respect, and that they should never go about and tell other children that Santa is pretend or a lie--this is both mean and disrespectful of the parenting choices of other people. The age at which we plan to have this conversation with our children depends upon their individual personalities. Some kids may want to outgrow their fantasy world at the age of 6, while other children may be 8 or 9 before they start to figure it all out. I have head of quite a few kids who never even need to talk to mom and dad about Santa, but instead just play right along for the benefit of the younger ones--and maybe even mom and dad!
4. We do not celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. It is impossible to celebrate every feast of the church in our home, and to be honest, with the already hectic nature of Advent, St. Nicholas just doesn't make our list. Each family has to choose some feast days to recognize and others to let go. At present, we haven't felt a strong desire to foster this devotion, but I think it is great that Texas Mommy and some of the other builders celebrate this feast in such a special way.
I hesitate to state the obvious, but please keep all comments civil and refrain from personal attacks!! I now realize that this is a sensitive topic. Of course, we can be very emotional about wanting our children to experience joy and excitement during this time of year. I pray that this post has not put anyone on the defensive. If it has, please email me separately.
Our son recently began participating in a preschool class for a few special little guys. At our initial meeting with the teacher, she asked me if we "did Santa" since Christmas was coming up since they were planning some Santa crafts. I told her that, while we didn't really do Santa, we did celebrate St. Nicholas, who leaves little presents at our home on December 6th.
To prepare our son for "Santa" I simply told him that some people in America call Saint Nicholas Santa Claus (we noted how similar they sounded) and that sometimes they didn't get gifts on St. Nicholas day.
When I dropped him off last week, his teacher leaned into my car and told me the kids were talking about how Santa lives at the North Pole. Dash corrected them immediately announcing,
"Santa doesn't live at the North Pole. Santa's dead. He's in Heaven now."
She told me in all her years of teaching she had never heard that! Seeing my horrified look that my son had just unintentionally scandalized 4 of the sweetest little kids, she assured me that she changed the subject immediately and no one really understood what he was talking about!
Labels: kids say
"No, when it comes to salvation, we are all nothing but beggars. We are the needy. It is we for whom the tiny bell rings at the gate of heaven. It is our name that hangs limp on the Tree of Life. It is we who wait and hope that someone will turn in our direction this Christmas, not leave us bereft and empty-handed while the rest of the world rejoices. It is we who beg for the gift-the gift of salvation, the gift of eternal value.
Let us wait with the anticipation of a child unsure of whether there will a gift for him. Let us beg with the zeal of one who is truly hungry. Let us lift feeble hands up to heavens, without assurance that they will be filled, in the blind faith driven by desperation."
If you had been spending too much time on the computer already, tinkering with photos, if you had given in to the afternoon blahs and had a cup of coffee, if your husband called to let you know he was working late, if he called again to let you know he had decided to skip the commute and sleep at your mother's, if you were approaching your routine monthly week of insomnia anyway, if all of these things were happening to you, you might find yourself blogging in a quiet house at 1 am, acknowledging that anyone in their right mind who lived in a house with six children would sleep anytime they slept, and you would be awfully glad that your children were going to spend the next morning at a pajama themed birthday party, meaning that they do not have to get dressed and also will not be here to experience the grumpiness, if all of these things were happening, it just might be worth it to find this Chesterton quote:
The only explanation people had was that a being called Santa Claus was somehow kindly disposed toward him. “We believed,” he wrote, that a certain benevolent person “did give us those toys for nothing. And ... I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea.
“Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.
“Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dolls and crackers, now I thank him for stars and street faces and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.
“Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic good will.”
There is free shipping at Shutterfly right now, if anyone has digital printing to get done, enter code SHIP25. I have been uploading my photos, hoping to order some prints for some long overdue baby books -- they make great 2nd birthday presents, right?
Please pray for my friend and her family! What a lucky little girl!
Since I promised to be accountable to the readers of this blog, here is the post-race update. I think my husband enjoyed nothing more than flipping on the lights at the crack of dawn Thanksgiving morning to say, "Rise and shine, it's 30 degrees outside!" Mornings and cold are two of my least favorite things and he knows it! After putting on 4 layers and two pairs of gloves and downing a hot cup of coffee, we bundled the protesting children in foreign objects otherwise known as coats and gloves (we don't wear these in Texas) and headed out.
My feet were numb for the first mile, but I thought of my 4 year old who said with confidence that Daddy would run faster because he has longer legs. I rallied and came in just over 23 minutes for the 3 mile course (ahead of my long-legged husband). Hardly a PR, but not as embarrassing as I was worried it may be.
More importantly, I have found a way to add exercise into my weekly routine for my sanity and health's sake. I have fallen in love with running all over again. While I am confined to the treadmill at this stage of my life, I can still get the endorphins flowing and a stress relieving break.