Sunday, December 17, 2006

When do you open your Christmas gifts?

Feast of Saint Olympias

There was a discussion amongst some Catholic moms I am friends with, about when we celebrate by opening gifts. I am one of those who opens gifts on the Epiphany (rather, my children open my gifts to them on that day, they get gifts from the rest of the family on Christmas Day). I do this because that is when Jesus gets his gifts (and they only get 3, just like He did). It is a tradition I started in my family. Also, I don't really decorate until the Christmas season starts on Christmas Day, & it stays up until it ends - this way we remember when the Christmas season really is.

I think it is important families have their own family traditions, as long as they are in keeping with the Faith of course. Whatever day gifts are opened does not matter - only that we know WHY we do it.

One of my friends had an excellent post on this subject, which she gave me permission to share

It seems that there has been a lot of discussion about WHEN we should be celebrating Christmas...at least the present part of it (at least I hope that's the only part that is meant....I hope that there is SOMETHING being done in the way of celebration). I admire those of you who are trying to get away from the consumerism and keep the focus on Our Lord. It's very hard to do on a regular basis, let alone this time of year. But I don't think it's correct to make it seem that this can be the ONLY way to do things.

I think that no matter WHEN you open presents, it's very difficult in this world to keep sight of what is right and true. In most cases, even if you decide to open those presents on a different day, that act in of itself will not force a child (or anyone else for that matter) to focus on the Incarnation. This is something that we, as parents, MUST teach first. And this is an ongoing process....my three year old doesn't have a full understanding of WHY we celebrate Christmas entirely. He DOES think an awful lot about toys and presents and food, etc. But this is HUMAN. Sure, I could transfer it to another day, but he is still going to think very much in human terms until he is actually able to put things into the perspective it needs to be in. This is how people learn. Christmas needs to be taught that it's a special day (and I know that everyone here wants to do that). But the *specialness* of the day comes first, because they really don't understand the WHY when they are little. You can't really teach a 2 or 3 year old what the Incarnation is and have their full understanding...you can talk about it, and how Baby Jesus is God and became a baby for us, but at that age they really are not going to comprehend it's meaning entirely (and before anyone jumps down my throat for this, I DO teach my children about this and consider it to be absolutely crucial, but I DON'T expect them to GET it. It's like teaching the Hail Mary...my 2 year old can say it almost flawlessly, but he really doesn't get what the whole thing means, kwim?). But a small child, despite the fact that he or she can tell me Who's birthday it is, doesn't really care as much about that as the doll or drum they are going to open up on Christmas or Epiphany morning. And the fact of the matter is if I changed the externals to a differing day, my smaller children will associate THAT day with the presents and other wonderful things. This is why I never transferred our gift giving to Epiphany...not because *I* was into the consumerism, but because I didn't want my children to think that Epiphany was more important than Christmas. You have to understand that small children especially (and beyond, unfortunately, when the Faith is not ever taught) judge things by the externals. If there's a fun game on a certain day, or a special type of food, or presents to open, that ends up being their reasoning behind whether or not a day is special.

With small children, they DO focus on the presents, because THAT is the thing they can see. Of course, we as Catholics tell them from infancy about the Incarnation, and how wonderful that is. But in the end, their little minds can't always comprehend that part because it's not necessarily something they can see or touch. But if you have externals that set that day aside, making it something out of the ordinary, that shows them that there is something more about this day. At first it may be about the presents, or the games, or the cookies, but later on, when they take a really good look at the creche and see what's going on at Mass, they KNOW there is something more. It's not wrong, per se, for them to think like this, it really just shows their humanity. For example, my children don't look at the last day of the week as "Saturday"....in OUR house, it's "French Toast Day" because it's a special time of the week that we do something extra for breakfast. They also know that the REASON why we have this special extra is because it's Our Lady's day (Saturday traditionally has always been for Our Lady, like Friday is for the Passion, Tuesday for the Eucharist, etc.)> But while most of hem could tell you that it's Our Lady's day, really, they're way more excited that we're having french toast. The flip side to this would be those that don't have the Faith at all...it wouldn't matter WHEN they celebrate because they NEVER focus on Jesus anyway. It all has to do with Faith in the end. If you teach your child from the beginning what Christmas truly means, it won't really matter when you celebrate because they'll know WHY despite it all. If you've ALWAYS made Jesus the focus, then it will just come as second nature for them when they are old enough to understand why He is the focus. And yes, I do really believe that they can do this after a full day of opening presents (although I think what's being forgotten here is that Christmas isn't really a DAY but a season, which STARTS on December 25th, not on January 6th).

Fr. Feeney, when he would talk to ANY child, could almost always count on the fact that he would think Dec. 25th was the greatest day of the year, whether he knew about Christ or not. And starting from THAT point, it was easy to get into the REAL greatness of that day.

But if it wasn't for the presents and feasting on Christmas day, it would be much harder to get across the REAL greatness. Because Christmas is celebrated the way it is, the entire world STOPS on this day, and that in of itself is a GREAT grace, because eventually someone of good will will ask WHY does the world stop on this day.

Think of the graces that one receives for just WONDERING, let alone the graces they receive when they ask WHY. So when relatives decide to celebrate by giving presents on Christmas, couldn't that instead be used as a tool? To give to THEM in return, the WHY?

This got really long, and I apologize for that. I'm not trying to go off on all of you who celebrate on Epiphany...as I said at the beginning, I admire you for the reasons you are doing it. But I've felt quite a bit since this topic has been started that many here feel it is almost impossible to keep Christmas centered upon Christ when you open presents and do other things that may not be "Christ centered" on Christmas day. That those of us who do things this way are somehow doing it wrong. You can look at many secular families and this more than likely is true, but I'd wager to bet that if THEY transferred Christmas to Epiphany, it wouldn't make them think of Jesus any more than they did on Christmas to begin with. Those that are filled with consumerism most often are not religious anyway, and could care less why they are getting presents. But I know for a fact that if you were to talk to any Catholic family that is TRULY living their Faith that opens presents on Christmas, they would know exactly WHY Christmas is special. I know my children know, and we've always done things in the way we do now. Finbar may not get it entirely, and he may be really excited about those presents, but I keep plugging away knowing that one day he WILL get it. And one day the presents and other externals won't matter quite as much, as his Faith matures and he has a better understanding of that tiny baby who is God. Until then, I'm happy that he at least understands that there is something special about Christmas day (or Epiphany day, or whatever), even if that something special has quite a bit to do with presents.

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