Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas Wish List: Happy Kids!

I don't know any parent whose wish list is substantially different from that. All we want for Christmas is happy children. Well, yes, we also want world peace (as long as we don't have to personally see to it), financial stability and health for all concerned. But if the kids are happy that's pretty much all we ask. Someone pointed out recently that Christmas just doesn't have the same magic that it did when we were kids. You never get anything that really thrills you, unless you have incredibly rich spouse who leaves a luxury car topped with a bow in your driveway. In which case you probably already have everything you could want or need, anyway. Well shoot, everything is supposed to be more fun for kids! Whether it's playing little league, losing your tooth, going to an amusement park, learning to ride a bike, anticipating your birthday...why should Christmas be any different? From a worldly perspective, of course. Spiritually Christmas ought to add meaning with every passing year. I will have to say that for kids of the age of mine (4 and 6), no matter how hard we try to emphasize the "Jesus' Birthday" thing, it is really not much more than a technicality to them. Jesus is one lucky kid, who gets to have his birthday on Christmas Day. So he can get presents! I had to actually explain that Jesus came first, followed by Santa. Sort of like the chicken and the egg, never mind Happy Meals or the frying pan. I don't really worry that the Santa Concept will undermine their future religious faith. Some claim that once they learn that "Santa is a lie" or at best, a parental exaggeration on par with "you'll never grow if you don't eat your vegetables," then they will conclude every fantastic-sounding thing we've ever told them is false. Such as the existence of God and a heavenly afterlife. My plan is to retire all the fictional characters at the same time. The moment Santa is unmasked is the day we eliminate the Elves, cage the Tooth Fairy, shoot the Easter Bunny, bury the Groundhog and smash the Great Pumpkin. I may even reveal there is no all-seeing cop who will cart us off to jail instantly if he EVER SEES ANYONE WITH AN UNBUCKLED SEAT BELT. My 4- and 6-year-old are really worried about having to eat jail food, and they often discuss what would be served there and what it might taste like. Personally I believed in Santa 'til I was maybe eight, and it never caused me to have any religious doubts. That's for later when you realize bad things happen to good people! The Book of Job in case anyone forgot. What's more perplexing is why "good" things happen to bad people! Who the heck made Herod king? Anyway, Hubby and I got our wish this year, as each kid was thrilled with the whole Christmas experience, and they were even on good behavior at Mass. (The 4-year-old fell asleep, which is about as good as it gets.) Some of our more successful endeavors were as follows: making a deliberate effort to see some great local light displays. They had a listing in the paper of some spectacularly ostentatious ones, complete with lighted figures on rooftops, gyrating animations, colors everywhere. So I mapped out a route which took us to half a dozen or so great sights, along with a very large mobile home park where about 90 percent of the residents decked out in a major way, attended by Santa and Mrs. Claus giving out candy at the exit. It took about half an hour to get all the way through, and I'm certain the location is visible to astronauts orbiting the earth. The 4-year-old was sputtering his praise, "This was good! This was beautiful! This was wonderful! This was generous!" (He's sort of like an automated synonym-finder at this age.) We also took advantage of an early Thanksgiving by decorating the weekend BEFORE. This allowed us to schedule two holiday parties, one the weekend after Thanksgiving (for friends) and another a couple weeks later (for work people who are also friends). We always invite people with their kids so no one has to worry about sitters, and our kids are thrilled to have the company. However they always enjoy the children so much that they want them to come right back the next day! Hubby's outrageous display of Santas, nutcrackers and funky villages is the visual centerpiece of all this. Naturally I am more concerned about having enough food, including something kids will eat. (chocolate santas! pretzels!) The week before Christmas my mother sent us some seeds for grass for the kids to grow for the Baby Jesus. The idea is that we're growing it so we have fresh hay for his manger when he arrives. The kids really like this in a horticultural sense, watering it with great glee each morning. It grew quite tall in only a week! This was another way to keep them focused on the "Jesus coming" aspect of the holiday. I want to thank my friend Katrena for alerting us to Northpole.com, a fabulous site that has anything a kid (or parent) could want to make your holiday preparations complete! This site allowed us to email Santa, which both kids did. They anxiously checked their email box (available right on the site) every couple hours. It took him more than a day to reply, but they were thrilled! They were able to read and personalize stories, play Christmasy (and educational) games, print out coloring sheets and puzzles, find out deep background information on Santa. We visite Mrs. Claus' kitchen and picked out a cookie recipe for us to all make together. There was a huge selection, but we settled on "angel crisps" because my 6-year-old studied them all and decided this one didn't have any ingredients he objected to. Hubby then had the brilliant idea of purchasing two "calls from Santa" on Ebay. Yes, I suppose you could have a relative do it, but it's hard to disguise your voice for five minutes. And this "Santa" (from Nevada) was great! He had a real Santa voice, and you could call him up and get his answering machine and leave messages. Hubby and I had to fill out a questionnaire about the kids. When he called the caller ID read "Santa: North Pole." I have to say the kids' jaws both dropped when they realized they were talking to Santa. Santa chitchatted knowledgeably about their lives, asking about their teachers, my 6-year-old's lost teeth (even claiming he sent an elf to help the tooth fairy find the tooth he lost on the playground!), complimented them on doing their chores and flossing. We put Santa on speakerphone so I taped the whole thing. Well worth the ten bucks per call, in my opinion. Santa did a fantastic job! On Christmas Eve we tracked Santa's progress around the globe on the site's NORAD satellite Santa Tracker. It was cool! You could see on the map where he was. You want to start early in the day when he's still in Japan and keep checking back every so often as he hits various countries. There are live reports and on location sightings as he flies past local landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower. When he got to Brazil I warned the kids we'd better get them to sleep! We sprinkled the reindeer food on the front lawn before ushering them to their beds. Hubby pretty much bought and arranged all of their toys this year. (He was better about not getting things that come with 3oo PIECES.) I made the hot cocoa that we sent out for Santa, along with a plate of angel crisps. I'm also in charge of the stocking stuffers. In addition to chocolate Santas they each get Christmas pencils, two toothbrushes, floss, chapstick, math flashcards and dice. I don't know why the dice. Maybe because we were always losing the dice to board games when I was a kid, so I'm compensating. So for any adults who feel like they have lost the magic of Christmas, you really need to spend it in the presence of children. Jesus is the reason for the season, yes, but children are the reason for the toys. Without Santa we'd have no toys. Without Jesus we'd have no love. Someday the children will realize which aspect is expendable and which is not, and when they do, they will never lose the magic of this Holy Day.

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