Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Stuff of Christmas

This is the blog post in which I am supposed to say that the "things" of Christmas don't really matter. The tree and ornaments and nativity set and icicle lights and holiday CDs and snowflake cookie cutters are just trappings. The heart of the holiday is celebrating Christ. I ought to say this because it is true--mostly.

We reminded the boys tonight at dinner that today is the first Sunday of Advent. We explained to them the tradition of the Advent wreath and talked about lighting the prophecy candle. We explained these things because we don't have an Advent wreath or candles. They are still packed in our boxes on a ship somewhere on the Pacific Ocean. Normally, we would start reading an Advent book tonight, but that too is packed away. We tried to buy a Christmas tree yesterday, but Ikea was completely sold out of fake ones and we haven't found them anywhere else. It doesn't really matter, because our ornaments are with the Advent wreath in the cargo container.

This is where I am supposed to pontificate on the frivolity of Christmas decorations and embrace a simpler approach to the holidays. I've tried all day to write that post. Alas, it is not to be. The truth is, I want a tree and our ornaments and an Advent wreath. Somehow they are important.

I've observed as we've been attempting to home-school our boys for the past four months, that routine is critical. On the days when I stick to a schedule (ignoring the phone, the dishes, and the something smelling rotten in the vegetable drawer) things sail along like a semi-seaworthy boat in choppy waters. When I get distracted or decide against my better judgement to throw in a little variety, we're sunk. I may as well hang up my chalk and pull out the Legos.

This observation is not in any way groundbreaking. It's the stuff of countless parenting books and the common sense our moms and grandmas could tell us if we'd ask. What's new to me is the realization that we don't outgrow this need for predictability and structure and order. I'm making a bit of a leap here, but I think routine and traditions are closely linked, and we need both. We structure our days around work schedules, school schedules, to do lists, play dates, and errands. We structure our weeks by weekdays and weekends. We structure our year by seasons, and school, and holidays, and family vacations. We do it instinctively, but we also need to do it intentionally. This is where traditions come in.

We impose traditions upon routine as a reminder of what is important to us. Putting a six foot tree smack in the middle of the living room and wiring it with blinking lights can't help but get one's attention. The tree, the wreath, the candles and lights, the cookies, and even the bell jangling Santas remind us that something noteworthy is happening. They help us to pause in our routine and reflect for a moment. If done well, these traditions (even the silly ones) can point us to Christ.

It's quite possible that I'm saying all of this simply to justify my impatience for our shipment to arrive. Nonetheless, I'm sticking to it. It's important that things feel like Christmas. I'm pretty sure the first box I'll be unpacking is the one marked "holiday stuff" because sometimes stuff does matter.