Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Santa Problem: Santa Claus vs. St. Nicholas

Many Christian parents struggle with the idea of Santa Claus at Christmas. How can we reconcile this magical and fictional person and his flying reindeer when we are trying to teach our children to love and follow Christ. This is actually a conversation that I have had with many parents and even teenagers over the years. When I was a youth and families lay minister in college I would actually have Bible studies on this very topic. Here are some of the main questions and concerns I have heard over the years and my responses to them.


Won't our children be upset that we lied to them about Santa? Will I lose integrity with my children when they realize I lied to them?

Every child is different. Some children will not be bothered by learning that Santa is not who they thought he was. Some children will be very hurt to learn that someone they looked up to and believed in is not who they thought they were. They won't be able to be unset with Santa, after all Santa is not the one who lied to them, they will be up set with you. I think this is why it is very important how you teach Santa to your children. The modern day image and story of Santa has become very fictionalized and was rooted in the American capitalist market. If you teach the commercialized and fictionalized idea of Santa then maybe your child will have real reason to doubt your integrity about important concepts and ideas. If the Santa in your house is a man completely unconnected to God, to Jesus, and to the teaching of the church and the Bible; than yes- maybe you and the faith you are teaching will become suspect in your children's eyes. The modern day image of Santa may have some echoes of truth but when closely examined the tenants of who Santa is does not stand up very well.

If you teach that Santa Claus is another name for St. Nicholas a man who loved God, believed in Jesus, loved children, and answered God's call to provide joy and gifts to children; then maybe not. I will discuss this in more detail a little latter below.

Maybe it is important to understand where the modern day Santa comes from. There are two main sources which created the image and story we know and see today: Clement Moore's poem "A Visit From St. Nickolas" (which is better known as "T'Was Night Before Christmas") and The Coca-Cola Company.

The image we see of Santa Claus at the Christmas season is largely a construct of a capitalist market. Santa wears a red and white suit because those were and are the companies colors of Coca-Cola Company. This image appeared around 1931. Our modern day image of Santa was created to sell more products for the company. It was an ingenious marketing plan that served them very well. The artist who created the image of Santa for the company was inspired by the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" description of St. Nicholas. 

The poem "A Visit From St. Nickolas" was written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822. Today we refer to this poem as "T'was the Night Before Christmas" and we often consider it to be a children's book. Moore was a professor of Oriental and Greek literature at Columbia University. There are some arguments that Moore may not have intended for his poem to become the inspiration for image of the modern day Santa Claus. There are also arguments that he did not actually author the poem. In the following video from the History Channel they give some references to the places Moore may have gotten some of his ideas about St. Nicholas for the poem. However, Moore echos the ideas of the real man St. Nicholas and not of a completely fictional character.

Here is a great video by the History Channel which explains the two main sources our modern day image of Santa comes from: http://www.history.com/videos/evolution-of-santa-claus

My opinion is that you can't actually escape the popular image of Santa Claus. If you don't talk about Santa at all then the only idea of Santa your child will have is what the secular world teaches them. If you preemptively approach Santa as being Saint Nicholas you get the first say on who Santa is and what his role in Christmas will be. You get to lay the foundation rather than the outside world. St. Nicholas was a real person who is recognized by the church and there is much historical information about him available. You are not lying to your kids if you teach Santa as St. Nicholas.
    
I am not Catholic how can I teach my children about Saints? 

First it is important to understand who is a saint and how do they achieve sainthood. The Roman Catholic Church views saints to be very holy men or women who believed in Jesus Christ, followed the Gospel and demonstrated extraordinary faith. Saints were regular men and women who were called by God to fulfill a purpose or calling and did in fact fulfill God's requests. There is a long and detailed process in which a saint goes through to become a saint. In the Roman Catholic denomination believers are encourage to pray to patron saints for intercessions. I personally do not pray to saints for intercession but I do think that saints are excellent examples of what it means to be a Christian. They were real people, ordinary people, who did amazing things in order to glorify and honor God. In a world where it is hard to find examples of believers who live the Gospel; saints provide a wonderful opportunity for us to teach that living out your calling from God is possible.


Saint Nicholas was a man who lived in the 4th Century. He was known in his lifetime to be a great gift giver and a man who gave all he had to help the poor and the needy. He is remembered mostly for his gift giving which was traditionally celebrated on his feast day of December 6th. He is known as the patron saint of children, as well as, sailors and bankers. The stories that closely link him to our modern version of Santa Claus were not recorded until after his death.

Since St. Nicholas was known for his gift giving someone could argue that giving gifts at Christmas are simply because of him. However, there are many reasons to associate gift giving with Christmas. When the baby Jesus was born he was brought many gifts and his birth was a gift to humanity. When we give gifts to each other at Christmas we are remembering the scriptures in many different ways and we are fulfilling the calling to give freely to one another. I personally do not know very many Christians who give every penny they have so that others in need will not suffer. St. Nicholas however was such a man and he happens to be everywhere at Christmas time already.

Can teaching the idea of Santa be harmful to my child's belief in Jesus Christ latter on in life?

This is a very valid concern. For me, part of this concern is how you are teaching Santa to your children. If you are teaching the secular idea of Santa than yes this could be damaging . If the secular idea of Santa is the foundation for belief during the Advent season it is based on fiction. If you teach that Santa is another name for St. Nicholas, and that St. Nicholas believed in and loved Jesus Christ, we are basing their belief on Christian ideals which are substantiated by historical and Biblical evidence.

While it is all well and good for me to make these statements maybe you should read what some experts have to say on the subject. I believe these articles support the claim that teaching the secular version of Santa Claus can be damaging to your child in the long run. Most of these articles do not however look at Santa as St. Nicholas or present a believers perspective.
  • Jesus Believes in Santa at Examiner.com- explores the idea that we should teach that Santa believed in Jesus and offers some ideas on how to do this.
  • Is it Okay to Lie About Santa by Laura Lewis Brown at PBS.com
  • Santa Claus: Innocent Fantasy or Harmful Lie at Psychology World- supports the claim that lying can indeed be harmful to some children but offers suggestions on how to keep Santa pretend and not emphasize that he is real.
Here are some children's books of the legend of St. Nicholas:




























Closing Thoughts
If we are believers we are called to pass our faith on to our children. We are called to give them a foundation for belief. This means that we have a responsibility to think about how and what we teach our children. I personally believe that some things we must choose to lay a foundation for before we allow the outside world to influence them. We still watch fun Christmas movies on TV and we still pretend that reindeer can fly. These are some of the fun trappings of Christmas. However, we attempt to lay a foundation on faith during the holiday so that we do not get lost in these fun trappings. We read a scripture a day in our Advent calendar, we light the Advent candles in our Advent wreath every Sunday and we have a family devotion. We strive not to let the outside world sweep us up in stories and myth and rather stay grounded in the truth.

You might also like the following blog articles I have written on keeping Christ in the Christmas Season.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Family Advent Devotion- Keeping Christ in Christmas

Our Advent Wreath lit at night
This week I had a conversation with a mommy friend who was concerned about all the things we see and do at Christmas that don't really seem to be connected to Christ. The secular world has commercialize Christmas so much that it can be hard to see the connections between Christmas trees and the birth of Christ. Every parent has their own journey with the trappings of Christmas. In our family we observe the liturgical season a Advent. On Sundays we light the Advent Wreath and say a devotional and each day we have a scripture reading with our Advent calendar. Here is a little information on what we do in our house at Christmas to keep Jesus the focus and center of the season.

What is Advent? 

Christmas is in the liturgical season of Advent. Advent is the time of preparation for the birth of Christ. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. In our house we celebrate Advent in a couple different ways: an Advent Calendar and an Advent Wreath.

Advent Wreath
On Sundays as a family we light the Advent candles in the Advent wreath and we usually complete a scripture reading and devotional. Here is a nice video that explains the Advent wreath in more detail.



As Pastor Chuck explained in the video above each one of the candles represent something different. If you are new to observing Advent you might simply start with having a discussion each Sunday with the family about the meaning of that Sunday. For the first Sunday you might ask the family "How does celebrating the birth of Christ bring us hope?" and so on. Here is a little graphic that quickly explains the wreath and the four Sundays in Advent.

 

If you would like to get a little deeper with your Advent observance there are many resources. I really like the page Families in Faith which is not about following the faith traditions of one denomination (although the writers appear to be Lutheran pastors) but about providing resources for families so that they can pass the faith onto their children. On their site they offer many Advent resources and one of them is this awesome graphic:

Advent Wreath - Guide to Meaning
This graphic belongs to Families in Faith (http://familiesinfaith.org/tag/advent-wreath/)

Here are links to sites that provide devotionals for families for each Sunday in Advent if you would like to start your own Advent wreath tradition.


Our Family Advent Wreath

Advent Calendar
An Advent Calendar is actually pretty well known but has in some cases strayed from the religious significance it once had. You can buy Advent calendars in most stores. They start on December 1 and count down until Christmas day. Each day kids get a little chocolate candy. 

In our house we try to maintain the spirit of the season by doing things a little differently. We have 25 little stockings that I fill each night after my son goes to bed. Each day we discover what is in the stocking: He finds a scripture that I have printed out on a card, a little treat or surprise, and he gets an ornament to put on his Advent calendar Christmas tree. I promise to post pictures after Thanksgiving to show you what I mean. This gives us a daily devotion as well as a chance to count down to Christmas. Treats are little toys and sometimes a sweet treat.


Our personal Advent calendar that my son adds an ornament to each day.



Create a Personalized Advent Calendar
In my research for this blog I come across this resource offered by Microsoft Office as a free download. I personally found that it was a lot of work to personalize. Maybe on year I will have to time to make it personal and include scriptures. For the moment I am going to leave it on here for anyone who wants to use it.  


If you care interested in reading a scripture a day during Advent here are some links to sites that provide scriptures for each day of December:
You might also me interested in my blog reflections: The Santa Problem: Santa vs. St. Nicholas and Advent Scripture Chain

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gift Ideas for a 2 Year Old

I thought my in- laws were hard to shop for but boy was I wrong. In a world of fun and exciting toys it turns out many of them are not safe enough for my toddler. My son in a place where some of the toddler toys are not sophisticated to keep my son's attention. This means I have to do a little research to find the best toys out there for him. Here is a list of some gift ideas I found for my 2 year old. Some of the toys are not for his age group but for older children. I have found that the ages on the toys do not always match my sons skill level. Always watch your child carefully when they are playing with a new toy to make sure they can't swallow or choke on any pieces. You are the one who is ultimately responsible for your child's safety.

Games

Tumbling Monkeys by Mattel 
The monkeys are larger than marbles and their little tails can get stuck on the sticks. There is a colored dice to roll to coordinate with the colored sticks.
Skills: Turn Taking, Cause & Effect, Hand Strength for pencil grip and colors


Thinkfun Roll and Play Board Game
One of the few toddler friendly games I have found. This is a get up and move game that requires the players to do the actions listed on the card. Roll the dice and pick a card from the deck that matches the dice. This is a game that requires mom and dad to play too!
Skills: Following Directions, Taking Turns, Colors, Listening




Cootie by Hasbro
This is a fun matching and building game. You mix and match the parts to create a cootie. There are small dice and small parts in this game.
Skills: Creative Building, Turn Taking, Numbers, and Matching



Uno Moo Preschool Game
This is a fun twist on the Uno game. Learn animal names and sounds, counting, and turn taking.
Skills: Turn Taking, Animal Sounds and Counting



Fun Skill Development

Lauri Tall-Stacker Pegs Building Set
Kiddos build and create structures using pegs and boards.
Skills: Creative Construction play, Hand Strength Development, Fine Motor Skills, and can be used for colors, shapes, and counting.




VTech Stencil and Learn Studio
This is a magnetic drawing board that comes with stencils and has a sound options.
Skills: The Alphabet, Fine Motor Skills, and Hand Strength


Chicco Toys Billy Fun Wheels
This remote control car is neat because the control functions just like a real steering wheel!
Skills: Hand Eye Coordination, Cause and Effect, and Pure Simple Fun



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Elmo's Potty Time Song: The New Theme Song of Our Lives



This is the new theme song of our lives. We sing this often in our house and when we use the potty! 


Potty Training- Tips to make it easier on Mama...

My son is well on his way to potty training success. We have had several successful...um...deposits lately and he is even beginning to tell us when he has to go. We are only at about 10% success when he tells us he has to Pee-Pee but he is thinking about it. He almost always has success before bath time. We have yet to "catch" a Poo-Poo but we were close today...We do not work on potty training away from home yet. I think when we get to 100% success at home we will bridge to when we are away from home.

A mommy friend of mine and I were talking about potty training and I was giving her a few of the tips and tricks I have learned or come across. I thought I would share some of my tips with all of you. I hope you find them helpful.

Remember to always keep potty training low pressure and high reward. It should be fun and successes should be celebrated! 

Tip #1 
Keep your language consistent!!!
When deciding on the language you are going to use- keep it consistent. It doesn't really matter what you decide to use it matters that you always use those words for the action you want them to do. We use the works Pee-Pee and Poo-Poo. My son can say these and both my husband and I feel comfortable with these words. There are many words you can use for bodily functions make sure that you pick words everyone in the house feels comfortable with and will use. Also try to pick words that your child can say. Make sure care givers also know the words you are using.

Be prepared for your child to shout them out in public and in front of company..!

Tip #2
Find a high interest reward you can offer and only give the reward when they are successful!!! 
What do I mean by reward...I mean something tangible your child goes nuts over and they always want. I know there are many theories about giving food or candy as a reward. The only time my son gets M&Ms is when he Pee-Pees in the potty. We keep them in the bathrooms where he can't reach them and we make a big deal with verbal praise as well as a sweet reward when he is successful. He only gets 1 for a success. When he sees them in the store he points to them and says "Pee-Pee". HE NEVER GETS M&Ms ANY OTHER TIME!!! 

We limit candy in general so getting a single M&M is a really big deal. I know moms who use fruity Cheerios or some other reward. Whatever you feel comfortable with but make sure it is something they ALWAYS WANT!!! You also have to make sure that they don't give this reward any other time- it can be hard but you have to stick to your guns or they will know you are not really serious.
When your child starts to have more success you start to ween them off of the reward and only offer praise. This is temporary and a means to get them excited about complying. You can also use a toy chest or grab bag but this isn't as exciting to my son so it is not high reward enough for him yet...

Tip #3
Dealing with Poo-Poo in a Little Potty
Since my research on potty training showed that trying to start by having a little person sit on a big person potty could create fear and intimidation we opted to start with the little training potties. This has been very successful for my son and it really does give him a sense of independence and ease of use. Dumping the Pee-Pee into the toilet and washing it out isn't a big deal but Poo-Poo is a completely different story!!! There are a few group pages that I have liked on Facebook and one of them posted a great solution to the Poo-Poo problem....Drum Roll Please......

Use a paper Coffee Filter! 



You cannot flush the coffee filter but you can put it in the diaper pail and you don't have to scrub the little potty out. You can also put a little water in the pot but that means you have to think ahead and sometime you can't do that. The coffee filter is cheap and easy to put a clean one in right after you clean the pot..!

When my son was ready we moved to the big potty and added a cushioned seat adapter. We already had a step stool for him to rest his feet on but the cushioned seat adapter made sitting on the big potty for #2 happen a lot faster and the step stool gave him the independence he needed.

Image result for cushioned toilet seat adaptor

Tip #4
Keep back-up Diapers/training pants, wipes and Lysol/Air Freshener in the bathroom.
Keep in mind that accidents happen and having a little one who is not in complete control of their functions running around your house naked while you re-group and clean up is not ideal. Keep some back-ups in the bathrooms so that you can handle it with a little less stress. Trust me, my husband and I learned this one the hard way! I like to keep Lysol in the bathroom to for a couple of reasons. I spray down the little potty after I rinse it out and it helps with Poo-Poo smells.

Tip #5
Everyone gets into it and It is Everywhere!
This may be hard for Daddies...I am not sure why but I have heard many daddies are reluctant to get involved. I think a great part of our successful transition has been my husbands participation in the process. My son sees his daddy doing it and of course he wants to do it too! My husband is completely supportive of the process. He uses the language, he lets our son go into the bathroom with him and talks to him about Pee-Peeing in the potty. He watches the Elmo Potty time video with him and sings the songs with him too. It really does make a difference if everyone in the house is a part of the process.

In addition to watching the Elmo's Potty Time video we have read several books on the topic. We talk about the kitty and the dog going potty. We have presented the idea in many ways and in many mediums. I have to admit that Elmo is getting old but he watches that video almost once a day. It is his main TV time but hey it is teaching a topic we want him to learn.

Tip #6
Be Prepared to Visit Public Restrooms!!!

Eventually you are going to have to leave the house and adventure into public restrooms...that's right, everywhere you go you are going to need to visit the potty! This also means that you are going to have to tackle your kiddo SITTING ON A PUBLIC POTTY..! Yikes!!!

In general, I hate public restrooms. I will hold it rather than use one, but when you have a little one you have to buck up and enter into these spaces. Here are some tools I use to help deal with this eventuality:

A) The Fold- Up Travel Seat: My little guy is little, he was terrified of the big toilet seat. We used a little potty at home but in public we needed to deal with this... So we got a fold up seat that fits neatly in the diaper bag. My son even took it to preschool with him "just in case he had to poo" there. I keep the fold up seat in a big zip-lock bag with the items below...

Image result for fold up potty seat

B) Travel Size Seat Covers and Lysol spray or wipes: Seat covers are great but in the travel size products sections of Target I found travel size Lysol!!!  Having these two items in the diaper bag has proved invaluable!

C) Hand Sanitizer: This shouldn't really need info and I bet you already have it in the diaper bag!

Tip # 7
Let's talk poop on the big potty for a minute...

A friend at church gave us a little pointer one day when she over heard my discussion with my son about pooping on the potty. We had somehow left the travel seat at home and he really needed to go. I was holding him on the seat and of course he was fretting about "falling in"... She told me something that rocked both our worlds...

Have the little one straddle the toilet seat backward facing the tank. They can hold in the the tank (or plumbing) so they are not reaching for the walls of the stall, teetering on the seat, or needing to be held. We have had to use this in a pinch a couple of times since and it makes a big difference!

Resources
Below you will find some pictures of books and DVDs we have read and watched.


Book Suggestion: Also comes in a girl version and there is a sounds version as well
Disney's Potty DVD

Book Suggestion also comes in a girl version has a DVD option
Image result for Where's the Poop
This is and was a favorite in your house...yep...make poop fun!

Image result for elmo's potty time
We watched this DVD over and over...meet Elmo's dad and learn some catchy songs too!