This past weekend marked the beginning of our month-long celebration for the birth of Jesus.

Task #1: Decorate the tree. The kids had been begging me. Coveting the trees and pretty lights around town. Keith and I had the same attitude: Ahh, do we have to? Seeing how it’s the boys’ first American Christmas…and because we’re not completely horrible parents…we caved.

So, Keith’s absurd idea was to just let them decorate it. Throw out the ornaments as if you would seed for a bird with the kids decorating only what their tinny nubs could reach. The bottom half. Gasp! Not if I have anything to do with it! When the tree was completed to meet my standard, the kids were a bit confused. One by one they went to the tree to proudly point out to Keith or me ornaments they’d hung. Gasp! It’s not there. Why, of course I moved it! I’m a control freak whose desire for perfection is all but debilitating. I was only pretending to let you decorate, Silly.

What began as kids excitedly pulling shimmery and sparkly ornaments from boxes ended with a tangled ball of hooks intertwined in my favorite Sunday “nap blanket.” Oh, yes. Each family member has a nap blanket. Even Keith. Especially Keith. Several times I have shopped specifically for one to suit his needs. Problem is that it’s either a twin-sized throw (um, way too short for him) or a queen/king-sized blanket (which is basically just too cumbersome for his side of the couch). Enter: Miss Barb, Andy’s mom, who after having made blankets for all the kids saw how Keith envied them and made one just his size. Now Goldilocks can finally get cozy for a rest.

Task #2: Put out the remainder, though minimal, of the Christmas d├ęcor. I didn’t so much as have the stockings and beaded garland out of the boxes before I faced a barrage of requests: “Yay, Mommy, I wanna wear this one tomorrow” (holding up a giant stocking). Then when I said no, he asked if I was saving it for a dinosaur. “Ooh, these look yummy. Can I have some?” (pointing to the delicious looking icy holly berries that surround a candle display). Any scrap that had the faintest Christmas-y appearance was to be hung or displayed somewhere. Um, no. Do I dare continue the gingerbread house tradition? It is destined to be eaten or destroyed before assembly.

With the utterance of traditions, I had to dig up some pics of Christmas past. The camera battery was dead when I pulled it out to capture the mayhem this year. I know. I should be shot.

Sweet, huh. Back to my story-telling.

The nativity scene stays up all year…partly because I like it…and also because it’s Jesus. I’m just not sure I want to put him in a box for 11 months out of the year. However, with it continuously on display, the boys continuously ask to play with the figurines. I will have to give them credit in that they ask instead of just taking the little sheep and running them around like they do their plastic horses. I do not know what draw Baby Jesus has, but he is the most requested of all the pieces.

Task #3: Explain why the tree and pretty lights. We kicked off Christmas 101 by introducing the boys to the beloved Miss Patty Cake and the somewhat annoying Boz the Bear. Keith despises both of these characters equally by the way. Miss PC is all about Jesus, but Boz intertwines Jesus, the commercialization of Christmas, and general benevolence all into one pretty package. Ugh! Shortly after viewing these movies I heard a familiar tune from Garrison, with not-so-familiar words. “Tinkerbells Tinkerbells, Tinker all the way…” Per Keith’s request…so that our boys aren’t merrily singing a song about fairies…I have now added Christmas carols to the top of my list of instruction. They ‘ve almost got “Away in a Manger” down, and next is “Silent Night.” We may skip “Jingle Bells” altogether though.

Note to families with small children: If you do not know Miss Patty Cake, look her up. And, if you’re in my vicinity, borrow one of our Miss PC DVDs.

With the season and small children, especially new small children, comes the question about jolly ole St. Nick. “Do you do Santa?” they ask. Meaning, do you pretend Santa Claus is real? It is sad to me that he is unavoidable, but the answer is yes, we do pretend there is a Santa. We pretend about Santa in the same way Avery pretends to have conversations with her stuffed animals, in the same way we pretend to have these conversations. I am often left to babysit one of those little guys while she goes off to play with her brothers, and she’s one of those moms who hovers too long and returns several times to make sure her baby is eating or napping when she should be or is swaddled properly. Those moms are so annoying! I wonder where she gets it. Anyway, Avery knows Santa isn’t real, but that it’s fun to pretend.

Here’s why we decided not to encourage her to believe in that fur-trimmed red suit. So, Santa’s this guy we talk about at Christmas. You never get to see him, but we tell you he’s real. He lives at the North Pole and makes all the presents. Everyone loves him and he gives you lots of good things. Sometimes he has a problem with performance-based acceptance: only the “good” kids get presents under the tree.

And then there’s another guy we talk about at Christmas named Jesus. You never get to see him, but we tell you he’s real. He lives in heaven and has made everything you see. Everyone loves him and he does lots of good things. Even though Jesus loves you no matter what bad things you do, we want you to be good for him too, but we’re going to use the word “obey.”

Kids, we’re asking you to believe in both of these good men. Then, in a few years we’re going to break your fragile hearts and tell you one of them isn’t real. We were just pretending because it was fun and everyone else was doing it. Oh, you want to know if the other guy is pretend, too? Well, no, he is real. I promise. Keep believing in him, just not the other guy.

This decision was made based on conversations and advice from a few respected friends. They had each been told to believe in Santa and Jesus. Then, upon finding out that the reindeer, sleigh and bearded man do not exist, they questioned the validity of the stories they’d heard about Jesus. The miracles of his birth, life and resurrection are more unbelievable than a super nice guy who gives out presents and oh, some magic dust to make him fly.

We still do all the fun things for Santa at Christmas, besides sit on his lap. That’s just weird. Maybe if I could see a background check and proof that he’s not on the sex offenders’ registry. Maybe. The kids and I will go to the library to borrow various Christmas books. I found one last year with a great story of the kind, charitable bishop, Saint Nicholas. The night before we are going to open presents, we will make a special card and cookies for “Santa.” Although speaking of cards, we’ve been making them during craft time, and no one recognized the foam Santa head. Avery held it upside down and showed the boys that it was a baby wrapped in a blanket. Correcting her would have begun the questions I am still not ready to answer.

So far this year there has been no allusion to anything “up on the rooftop.” Christmas will be a nice surprise for them. Avery hasn’t even mentioned opening presents. She’s just excited to see some grandparents and cousins. Okay, one thing they are excited about: when talking about Jesus’ birthday, they asked if we were going to have “cupcake.” And, it will likely have icing made with artificial food coloring, which I may or may not scrape off before allowing.

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