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Christmas at our house

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you had a peaceful Christmas.

Despite going into Christmas quite mindfully – thanks to running an Advent study at my church – the lead up to Christmas was still all hustle and bustle.  There is simply just too much happening in December.    Every single organisation I am part of had a Christmas party.  Every single one.  I eschewed some, and went to others out of a sense of obligation – which I thoroughly intend to stop doing this year.  I have nothing against Christmas parties, I swear; I just wish that some of these groups would think “Hmmm, December is a loco time of year for most people.  Let’s have a welcome back party in the New Year instead!”

There were some great Christmas moments though: watching Sausage in the Nativity play, Sausage really getting the Christmas story this year, going carolling through the streets with my church, celebrating D’s new business with his business partner and family, gathering together with friends on Christmas Eve to reflect on the birth of Christ, and filling up the sacks I’d made my tots with gifts.

 

D spent the last bit of Christmas Eve doing this:

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A wonderful Christmas gift from Nang-Nang and Grandpa

…while I waited for the children to finally go to sleep so I could sneak in with their presents.  Christmas morning was a blur of wonder and delight for our children.

The trampoline has been hugely exciting and I’m not sure who enjoys it more – the kids or me! (Such a good workout.)

As always with children, here’s what else has provided great entertainment:

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Yes, that’s right. The box a gift came in.

We enjoyed having friends visit for several days and saw in the New Year with them, which involved a BBQ and a hotly contested board game.  The weather was gorgeous, the company par excellence, and the rambunctious, happy children running around our backyard completed the recipe for a great New Year’s Eve.

 

Happy 2016, from my house to yours.

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Advent for Toddlers

I’ve been running an Advent study at my church.  I couldn’t find any resources online that were quite what I was looking for so I developed my own.  The upside of this is I am approaching Advent much more mindfully than I usually do.

Last Christmas I was just emerging out of the reflux baby fog when it was like blam!  Christmas is here!  I felt that I hadn’t prepared my toddler properly.  I didn’t even teach her any Christmas carols, and other than reading a few nativity-related stories she ended up being a little confused as to what Christmas was all about.  Was it Jesus who left her a stocking at the end of her bed?

This year is going to be different.  Here’s a round-up of what we will be doing:

  • Learn Christmas carols.  We’ve already started playing Christmas music at our house, and I’m playing a mix of traditional Christian carols, and more modern songs like ‘Jingle Bells’.  Sausage is picking up the songs quickly, and Chip currently loves to spin around and around to ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’.
  • Celebrate St Nicholas Day (Dec. 6).  There is Dutch heritage in our family, so this is a nice nod to that.  We don’t do Santa, but I am happy for my kids to learn about St Nicholas who was a real, and inspiring person.  Our tots will wake up to a few chocolate coins in their shoes in memory of St Nicholas.  (We tell them the coins are from us by the way.)
  • Open an advent calendar every day.  Growing up my brother and I took turns opening our calendar.  It was hugely exciting, and after a few years I figured out that if I opted to go second, I would be the one who got to open the double doors on Christmas Eve.  Oh the anticipation!  Anyway, I have a beautiful calendar from Germany which will do the job nicely.
  • Read from the bible and make a simple craft each day.  I really love this idea.  Sausage and I will be doing this while Chip sleeps, as he wouldn’t a) sit still to read more than a page of story and b) will want to eat the crafts.  Now I can understand that doing a craft or activity EVERY day may seem rather overwhelming, but these crafts are seriously simple.  Most of the supplies I have to hand, and my hope is that they will help solidify some of the messages in the Bible readings.
  • Light an advent wreath.  We have a wreath with different coloured candles: green for hope, yellow for joy, red for love, blue for peace, and white representing Christ.  Show me a toddler who doesn’t like candles.  No really, show me.
  • Buy a present for a less fortunate child.  Oh man, if there is one thing I want my kids to know, is how blessed they are.  They have it so good, compared with many other kids.  Sausage is not quite three, so there’s a limit to how much she will actually understand, but I plan to chat about some children not getting presents at Christmas, and will take her to choose a gift for a little girl like her.  I’m guessing Paw Patrol will win on the day…
  • Make gifts for others.  The other thing I want my kids to know is how good it is to GIVE.  We will make some very simple and frugal gifts (cookies etc) to give to some friends, family and their play group leaders.  We’re also going to make our own wrapping paper and cards this year.

 

This may seem like a long list, but most of these things either don’t happen every day, or don’t take more than an afternoon to complete.

At 16 months, Chip obviously won’t be so involved, but I’m sure he will enjoy eating chocolate coins, singing carols and watching us light the candles.

My tips for celebrating Advent with toddlers are:

  • Keep it simple.  An advent calendar, a decent story book on the nativity story, and a simple carol like Silent Night are all that’s needed if your December looks frazzling already.  Christmas doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be filled with all the bells and whistles that our consumerist society says it should.
  • Get good books and a decent kid’s Bible.  This is true for children’s literature in general, but wow, some children’s books are appalling.  With many Christian books aimed at toddlers, the language is often too advanced (try explaining what a prophetic dream is to your toddler!  This was in a book about Joseph and his coloured coat…) or the concepts are too complex.  We love the Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers, and the Jesus Storybook Bible is also highly recommended.   Both my tots love Scripture Union’s Christmas Bible Storybook.  Hands down, their books win my award for Most Appropriate Use of Language.

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  • Don’t be too ambitious.  Your toddler isn’t going to grasp that Christmas isn’t all about the presents for a while.  But now is the perfect time to create giving traditions so that they become a natural part of Christmas for your child.
  • Play to your child’s strengths.  If your child loves books, read the Bible and other Christmas books to them.  If they love crafts, make some Advent crafts.  If your kid won’t sit still for more than five seconds, make a game of tossing a ball to each other to count the days left until Christmas.

 

Wishing you peace, love and fun as we move into Advent.

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ANZAC Day: forgiveness and reconciliation

This is an excerpt from the sermon I gave at my church last ANZAC day.  It was very well received, and if you are someone who struggles to reconcile your faith with a day of remembering those who went to war, this may be of help.

When I was asked if I would like to take today’s ANZAC – related sermon, I had no problem saying yes, because I am something of a history buff, and ANZAC Day has great meaning for me. In fact, I love anything to do with World War One and World War Two history.  I get a lot of strange looks from people when I admit this fact about myself. I think it’s something to do with military history tending to be a rather male-dominated field. But I am a Daddy’s girl and spent many an hour as a child watching war movies and documentaries with my Dad. Because of my Dad, I know my Tommies from my Diggers. I know my Spitfires from my Lancasters. I can list for you my top five war movies without hesitation. I’ve been to the Somme and to Normandy. When I lived in London, one of my favourite places to hang out was the Imperial War Museum. You get the picture.

One of the things that seems to be implied when people are described as being a ‘war buff’ is that we somehow ‘love’ war or we look upon it with rose-tinted glasses. Speaking for myself, nothing could be further from the truth. I actually find war abhorrent. But my background is in psychology and criminology and I have always been fascinated by what makes people tick. So what draws me to this particular era in history are the massive social changes that both wars brought about, and the impact that war had upon ordinary people.

I must admit to getting a lot of strange looks about my interest in the two World Wars, and about my enthusiasm for commemorating ANZAC day, from my Christian friends. I have many young Christian friends who are passionate about social justice, non-violence, pacifism and peace who cannot understand why I, as a Christian, am so interested in this part of our world’s history, let alone in commemorating ANZAC day, which surely glorifies war?

Some of the older people in this congregation may be unaware of how some young people can view ANZAC day. Despite attendance at ANZAC services growing considerably since the late 1990s, many young Christians find ANZAC day unsettling or even downright challenging. Those of you who were alive during World War II or who are Baby Boomers may find this attitude somewhat perplexing.

While I’m sure that most young Christians would say they have the utmost respect for our Returned Service men and women, some say that they find it hard to reconcile a Jesus who teaches us that ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ , ‘Love your Enemies’ and to ‘turn the other cheek’ with this day that sees us honouring those New Zealanders who went to war. Further still, they find it hard to understand how a Christian could take up arms and actually kill another human being in the course of war. They point to the treatment of conscientious objectors by both the government and wider New Zealand society during both world wars as inhumane. They question some Churches’ outright support of the war and the tacit silence of others.

Just this week I saw these comments on Facebook (unprompted by me, I might add):

  • F I feel very conflicted about Anzac Day. None of my family (that I know of) fought in the wars (only home guards & farmers) but my husband’s Granddad did. I know they fought to keep our freedom we have today & should be honoured for that ~ BUT I just find war so senseless (maybe because at heart I am a healer & not a warrior)
  • L: I feel very conflicted as well – I am always blown away by the sacrifices that past generations made – not just in terms of their lives – but also in enduring the terrible conditions and trauma of war. It’s a very noble thing. I also see what not dealing with things like PTSD did to my great grandfather & how that impacted his descendants. I personally choose not to go to such events, but everyone is different. I just don’t believe in glorifying it or sentimentalising it which I think sometimes the Australian & NZ cultures are prone to do.
  • C: Is it ethical to celebrate the sacrifice of soldiers on ANZAC day? Especially in the light of what we did to conscientious objectors?

It can be harder for older generations to understand this way of thinking. But let me put it into context for you:

Unlike people who were alive during World War One and Two, people of my generation and younger have not grown up in the shadow of war.

For example, young people fighting for the allies in WWI may have had family members who fought in the Boer War or were involved in the Boxer Rebellion. In fact, here’s a list of all the conflicts the British alone were involved in during the 1800’s.

  • French Revolutionary Wars ended 1802
  • Second Anglo-Maratha War 1802–1805
  • Napoleonic Wars 1802–1813
  • War of 1812
  • Hundred Days1815 The return of Napoleon
  • Gurkha War1813–1816
  • Third Anglo-Maratha War1817–1818
  • First Ashanti War1823–1831
  • First Anglo-Burmese War1824–1826
  • First Anglo-Afghan War1839–1842
  • First Opium War1839–1842
  • First Anglo Marri War1840
  • First Anglo-Sikh War1845–1846
  • Second Anglo-Burmese War1852–1853
  • Crimean War1853–1856
  • Anglo-Persian War1856–1857
  • Second Opium War1856–1860
  • Indian Rebellion1857

That’s quite a long list, right? Most of those men would have identified with the Christian faith. Young people fighting in World War II most likely had parents and other close family members who were involved in WW1. Fighting in armed conflicts and or being involved in supporting the war effort was a (largely) normal thing for Christians to do. I don’t want to go into the reasons that people may have chosen to participate in the First and Second World Wars as they are numerous and complex – but what I say to my young friends who question ANZAC Day is to remember that the social context of the time is always an important consideration.

Comparatively speaking we live in relatively untroubled times. I was born just after the end of the Vietnam War. For myself and subsequent generations in New Zealand, we have grown up with conflicts that have not required large-scale involvement from New Zealand. I was a teenager when the Gulf War broke out. For me, that war was far off and remote, and did not involve anyone I knew. It was something that just happened on television, and people questioning the justification for the war had a very loud voice.

ANZAC Day is not and has never been a day of celebration. Nor do I think it is a day of glorification – although I am disturbed by some of the growing commercialisation of it that I am seeing in recent years.

Cartoon Wanganui Chronicle 23 April 2014

Cartoon Wanganui Chronicle 23 April 2014

The media certainly milks ANZAC Day for all its worth, but I think we must always bear in mind the original purpose of ANZAC Day.

ANZAC Day itself is not some arbitrary point in World War 1 that the Government thought might serve as a useful memorial holiday. The 25th of April, 1915 in Gallipoli was so awful that when news of the bloodshed there reached New Zealand on April 30th, a half-holiday was immediately declared and many impromptu services were held across the country. By the time the Gallipoli campaign ended three months later, thousands of men had lost their lives, including 87,000 Turks; 8,500 Australians; almost 3000 New Zealanders; and around 32,000 British and Frenchmen. Thousands more men were wounded.

ANZAC day doesn’t mark a day of magnificent victory by the Allies. That day was an unmitigated disaster. If ANZAC day was about the glorification of war it would have made more sense to mark a day where our soldiers fared much better than they did on April 25th 1915. And yet after the ‘War to End All Wars’ was over, it was this terrible day that was chosen by both New Zealand and Australia as our national day of remembrance. This day was chosen because people wanted to remember the futility and sheer awfulness of war.

ANZAC Day is a time for all of us to acknowledge the pain of war. There are many lessons we can learn as we look back at these dreadful times in our past, and certainly words like regret, sacrifice, mateship, unity and peace seem to resonate with us as a nation when we talk about ANZAC Day.  What I think it can be for us as Christians is a reminder of the constant possibilities of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Perhaps the most immediate and obvious example of reconciliation is the fact that the Turkish people allow us to gather on the Gallipoli Peninsula to hold ANZAC Day services. The Government of the country that we invaded, a country that lost more than 87,000 people in WW1, is willing to allow us to remember our dead along with theirs. I’m not sure that we ever think about how gracious that is. It gets quoted at lot, but I think Kemal Ataturk’s speech in 1934 about the lives lost at Gallipoli, illustrates the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

“Those heroes that shed their blood

And lost their lives.

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore, rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies

And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side

Here in this country of ours,

You, the mothers,

Who sent their sons from far away countries

Wipe away your tears,

Your sons are now lying in our bosom

And are in peace

After having lost their lives on this land they have

Become our sons as well”.

That’s a pretty amazing speech, right?

Just recently a movie came out called The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. The movie is based on the true story of Eric Lomax. Eric was a Signals Officer in the British Army during WW2 and was captured in Singapore by the Japanese in 1942. He was forced-marched to Changi, and then later sent to notorious Burma to Siam railway.

At a camp by the Kwai Bridge, Eric and six colleagues built tiny radio receivers out of odds and ends to gain news of the outside world and help maintain the morale of their starved and beaten colleagues. But someone gave them away and all seven were arrested and tortured by the Japanese military police. Over time, the other six died. But despite horrendous tortures, including water being forced down his throat through a hose-pipe, Eric survived.

When nuclear attacks on Japan brought an end to the war Eric helped identify and track down the torturers of the River Kwai. Some were executed, others received long jail sentences, many committed suicide. But the man who interrogated Eric over his many days of torture could not be found.

For the next fifty years Eric suffered the acute mental and physical after affects of the torture he had endured. He was unable to talk about his experience with his wife, and tried to bury his suffering deep inside. It cost him his marriage, and he became estranged from his two daughters. But he single-handedly continued his pursuit of the interrogator through war records held in London and elsewhere. When he remarried, his second wife quickly realised that her husband was a broken man suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, who was bent on exacting revenge.

Then came a breakthrough.

A booklet written by a Japanese man and published in English, came into his possession. In the book, the torture on the banks of the Kwai is described in detail by someone who was clearly present. The author was Nagase Takashi. It soon became clear that Nagase was the interrogator that Eric had been looking for. In the book Nagase talked about his revulsion at the atrocities that he had committed during the War, and at having a spiritual experience where he had felt forgiven for what he had done.

Eric was incandescent with rage that Nagase could possibly feel that he was forgiven for what he had done to Eric and his fellow prisoners.

Consumed by hate and wanting to exact revenge, Eric was warned by experts at the London based Medical Foundation for the care of Torture Victims, where he’d finally been receiving counselling, not to suddenly confront Nagase. Instead, his wife Patti and others persuaded him to start a correspondence with Nagase with a view to a possible face to face reunion, which took place at the Kwai Bridge in 1993. Even at this reunion Eric intended to kill Nagase. Instead, Nagase apologised to Eric and acknowledged the suffering that he had gone through. Eric was so stunned he just said ‘Thank you, thank you’ and they shook hands. Eric said that it was at this point he saw Nagase as another human being, not the enemy. Eric forgave Nagase, while not forgetting, and they became friends for the last 18 years of their lives.

 

Forgiveness and reconciliation.  

Jesus talks about these two things a lot. In fact in Matthew 6:14-16, Jesus makes it pretty clear that forgiveness is essential in our walk with God. Jesus says:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Speaking from my own experience forgiveness is one of the hardest things that God asks us to do. But God knows that.

I really love the interaction of Peter and Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

I reckon Peter thought that seven was a pretty generous number, and he was trying to win some brownie points from Jesus. But Jesus blows that out of the water when he says:

“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Jesus goes on to tell the Parable of the unforgiving servant, where a servant owes money to his master. The master demands payment and tells the servant that unless he pays up he, his wife and his children will have to be sold. The servant begs for mercy, and being filled with compassion the Master lets him go and releases him from his debt. Immediately after the servant leaves, he runs into a fellow servant who owes him money and grabs him by the throat, demanding the money he is owed. His fellow servant begs him for mercy, but the servant is unmoved and has him put in prison. When his Master finds out what has happened, he sends for the servant immediately asking why he hadn’t had mercy on his fellow servant, as the Master had for him?

Forgiveness is something God expects us to extend to each other, because he has forgiven us. As CS Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

Why are forgiveness and reconciliation so important to God? There are several reasons why, not just because of God’s enormous degree of forgiveness towards us as the model for how we should treat others. I also reckon it’s this:

God knows that we humans have such a deep need for it, not just from God, but also from each other.

Because without forgiveness we cannot move on. We get stuck, like Eric Lomax. We cannot heal. Nelson Mandela – another powerful example of forgiveness and reconciliation – once said that ‘Resentment is like drinking a cup of poison, and then hoping it will kill your enemies’.

On ANZAC Day we gather to remember all those affected by war; to honour all those who were injured or killed; to mourn with all those who lost people they loved; and to recognise those who conscientiously refused to fight. We also gather to pledge ourselves to do everything possible to prevent war, so that future generations will not have to experience its horrors. It’s a day for remembering to choose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation whenever we can. We can do this as Christians because Christ is our peace; because in his body he broke down the dividing wall, the hostility, between all human beings.   Let us use ANZAC Day to commit ourselves to being agents of reconciliation.

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Easter

Happy Easter

Happy Easter

Easter.

What a special, special time.

I think Easter is often treated like the poor second-cousin to popular ol’ Christmas.  But as a Christian, Easter is the biggest religious event of the year for me.   Easter is the cornerstone of my faith.  I often think it’s odd how the cross became a symbol for Christianity when really it should be that empty tomb.  It’s the resurrection of Jesus that is, and should be, the show-stopper.  For me, Easter is a time of contemplation, ceremony and gratitude.  And the occasional chocolate egg.

Now I have tots of my own – and one is old enough to start learning what Easter is all about – this Easter was the first one where I had to think about what I wanted Easter to ‘look like’ for my family.

Rest.  Worship.  Reflection. Celebration. Togetherness.  Outside.  These were the words that resonated with me the most this Easter.

I resolved to have a screen-free Easter to give myself a rest and to spend more time connecting with my family. I switched my cellphone off, and only logged on my computer once to check Facebook to see photos of my cousin’s wedding that I missed due to being sick on Good Friday.  Going phone-free was brilliant.  Instead of checking my emails or surfing the net, I read books.  In fact, I read three novels in two days.  I spent more time playing with my kids.  I liked being phone free so much if my smart phone wasn’t such a useful tool for our budgeting, I would be tempted to get rid of it altogether.

I forgot to take my camera to church on Good Friday (due to feeling like death warmed up, stupid head cold) so I don’t have any photos of D being Jesus in our church play.  Our church combines with four other churches at Easter and the members walk from church to church to see the stations of the cross.  As I have two wriggly children we only made it to our church, but it was amazing to see the place so full up that people had to stand in the aisles.  The play was very moving, and D may have to consider a new career in acting.  Easter Sunday’s service was a beautiful time of worship and reflection – complete with a baptism, flowers, candles, singing, and resurrection eggs.

As we had plenty of room in our grocery budget D and I decided to have a special dinner on Easter Sunday – roast lamb.  My MIL joined us, and we lit candles, read the Easter story (I thoroughly recommend the Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers) and enjoyed our feast.

We even managed to get outside.

Here is what Easter looked like for us:

Making Easter chocolates to give away to friends and family

Making Easter chocolates to give away to friends and family

Sausage forgets the chocolate is not for her...

Sausage forgets the chocolate is not for her…

Now Chip is crawling the world (or his sister's bedroom) has opened up for him

Now Chip is crawling the world (or his sister’s bedroom) has opened up for him

Fun and games

That’s not how you do it, Daddy!

Chip is delighted with his Easter gift

Chip is delighted with his Easter gift

At last... Sausage with her very own chocolate egg

At last…
Sausage with her very own chocolate egg

Three rascals

Three rascals

Feijoa crumble - part of our Easter Sunday dinner

Feijoa crumble – part of our Easter Sunday dinner

Out for a walk

Out for a walk

Chip loves the great outdoors

Chip loves the great outdoors

How do you celebrate Easter in your house?

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Christmas for Tots: creating family traditions

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.

bah humbug    vs   elf

image credit                                                           credit

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!

nativity

image credit

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.

lulu2

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!

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How to take the crazy out of Christmas

How is it December already?  Last Christmas was just the other day, right?

This will be Sausage’s second Christmas, and while she is ready for it, I just want to slow it all down.

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I had a rare child-free afternoon yesterday (mostly spent taking my time at my favourite second-hand mega store, bliss) and needed to get a few things at the shops.  My normally peaceful town was full of frazzled people laden down with shopping bags.  It was even hard to find a parking space, quelle horreur!

Now, for the record: I LOVE Christmas.  I love decorating the tree and our house.  I love sending Christmas cards to my overseas and out of town friends.  I love giving gifts, and I love having all my family around the dinner table on Christmas day.  I love having a special day where I can celebrate and reflect on Jesus’s birth.  And I looooove that we get to have Christmas in Summer.

I do NOT love the commercialism of Christmas, with all the pressure to buy, buy, buy.  I do not love the pressure to have a Pinterest perfect Christmas house, or a Martha Stewart dinner.  I do not love the pressure put on people to all ‘be together with family’, which means this time of the year can be incredibly painful and lonely for those who have no one to share it with, who have lost loved ones, or who are unable to be with their loved ones for whatever reason.  This one day can cause a lot of heartache.

As my children are still very small (almost 2 and 4 months old) what Christmas will look like at our house is very much a work in progress.  Here’s how I keep sane at Christmas time:

  • Scale back the gifts.  I must confess that this has actually proved quite hard this year!  Yesterday I went through the gifts I bought for my kids and found I had what I consider to be too many gifts (as I am a rather organised person and tend to buy things here and there in advance, I hadn’t realised I’d gotten so much already).  We have Dutch heritage in our family so we like to celebrate St Nicholas Day (6 December).  Our eldest child will be getting a few small presents (like chocolate coins) in her shoes tomorrow, like they do in the Netherlands.  Although we don’t do Santa, I grew up with a stocking on Christmas morning and can’t let that go, so my eldest will be getting a few things like a calendar and a candy cane in hers.  But when it comes to the ‘main gifts’ our kids get three presents like the Wise Men gave Jesus: something they want, something they need, and something to read.  (Our son is only getting one gift, by the way – he’s a baby, he’s not going to know!)  Next year I will keep better track of what things I have already purchased so I can keep things even simpler, because I think the focus of Christmas for children needs to be on giving to others, gratitude, and on Christ – not presents.  The adults don’t do presents for each other, instead we do a $5 secret Santa which we’ve done in various guises (for specific people, generic, present-swapping game etc), and I for one don’t miss getting lots of hand creams and soaps and all that other female gift stuff that I don’t really want.
  • Keep your gifts low-cost.  I get rather irate when I see ads exhorting people to buy Dad a $599 BBQ for Christmas, a $899 tablet for your 6-year old, or to give your girlfriend a $1000 diamond necklace.  Really?  $1000 on a Christmas present???  That’s just all kinds of crazy.  Even if you’re not a Christian, Christmas doesn’t have to be all about presents.  An inexpensive, or hand-made gift with lots of thought put into it says ‘hey, I really know you‘ means much, much more than some expensive trinket from a chain store.  When it comes to kids, save big-ticket items (like bikes or computers) for their birthday.  It helps Christmas seem less about getting presents, so that you can focus on whatever it means for your family.
  • Limit the number of Christmas-related activities you do.  This time of year is nuts.  There are end-of-year parties coming out your ears, carols by candlelight, church services, parades, and all manner of things that you could choose to go to.  In New Zealand December heralds BBQ season.  You don’t have to do everything.  You just don’t.  If you’re feeling pressed for time, ask yourself – do I really need to go to this?  Are my kids really going to be scarred for life if they miss their fourth end-of-year breakup Christmas party for a group they belong to?  If they don’t see this year’s Santa Parade?  Are they going to think you are the worst parent ever because you don’t do Elf on a shelf (don’t even get me started on that one!)?
  • Get your presents ahead of time so you can avoid the stores in December.  Yeah, I know, this one is a no-brainer.  But do remember that pre-Christmas sales are not the only ones stores have.  Most stores seem to have sales every blimmin’ week!  Here, one of our major stores has a big toy sale in July.  We bought Sausage’s main present (an easel chalkboard/whiteboard) back then for 50% off and stashed it away.  Buying throughout the year not only means our bank balance doesn’t take a big hit in one go, it also means I only have one gift left to get (my secret Santa gift) and that’s it, I’m done.  No more silly season shopping for me.  You might want to keep better track of your purchases that I have this year so you don’t forget how much you’ve already bought!
  • Share the responsibility for the Christmas meal.  New Zealand Christmases are much more casual affairs than our Northern hemisphere counterparts due to the weather.  Who wants a heavy roast dinner and to be cooped up indoors when it’s summer?  Actually, mine do.  I was hoping my family would be happy with a simple BBQ – but no, they want a roast.  Sigh.  Anyway, despite this, we won’t be chained to the kitchen all day.  Everyone is contributing to the main meal in some way – someone is doing the roast, someone else the veges, someone else dessert etc.    Good food without the fuss.
  • If you’re the one with little kids, make people come to you!  Travelling with tots is stressful.  You need to take what seems to be a metric tonne of kid-related stuff with you just to keep them fed, clothed and occupied.  And often when you get to where you’re going you have to deal with an un-baby proofed house, disruption to sleep routines and all that sort of thing.  Of course staying with relatives can be lovely, but if you find the thought of shlepping everyone over to Grandma’s house five hours away is setting your teeth on edge, don’t do it.  Ask your relatives if they would mind coming to you to spare you from the drama.  If there’s several of you with kids, maybe let those with tantruming toddlers decide where will be easiest.  Save Christmases away from home for when your kids are old enough not to break Aunt Essie’s china, and are reliably sleeping through the night so they can share a room with 10 of their cousins and think that’s awesome.  Yes, it’s nice to be together but the world won’t end if you need to have a few Christmases at home by yourselves.
  • Remember the ‘reason for the season’.  I just winced typing that, it’s so cheesy.  But it’s also true.  Take Christmas back!  Don’t let the Ad Men or Martha Stewart tell you what Christmas should be about.  I do appreciate this special time when I can focus on what the gift of Christ has meant to me.  I sing Christmas carols and let myself think about what ‘peace on Earth’ might actually look like.  Even for non-Christians, the Christmas break can be a time of rest, and a chance to spend time on the things that nourish the soul.

– Wishing you and your family a very merry Christmas.