Saturday, December 22, 2012

What Christmas Was

This morning I was in the kitchen cleaning and making coffee while my daughter sat at the dining room table drawing. She was asking me about my Christmas when I was a little girl. She'd forgotten about how I'd told her last year that I did not get to have Christmas as a child, or any other holidays due to my mother's religion. She asked, "Didn't you get a birthday cake? Didn't anyone even tell you happy birthday? What about a Christmas tree? Didn't Santa come to your house?" So I started telling her some little things I remembered.

On my birthday every year, I'd wake up and think, "I'm a year older now." I'd go to the kitchen and pour myself some cereal. No one said happy birthday. No, there was never a cake, or candles. No presents and no parties. It was just another day and when I went to bed that night I'd remind myself that I was older... 7, not 6. Or 8, not 7.

No, Santa didn't come to my house. My mother didn't let him.

I remember one time when I was about 6 or 7, when the art teacher at school said she had a special project for us to do. Everyone was excited as she passed out the red construction paper and big puffy white cotton balls. There was a picture of Santa's face on the paper, and we were to glue the cotton balls on his beard and the rim of his hat. The kids were jumping up and down, excited for the holiday project. I remember how sick I felt in the pit of my stomach. I was so worried. I was not allowed to make pictures of Santa ("Santa" is just "Satan" with the letters switched around, my mother said) but if I didn't do the art project I would get a zero. I was a shy and quiet child, self-conscious and embarrassed as I approached my art teacher as quietly as I could and whispered to her, "I'm not allowed." Thank goodness for her kind response, as she went to get a sheet of blue paper, drew a snowman on it, and happily told me to glue the cotton balls on it to make snow instead. "You're allowed to do snowmen, aren't you?" Yes, I was. Kids did notice mine was different, but at least I wasn't getting a zero.

There were the times I went to school when I knew in the afternoon there would be a Christmas party in each classroom. First grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade... every year I went to school and had a usual morning aside from the other children being filled with anticipation. And then, suddenly around 1:00 Santa would burst into the classroom with a hearty "HO HO HO!" and a bag of toys. All the children would leap from their desks and run to greet him as the teacher put on Christmas music. This was my cue to go out in the hallway, past Santa and the joyful children, and sit on a hard classroom chair, staring at the art-covered wall across from me and listening to the sounds of happiness coming from every class. Mothers would walk past me, bringing Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses to the children. Santa would sometimes stop to speak to me on his way out, but I'd avert my eyes and hang my head. I'd pray and ask Jehovah to be proud of me for doing the right thing. I'd sit there for an hour while my classmates unwrapped presents from Santa and from the class gift exchange, and then as everyone went to get their coats and hats to go home, I'd get up and join them. Their faces had hints of colored frosting and they clutched candy canes in their fists as they chattered about what they'd be getting for Christmas. They'd go home to their decorated houses and lit Christmas trees and wrapped presents and I'd go home to a mother eating potato chips in front of the TV in the decidedly unfestive-looking living room.

Of course, I didn't tell my daughter all these details. I did tell her about what the other kids got. I did tell her I never had a tree, got a present, made an ornament, made Christmas cookies. And although I feel like I've been "over" it for a long, long time and am very thankful for the joy I have every year with my own children, I suddenly felt tears welling up in my eyes for that little girl who stood quietly and stared at her shoes whenever any strangers in the store would say "Merry Christmas" to her. Sometimes they'd even ask "what do you want Santa to bring you this year? Have you been good?" And as my mother had taught me, I'd respond, "We don't celebrate." And I'd keep staring at my shoes.

For a long time, I think I was trying to sort of make up for all of that by going really overboard with the Christmas baking. Yeah, I know it is not all about the cookies, but for many years I would bake and bake and bake, and I'd indulge in as much as I wanted. I could have it now... all of it. But you know, eating all those Christmas cookies as an adult didn't take away how I felt as a child. It didn't fix anything or make it better. What made it better was finally talking about it, mainly here on my blog but also to trusted friends, and acknowledging the pain that I stuffed down as a child. What helps me now is knowing I *can* celebrate, not only Christmas but anything I want. When we make cookies and gingerbread houses, I don't need to eat them anymore. I don't need to have a candy cane and a frosted sugar cookie to make me feel better now. I enjoy baking with the kids, we have fun together, and the experience is enough to fill me. I do not need to fill myself with actual cookies to be okay.

I am very thankful for all I enjoy with my children. Some of the happiest moments for me have been choosing gifts for them, decorating the tree with handmade ornaments, putting out the porcelain nativity set with my daughter carefully cradling baby Jesus in her hands, hanging the stockings on the fireplace, putting up garland, going to a Christmas concert at a church, seeing a live nativity together, making crafts, and visiting Santa and his (real) reindeer. The baking is fun too, but it's not all about the food anymore. It's about time together, traditions, and love.


Anonymous said...

I've always been very careful with my children and holidays so that they didn't feel odd and that the holidays were joyful rather than what you describe.

Not that I'm a Jehovah's Witnesws, but I did refuse to lie to my children about the existence of Santa Claus and was very clear that Christmas was the celebration of Jesus' birthday.

We have real bakery-bought birthday cake every Christmas that says "Happy Birthday, Jesus" on it---and, yes, we all sing "happy birthday" to Him. :)

I told them that Santa was not a live person in such a way that they didn't believe me. chuckle. They were quite sure that I was mistaken.

I told them that Santa was a fun thing just like Big Bird and Mickey Mouse. Of course, they were still fairly certain that big Bird and Mickey Mouse were 'real' at the time, so I just got the look that even 3 year olds can give when they think an adult is being terribly silly.

I never pressed my point. We hung stockings on the fireplace empty and they were full on Christmas morning. A nice decoration. A fun thing. Belief in Santa was not necessary to enjoy that tradition anymore than believing that big Bird is real to enjoy Sesame Street.

Sadly, it has just occurred to me that it is not necessary to believe in Jesus to enjoy CHRISTmas, either. uh-hmm. Moving on from there.

When the boys were old enough that they realized that Santa was not real--they also knew something else: Mom had not lied to them.

The additional benefit, of course, was that they weren't terribly disappointed of dismayed. The dawning realization was just that and not a devastating revelation for which they were not ready.

I have this on my mind because my 5 year old granddaughter was here Wednesday and Santa came up. I said, "I dunno. I don't think Santa is real."

She was shocked that I would say such a thing and said, "Oh, he is, Nana, he is real!" I again, replied. "ohhh, I don't think he is. I think he's just like Mickey Mouse."

They had just been to Disney World in October, so Kenna loudly responded. "Mickey Mouse is real, too, Nana. And he lives in Florida! I got his autograph."

As I was laughing, she went on to tell me about all of the other autographs she got of real people--the princesses and Daisy Duck, and others.

So, like her father before her, she thinks I am quite mistaken and silly. And, like her father, when she discovers the truth, she'll know that Nana didn't lie to her. Not about Santa--and not about Jesus, either.

I'm glad you've been able to undo some of the disappointment you experienced by making Christmas happy for your own children.



Taryl said...

We don't do anything Santa related in our homeschool for similar reasons - I will not lie to the kids or conflate Jesus' birthday with a made up soft drink marketer. That doesn't mean we don't celebrate Christmas, but we just do it with our religious observations at the fore and not the commercial ones :). I'm with you 100% right there.

Lyn said...

I think it's fine to handle Santa however you are most comfortable. My kids have all enjoyed the magical tradition of Santa, and none of them were traumatized when they were old enough to decide there was no red-suited guy coming down our chimney. It's been a lot of fun for us! And I have never lied to my kids, just to be clear. The Santa story is not something I taught as fact, and neither do any of the other parents I've been friends with. It is still fun to go talk to the guy in the red suit at the mall :)

Jeanette said...

Just a little side note to Deb: Santa WAS a live person with historical roots, Saint Nicholas. He lived about 400 years after Jesus. Even if you don't pretend he is a red suited dude who comes down your chimney... he is based in the same religious and historical roots as Christ :)

Anonymous said...


I am aware of the historical origins of Santa Claus.

But that is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about--just to be clear--helping one's children to believe that the presents under their tree today are from the red-suited dude.

When the children are older and the magical Santa, we explained the origins of Santa re: St. Nicholas.

Did you really think I didn't know about St. Nicholas? Really?

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should get back to talking about weight loss... not how great family is and the historical origins of Santa.

Anonymous said...

Whenever you talk about your past, Lyn, I feel so so sad for that little girl. You are an incredible woman to have worked your way through all your history and have come out on the other side. Enjoy your Christmas, you deserve it. Love from Julie in Australia.

LHA said...

Lyn, I can totally understand your fascination with baking, decorating and celebrating Christmas and other holidays. Your childhood has presented you with some challenges that others of us do not have. I'm glad you feel you are "over" it but I know that you still remember what it felt like to be that little girl. I am also sure that some of the food rituals of Christmas have special meaning and also special difficulties for you in relation to weight and health issues. Good for you for offering your children a different approach. We all want our children to have the things we missed out on ourselves, whatever those things might be.

Wishing all of you happy holidays, in whatever way (if any) you choose to celebrate the season. May we all make good progress on our journey to good health and happiness this year. Lyn, thanks for such an inspiring and personal blog.

Becca said...

Very well written and heartfelt. I am glad that you shared. I did not have a normal, functioning family. I am married to a man whose parents have been married for 60 years. I have a hard time with normal, happy, stable families and traditions. But we all do what feel is right for us and those that we love. I get what you wrote, right at my heart.

Merry Christmas to you and your children. All the best for 2013!

h2oratt said...

I also have sad memories of Christmas
Always feel that I don't quite measure up
I think my mom felt the same I am sure that's what I learned as a little girl

Anonymous said...

For goodness sakes. I wasn't trying to be judgmental at all. Wasn't feeling judgmental.

I'm sorry, Lyn, if my comment came off that way to you.

I was just trying to express, adn apparently doing it badly, that one can avoid endorsing the whole Santa thing without ruining Christmas for one's children.

I felt badly for you as a child, and badly that your mom, while trying to be faithful, did damage instead. I was just saying that it didn't have to be that way. sheesh.

Lyn, I meant to put this in my second comment, but some of the words fell out somehow. I did not mean to say that I thought you were lying to your children.

I have no idea how you handle Christmas specifically--I only know how your mom did and it was that which I was addressing. I can see how you might have taken my comment as carrying a veiled accusation to you. Again, that was not my intention.

I am confident that you are doing your best to give your children the Christmas you wish you had experienced as a child.

And, Anonymouse, can you call someone judgmental without being guilty of having judged them yourself? There was a purposeful slap in your comment to me. My comment carried no such thing. If a slap was felt, it was due to faulty communication on my part--not intention. It is commendable that you jumped to the defense of your friend, but you judged my heart and judged it wrongly.

Again, Lyn, I do sincerely apologize if you felt I was being critical of you. That was not my intention at all.

I just closed my blog down a few days ago with the intention of leaving Blogland. sigh. I should have stopped while I was ahead.


Anonymous said...

To Deb:

"Sadly, it has just occurred to me that it is not necessary to believe in Jesus to enjoy CHRISTmas, either. uh-hmm. Moving on from there."

That's correct -- it's not. And it's a free country, and not all are religious, nor Christian. Yet they are still allowed to celebrate holidays in whatever fashion they choose.

Lyn said...


I'm not offended. I'll be sorry to see your blog go. Even if I don't share all your beliefs, your faith has been helpful to me over the years and I thak you for that, especially your prayers. I'll be sad to see your blog go.

There were actually several more anonymous comments about Santa and religion that I decided not to let through because they were a bit too inflammatory and I don't want to see a big religious/personal debate going in the comments with people getting hurt. I hope we can all be kinder to one another especially in this season of giving.

Claire said...

I just wanted to say that I read Lyn's post yesterday and did feel very sorry for that little girl. It was very thoughtful post. I also really enjoyed reading Deb's comment. One great thing about posts like these is you get to see other's perspectives I enjoyed both very much.

Marie said...

I love that you were vulnerable with your daughter. For her to see that you were once a little girl who had a very hard time is good for her; because she can see you now, too, and see that you are ok.

I am so sorry about what you went through.

Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

My heart hurts for how you grew up. But how wonderful we can create traditions and memories with our children. As always, love and prayers to you Lyn. And wishes for a very Merry Christmas!!

Anonymous said...

I had wonderful Christmasses as a child and feel so badly that yours were a nightmare for a tiny child to bare. When I found out there was no Santa, I was devastated at first. However, my sisters and I continued to enjoy Christmas.

I couldn't lie to my children as I had been lied to. We observed the religious holiday, but had gifts and a tree. I explained that Santa represented St. Nicolas and they accepted that very well. It was such a wonderful time for them.