We dressed our daughter as an elf last Christmas and took her to Center City Park for the Christmas tree lighting last year. She was all of four months old then, hardly more than an infant. We were thrilled to have her open her eyes and squint towards the camera for just enough time to snap a family selfie, considering that she mostly wanted to sleep.
A lot has changed in the interceding 12 months. Our little girl was walking by early spring. Over the year, she has developed a glorious halo of dark brown curls, and she has developed an impressive repertoire of squeals and assorted utterances, some of which resemble words.
I haven’t really given much thought at all to what it means for a 16-month-old child to experience Christmas.
The question of Santa Claus caught me cold the other week. It happened at a reception held for departing members of High Point City Council at the Theatre Art Galleries when Jim Davis, then in his final hour as mayor, asked me: “So, have you taken her to see Santa Claus yet?”
I shook my head and said something to the effect of, “No, I’ll have to get right on that.”
While I consider myself to be pretty informed, I wouldn’t even know where to find a Santa Claus. Do they still hang out at the mall? I don’t think it would mean much to my daughter. I can imagine her with a determined look on her face, climbing down from his lap and running to the fountain. The whole idea of Santa Claus makes me vaguely suspicious. The inducements for good behavior seem superficial, and the notion of a mythical being who resides at the North Pole who exists for the sole purpose of sating children’s material desires doesn’t compute.
I’m a practicing Christian with weak faith who nonetheless wants to raise my daughter with strong moral values. I’m not going to try to prevent her from being exposed to social pressures when she gets older, but I also am not going out of my way to turn her on to materialism. Underneath the veneer of good tidings, Santa Claus seems like the gateway drug for the commodification of the season.
I am looking forward to giving our daughter gifts. I’ve watched her pluck the strings of my guitar, and then delight as she steps back to listen to the notes ring out. I have an idea that at some point I’m going to give her a Mexican vihuela, a small instrument that is played by strumming, to encourage her budding interest in music. As a first step in the plan, I have a copy of Fiesta Mexicana, the children’s music CD by Sones de Mexico, on order. And my wife and I have been talking about replacing the batteries in our tuner so we can start playing the guitar and bass again.
I can get down with the idea of parents sharing a love of music — or sports, or books, or whatever — with children.
I don’t have the first clue of how to do Christmas. Fortunately, my wife was organized enough to pull our small, artificial tree out of the closet and decorate it.
My parents were equally apathetic about Christmas when I was young. I’m told that our friend, Marshall, came by one day and insisted that we should have a Christmas tree. They relented under duress and hung the tree from the ceiling instead of standing it up on the floor. I was too young to remember.
I was probably 4 and my friend, Bluegrass, would have been 5 when we found the first Christmas tree that I remember. We had walked through a cow field to the place where my dad collected junked Toyota Coronas for parts, near the bottom of the power-line hill. I remember clearly the excitement that we both felt when we found a cedar tree that was already severed at the trunk. We dragged it through the snow, and proudly presented it to the mom. In hindsight it was just a scrawny cedar that the cows had stomped down. But suddenly it felt like Christmas. And every Christmas after that, I had the job of cutting the tree.
So maybe we’ll take our cues from our daughter, and let her guide us to a new family holiday tradition.