Despite being from the same faith, my husband and I come from families who celebrated Christmas quite differently. This has meant we needed quite a lot of discussion to figure out what Christmas means to us as a new family unit. Depending on how widely your backgrounds differ, it can be a bit of a minefield to navigate for new parents.
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My mother-in-law is Dutch, and this heritage has strongly influenced her approach to Christmas. Christmas Eve was quite special, attending midnight services when the kids were old enough. Christmas Day was more about being together than presents, and therefore low-key. From an early age, my husband and his brother were told the truth about Santa, and viewed him like any other fictional character.
My family LOVED Christmas. It was a big deal in our house – lots of decorations, advent calendars, learning about how Christmas was celebrated in other countries, carols, the works. It’s still my favourite time of the year. As Christians my parents taught us that Christmas was a celebration of Jesus’ birth, but we still did Santa and Christmas stockings (actually, we had pillowcases – my brother and I thought this was genius as you could fit more in!). Christmas Day meant a lovely dinner with all the trimmings, with our extended family.
So you can see we had quite different Christmases!
My husband did not want to ‘do’ Santa with our children, and I am absolutely fine with that. We agreed that we didn’t want to go overboard with gifts for the children. The idea of buying kids super-expensive gifts for Christmas grates with me, and I hope that my kids will eventually learn that there is so much more to Christmas than presents. Having said that, I don’t want my kids to miss out on the joy of waking up to a stocking of presents on Christmas morning, so they are getting them, albeit in the knowledge that the gifts are from Mum and Dad. Sausage is getting a few inexpensive things in her stocking like a calendar with baby animals, a marshmallow Santa, and whiteboard markers (which she will not be able to get into without adult help!).
I read about a family who give their children three main presents like the Wise Men gave Jesus, so we’re going with that idea. For her three presents she is getting:
- A blackboard/whiteboard, which we got at a half price sale for $25.
- A playhouse – admittedly I only got this as it closely resembles one I had as a child. My brother and I spent many happy hours playing in that thing! Cost – $25.
- A book called Lulu’s Loo, as we are about to start toilet training. Eloise has another Lulu book, and they are absolutely delightful, and also totally spot-on when it comes to what little girls like. Cost $14.
Chipolata is getting a cool polished wood turtle toy from Trade Aid ($25) and a book ($9). He’s four and a half months old. He’ll be more happy with some paper and some tinsel, but these are gifts he can grow into.
That’s actually more money than I would have liked to have spent, but I just could not go past that playhouse. I know it will get used. Next year all our presents for the kids will be handmade, as we are doing a spending fast.
My Dad gave Sausage a chocolate Advent calendar, which has been very helpful at building her anticipation of Christmas day. Now it is empty, I will take off the cardboard and save the chocolate moulds to make Christmas chocolates with her next year. I will definitely be making an advent calendar for her next year – perhaps one with decorations to put on the tree.
Tonight we started our first Christmas Eve tradition – home made pizza, and a movie. My brother’s wife passed away this year, so he joined us, and I hope he will be a part of this tradition in the years to come. We watched The Polar Express, which Sausage enjoyed quite a lot. I did have to fast-forward through the slow-moving sections, but we still got the gist of the movie.
On Christmas day we will have a simple breakfast (although I will miss my Mum’s amazing pancakes…), let Sausage open her presents from us and then we are hosting lunch at our house with our extended family.
If your tots are ‘newly minted’ like mine, here are my tips for creating your own Christmas traditions:
- Start off small. Particularly if your kids are under two, they won’t remember what you did when next Christmas rolls around. There’s no need to go the whole hog with Santa photos, driving around to look at the Christmas lights, Carols by Candlelight etc. Park those for later years when they will actually be appreciated.
- Keep presents few and simple. Tots get overwhelmed quite easily, so showering them with gifts will most likely send them into overdrive. A friend said her three year old was given lots of gifts by his grandparents last year. He unwrapped the first one (a set of toy cars) and was so enamoured with that present, the rest were totally ignored. This year his grandparents are keeping it simple and giving one gift only.
- If you know your children will get lots of gifts from friends and relatives anyway, stagger them. Let your children open presents received before Christmas early, or save them for later on in the Christmas break when boredom threatens to sink in. Give your own gifts to them first thing in the morning if you are meeting with family later in the day. Ask relatives in attendance if they mind your tot opening their present another day (although most people want to see their little faces when they open them, quite understandable!).
- Choose traditions that will grow with your children. Even as a jaded teenager, I still loved watching cheesy Christmas movies and singing carols. Post-dinner Charades and Santa photos? Probably not top of the list for teens.
- Choose traditions that respect your family’s beliefs and heritage. D and I are fortunate in that we are both Christians. but many couples come from different faith or atheist backgrounds. This may mean compromise if one of you wants Santa and/or Christmas, while the other doesn’t. There is always a middle ground if you can get creative. We ‘do’ St Nicholas on December 6th in homage to my husband’s Dutch heritage (albeit very low-key), and my daughter really loves her books about him – although the other day she saw a picture of Santa and said ‘There’s Jesus!’, so clearly we still have some work to do, separating St Nick from the Jesus story!
I’d like to leave you with some words from one of my favourite carols “I heard the bells on Christmas Day“:
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Merry Christmas everyone!