"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Maranatha Chocolate and Christmas Trees

For the past few years, I've had a chocolate-filled Advent calendar. The girls have become sharers in the tradition, and now, first thing upon entering the kitchen in the morning I hear two voices saying: "Maranatha, can I have some chocolate?" But wait - they know that "Maranatha," means "Come, Lord Jesus," not "Can I have some chocolate?" Right? Yes, they do.

I have to say that I love Advent. Every night since it started we've been lighting our wreath and singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" as a family. But waiting is hard, isn't it? To intensify my longing for Christmas (and as an act of penance, since Advent is penitential), I gave up sweets for Advent again this year. Wow, am I ready for Christmas. Making cookies for Maia's preschool class and helping her and a friend decorate a gingerbread house have thrust me into the throes of temptation. I've survived, but bring on the sweets, I say!!!

Because we like to keep our Advent and Christmas distinct, we only recently started pulling out the Christmas decorations. For little Maia, who is SOOOO EXCITED about Christmas, the decoration procrastination has been VERY difficult. We finally went to get a tree last weekend. We had fond memories of our last tree that we got in Dayton (usually we're traveling, so this is only our second time having a tree) at Young's. We loved hiking through various trees, picking ours out, cutting it down, putting it on a sled, having it shook out and tied to the roof, and so on. Maia remembers the wonderful hot cocoa and popcorn in the barn by the Christmas tree farm.

So I looked up a place where we could cut down our own tree, and we finally (in Maia's mind "FINALLY") headed out to get a tree last weekend. When we arrived however, we found some bad news. The place only took cash or check, which we didn't have. And the trees all started at $65. Yes, $65. If you're from Jersey reading this, you're probably saying, well, yeah, of course, and that's a good deal. But if you're from Iowa or Ohio, you're probably thinking - $65!!!!, to cut down your own tree? And of course, there was no hot cocoa, nor popcorn, included in that price. Above is a picture of the girls with the trees.

After a brief walk around, we got back into the van, with two somewhat confused girls. "But what about the tree? Aren't we going to cut down a tree? What about the tree?" To which we responded, "Let's go get some hot chocolate first."

We went to the mainstreet of this town, hoping to find a quaint little local coffee shop. But we didn't know the area, and we didn't find it, so we ended up at Panera in your typcial strip-mall shopping center. Maia and Eva split a hot cocoa, but Maia really wanted to try the peppermint hot chocolate, even though I didn't think she'd like it. She didn't, and she didn't drink it either. Eva did, however, and she managed to get the lid off when we were back on the road, picture below.

As we headed back toward home, Jeff and I were making plans in a quiet tone, suggesting places where we'd seen trees on the side of the road. We stopped at the one across from the Y, got the kids out, took a glance and then found out that they only took cash, too, and that the trees started at $45. We got back in, and it looked like Maia had tears in her eyes. She probably couldn't figure out why we were driving all over the place getting in and out without getting a tree.

Then we stopped at the place across from the train station, and ended up getting our tree there, with a blank check Jeff found in his wallet. The tree had obviously been sitting out there for a long time; most likely it had been cut before Thanksgiving. It was kind of small, and the men who sold it to us seemed a little strange. $40. To me, that still seems like a lot of money for a tree.
But anyway, we had succeeded. Jeff had it in his head that we would decorate the tree on Christmas Eve - yeah, right! This was clearly the thought of an adult. Maia was so excited that she wanted to start immediately! Oops- no stand. I had to go buy one. When we finally did start putting on the lights, the tree skirt, the angel on top, and the ornaments, Maia was out of her mind happy. Eva was having a lot of fun too. They both liked looking at all of my childhood ornaments. (My mom did a great job labeling our ornaments and putting dates on them, and Maia loved the glitter-tree ornament with my second grade photograph on it.)

When it was all finished, I was sitting in the chair, looking at it with my cynical, critical adult self. It's small, I thought - too small for the space. And too crowded with ornaments since it's so small. I wanted to put the star on top, I thought, but the top was so crooked we had to use the angel. It's so dry, I thought, I can already see needles all over the floor. It's a little lop-sided near the bottom, I thought. And there's a patch on the tree where there aren't enough lights. We paid $40 for this tree?

As I was sitting there, thinking this, I heard a running commentary from Maia: "Mom, our tree is so beautiful!!! I love all these ornaments -- ooh, look at the sparkly ones! Isn't it neat how the angel has little lit-up candles in her hands? This tree is so tall, I can barely see the top! Mmm...it smells so good, doesn't it? I'm so happy we have a tree! I can't wait to see what it looks like with all the presents under it!"
Honestly, it made all the stress worth it. Advent and Christmas are so meaningful when you throw in a little excitement from children. It's the magic of Christmas; it's how we should be thinking about the great gift given to us in the baby Jesus!


Emily Hunter McGowin said...

So glad you shared this story! Our little ones are too young still to "get" Advent or Christmas, but I'm looking forward to sharing the season with them. My burning question is this: What do you all do about Santa Claus? We're still figuring that one out...

Theologian Mom said...

Yes, that is a great question... I was just telling the Gabriellis that Maia must be one of the most confused kids about this stuff. We give our kids St. Nicholas day gifts on the 6th (his feast) - usually little things (although last year they got their huge Fisher-Price nativity set). And we've emphasized that St. Nicholas is real, real, real. We've kind of told Maia that Santa is based on St. Nicholas, but that Santa is just pretend with a lot of fun stories. But of course, you can't say much about that because everyone at school BELIEVES in Santa.

As for gifts, we never attribute any to Santa. We tell them who they are from (Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Nana, the Guizzos, your godparents, etc.). But the gifts did suddenly "appear" under the tree while we were at the Christmas vigil Mass, so there was still an element of surprise.

A very long answer to say..... we're not really sure.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Thanks for this! I'm glad we're not the only ones trying to figure it all out.

Even though my mom and dad were not practicing Christians of any kind, I was raised celebrating St. Nicholas' feast day on the 6th, so your tradition resonates with me. (My grandparents on my dad's side were devout Czech Catholics.) We did Santa Claus, as well, so I was a confused little girl for quite a while. I was a devoted Santa Claus believer till I was in 3rd or 4th grade at least--longer than most kids!

Ronnie and I aren't interested in promoting the Americanized Santa, but we want Christmas to be a special, surprising celebration, too. We also want to give attention to Advent and Epiphany, despite the fact that we're Protestants. I like what you all are doing. Thankfully, we have another year to mull it all over.

Blessings to you and yours!