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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Waiting for Christmas

Simon, 4, and Lucy, 3, are at an ideal age for Advent. They are so excited for Christmas, it is a real task for them to be about the work of waiting. Stacey and I get asked dozens of times each day if it is Christmas yet.

“Sorry, still not Christmas.”

Being a young family, we are starting to develop and solidify our own holiday traditions. We used to travel much more for holidays, but the time has come to be at home and do our own thing.

The traditions start with, a nice little routine we’ve adopted for Thanksgiving. I make lefse, which is a traditional Norwegian food that our family enjoys. Lefse is like a tortilla made from potatoes; delicious when it is warm and rolled with butter and sugar. We eat lefse all morning, which tides us over until our traditional turkey dinner. Kids write letters to Santa as they watch the Thanksgiving parade on TV. Then, on black Friday, we go to Mt. Hood for some sledding.

We’re also developing some meaningful Advent and Christmas traditions. We have an Advent wreath; we use it in our prayer before dinner while we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” We also have a Jesse tree made of felt. Each night, we read a story from salvation history taken from a children’s Bible. Each story has a symbol that we place on the tree. The kids learn these stories in a tangible way, and we recount God’s faithfulness through history.

We space out our Christmas preparations over Advent. On the first Sunday, we get out our Advent calendars and some basic home decorations. On St. Nicholas Day, the kids put out their shoes for St. Nicholas, and that’s when we usually get our tree. Each week, we add more decorations to the tree. Lights go up on the house sometime in there, too.

Spacing things out reminds us that Advent is a process, and is about preparation and waiting. Going through this season with children makes that longing and yearning a present reality. There is a bit of magic with the St. Nicholas and Santa traditions, but I like to think that those traditions are more about the gratuitousness than about a magical man in red. They are a way to introduce to a child’s imagination a kind of wonder and amazement that they will, hopefully, later associate with God’s surprising gift of joining our humanity.

In a store recently, I noticed a new product—the “Elf on the Shelf”—marketing itself as a new “holiday tradition.” The makers want families to place the elf somewhere in the home in anticipation of Christmas, and to explain to children that the elf is Santa’s helper sent from the North Pole to keep an eye on them.

The elf, apparently, travels back to the North Pole every night to report the children’s behavior to Santa, who is keeping a list of who has been naughty or nice. Children are encouraged to modify their behavior because the elf is watching. They are also encouraged to speak with the elf and share confidential secrets and wish lists with it.

I’m a little confused as to how this product has gained a market share. If I were a child, it would freak me out, quite frankly. A strange, small, inert person is taking notes on my behavior and if I’m good, he’ll tell Santa that I deserve toys.

It is easy to see that this product is teaching kids that they should be good in order to get stuff, a perfectly acceptable thesis for a secular culture seeking a way to anchor the capitalistic fervor of the season in a vague focus on family tradition.

With our Advent preparations, I hope our kids are learning to be good for goodness’ sake.