Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Journeying to Bethlehem (or around my house)

It's probably no surprise that I'm no fan of the Elf on the Shelf. We don't "do" Santa in our house (we tell Nate that he's a fun story based on the real Saint Nicholas, but we don't try to convince him that Santa really lives at the North Pole or brings him gifts on Christmas).

I don't have any big problem with Santa Claus as a fun Christmastime tradition. We decided to forego him only because our faith will require that we ask Nate to believe a lot of seemingly unbelievable things, and we want him to know that when we do tell him something, he can always count on it to be the truth. There are ways to deal with this, obviously, and I don't begrudge anyone their Santa fun.

But I do get pretty annoyed at people who use the man in red as a threat against their children ("You'd better be good or Santa won't bring you any presents!"), and I get particularly annoyed at people who tell my child that Santa isn't going to visit him if he's naughty. (My neighbor last week. Ahem.)

And that's why the Elf annoys me. Although many families (maybe yours!) who have bought Elves don't use them as an all-seeing eye for jolly old Saint Nick, according to the product website the entire point of this purported "Christmas tradition" (dating back to the good old days of 2005!) is to tell your children that the Elf reports their behavior back to Santa, thereby inspiring the kids to be good for at least one month out of the year.

Rosie over at Like Mother, Like Daughter has a rant on this topic that had me nodding my head in agreement. I want Nate to learn to want to be good and do good, not due to threats or punishments, but because he loves other people and loves God and wants to please Him. The Catechism tells us that "The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear . . ." (CCC 1972).

It's like that scene in The Break-Up when Brooke tells Gary, "I want you to want to do the dishes!" (Bad language warning on that clip.) It's not, contrary to his response, that she expects him to enjoy doing dishes; rather, she wants him to love her enough that he wants to do things that make her happy. We all have that innate sense that grudging good behavior isn't the same thing as good behavior motivated by love or kindness. So even though there are times of desperation when I'll take good behavior from Nate motivated by anything at all--hence my relentless use of the iPhone to keep him happy during restaurant meals--I don't want to bring a toy into our home that teaches him year after year throughout his childhood that the reason to be good is the fear of a gift-less Christmas morning.

I also think that the Elf looks vaguely creepy.

However. I recognize that it's lots of fun for children to wake up each morning and wonder where they'll find their Elf hiding out that day, and I have to appreciate the creative vignettes that some moms are coming up with for their Elf each day. (As long as those vignettes don't involve the Elf doing things we wouldn't want our children to do. I can't understand why this is encouraged! Why would you want the Elf to show your kids that making messes is funny?)

So in the grand tradition (dating back to waaaaaaay before 2005) of taking the good from something and adapting it to fit your needs, in our family, Mary and Joseph are journeying around the house this Advent on their way to Bethlehem.

This morning they showed us the importance of good dental hygiene.


And yesterday they took a little puzzle break on their journey.


Now, our Mary and Joseph--which come from this lovely and child-friendly nativity set--aren't poseable, so I'm a bit limited in what they can do. But Nate and I are both enjoying his looking for them each day, and they give us a nice opportunity to discuss the real Christmas story. It's a win-win, I'd say.

(And now I'll be hiding from everyone who thinks I'm a Grinch for hating the Elf.)