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.)


Julie said...

I love this idea. So much better than the annoying elf. No offense to anyone who wants to do the elf but I just don't have time to worry about moving him around every night and coming up with an activity for him to do. On top of that, I can't stand the pictures on FB of everyone's elves. But Mary and Joseph on a journey...that I can get behind.

k said...

Mary and Joseph totally seem the type to get into some Advent shenanigans.

Jessica said...

I love this! You'll have to post a lot of ideas so I can do this next year:)

Hillary said...

I love this so much. (Also, loved Rosie's rant. It makes so much sense to me that you read them, too.) I'm not Catholic and we do Santa, but I have no intention of doing that ridiculous Elf. He is sort of creepy looking and I try not to bribe my kids (look, I might occasionally dangle dessert or M&Ms for potty training).

Elizabeth said...

We do Santa, mostly just because I think it's fun. Also you know I enjoy lying to my children on a regular basis :)
However I cannot stand that stupid Elf, although I am not sure why, and I am sure I won't articulate it as well as you did, but mostly I think its the "Here! Buy something else for Christmas" thing. Ugh. Go for a walk! DO something! Christmas doesn't always have to come in a box. Gross.

CharlieSue said...


(I don't have any parenting/Santa/elf/naughtiness opinions that I feel comfy thinking, but I feel I'm allowed to think that that elf is creepy and a frustrating idea. :))

april said...

I love this too. I don't do the elf, and I refuse to threaten my children with no Santa with bad behavior etc. my mom says "why wouldn't you take advantage of it?" But WHY? Unless I really mean to not give them things which I wouldn't do.

We do the fun thing every day by getting into the advent calendar this year. Although we are not particularly religious, it gives us something to enjoy the season with every day.

Suki said...

I think this is sweet! I really like your nativity set, too. I love the idea that it would make Mary and Joseph seem very friendly to a little kid. That's part of what I love about the Saint Nicholas tradition, too. The saints are our family!

Also, you seemed very familiar, so I looked at your pictures...I think we used to go to the same parish!

-Sukie (from LMLD)

Kate said...

Not grinchy at all! In fact, I love this and am totally stealing it for when Henry gets older.

Heather said...

Very cute idea. I love how you're using the activity to focus on what's really important at Christmastime.

claire said...

We don't do much with Santa, either. I've told my son about St. Nicholas, and I told him that since St. Nicholas is now in Heaven with Jesus, there are Santa's helpers here on earth who give presents to celebrate Jesus' birthday (some where Santa costumes, others--like Mom and Dad-- don't). I'm hoping this will stop him from blurting out things about Santa that might be disappointing to kids who do the Santa thing.

Mama Bub said...

Well this is such a cute idea. Our elf just moves around every night. I don't understand the elves making flour angels. You know who has to clean that up? ME!

Elsha said...

Really cute idea! (I know I'm late to this post.) I've been enjoying your pictures on Twitter.

We don't do the Elf either (for many of the reasons you mentioned) although apparently it is an old thing. I asked my mom if she'd heard of it and she said it was around when she was growing up. (But her family never did it either.)

Anyway, I may need to steal your idea.

eliskimo said...

So, I'm curious: What else did your Mary and Joseph do on their journey last year? I'm 8 days in (I got started a day late) and I'm running out of ideas.