04 December 2014

deck the screens

For no particular reason other than the fact that I like to share, here are some of our family's favorite holiday youtube clips.  Some are funny, some may well draw a tear to your eye.  At any rate, I hope you enjoy them.

1. The Christmas story as told by precious children from New Zealand in funky costumes.

2. From Slugs & Blugs (which  makes the best music for kids) a song about a shepherd dad and his son on Christmas.

3. A look at modern shepherds in Bethlehem and what they understand of the story of Christmas.

4. Mariah Carey, the Roots, classroom instruments, and children.  And Christmas.  Yes, please.

5. Last but not least: Rend Collective's "You Are My Joy" Christmas video.

One more? Okay, here it is.  Kid Snippets takes kid's voices telling stories, and their adults lip sync to it. This particular one is the kids telling an old family story of a Christmas from when their parents were young.  I love the rambling way kids tell stories.  And the lip sync skills are prodigious.  

So what makes the cut for Christmas screen time, for your family?  We love the classics: the Grinch (animated, duh), Charlie Brown and his friends crooning at the sky, and this year we will introduce the kids to "YOU'LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT!" You? Any recommendations?

01 December 2014


Oh, has Elf on the Shelf arrived!  It has crossed the line from "cute idea exploding all over Pinterest" to "controversial idea debated on blogs posts shared on facebook." Or is it just my friends linking to Huffington Post articles about how the Elf is ruining Christmas?

I wrote last year about my conflicting thoughts about the Elf. (<-- Click to read). And I ended up deciding not to do it, a very sound decision for me and my family.  (And a tricky one, I'm finding. More and more of my kids' friends have elves living at their homes this month, and it is a minefield for my kids. I coach them frequently about how not to ruin Santa for others; now I have to add the elf to the lecture.)

In the interest of disclosing holiday traditions, we may not have creepy charming plastic dolls wrecking havoc and taking marshmallow bubble baths, but we do plenty of other memorable activities.  We always get new jammies on Christmas Eve, and play "hot-and-cold find the hidden baby Jesus from the nativity set" at Grandma and Grandpa's. We always make decorated sugar cookies. We have special ornaments with traditions and stories.  We do Advent readings and Advent calendars with daily cheap pieces of chocolate therein. We always have Christmas tree waffles the morning of the 25th.  We always stand in a circle and sing "Joy to the Word" with family at Nana and Papa's house. But my favorite tradition that we are developing as a young family is that of our "shepherd's pouches."

Like all good traditions, this one came from the Bible.  No, just kidding, it came from Pinterest.  The idea is, each kid has a rough burlap pouch with their name on it (seriously rough- I sewed them, and I'm no seamstress). They are meant to hang in the place of their stockings, but as we have no mantel, and no stockings yet, we just place them haphazardly around the house.  Did I mention this is a tradition-in-progress?  Throughout the season of Advent, the kids earn money by doing extra chores- ones above and beyond what is expected of them.  The money they earn goes in their pouches.  Christmas Eve we count up what they made, and use it to order from the World Vision Gift Catalog. That means they are giving a practical, special gift to a person in need around the world- a mosquito net, a chicken, a Bible, or a soccer ball, for example. Then when they wake up in the morning, their shepherd's pouches are gone, replaced by stockings.  Just as they experience the joy of giving, they get the joy or receiving.

Here's the thing: my kids get into this.  My oldest boy remembered doing this last year, and begged me to let him start early- about 2 weeks before Thanksgiving.  He has begged me almost every day for jobs to earn money- money that he knows will not be for him.  We watched the videos online at World Vision's site, where short clips explain the hows and whys and whos of each gift- medicine, fishing gear, educational supplies, seeds.  When we got to the video about clean water, and the effects on children who walk miles to get muddy water from a polluted source, my seven year old buried his head in my shoulder and started shaking with sobs.  Which made me cry too- in part because my heart and head are so numb, so cynical, that I forgot how shattering that truth is, until my boy's tears reminded me.  I had to get his attention and show him the end of the video, with the joyful children frolicking in the clean water of a new well, to remind him of the hope of change- and the fact that he could be part of it.

So all my kids are wiping windows and dusting and taking out the recycling.  And asking, "how much will you pay me for that job?" like some money grubbing Wall Street wannabes. And they take the quarters and dimes and dollars (thanks, Grandma and Nana!) and stuff them into their burlap bags.  Christmas Eve will be amazing, because each one has a chosen goal: a Bible, a mosquito net, and a share of a well, respectively- that they are working hard to meet.  The Bible says that whatever we do for the people who are "the least," we do for Jesus.  So like the shepherds, we will come to his birthday party, ready with His gifts.

Because I am the opposite of super-mom, I cannot do both this, and the Elf. And I know that the long-term lessons about joy, and the power they have to actually change a little of the bitter sadness that is truly in the world- will serve my kids well.

But I still reserve the right to have a random toy dinosaur start some nightly shenanigans, sometime in January.

Find out more about World Vision's gifts by watching this video:

Also, Compassion International does a similar gift catalog.  World Vision just got to us first, and we stuck with them. Both feature domestic and international gifts in many categories, but of course there are countless other charities you know of that would fit the bill just as well.

Here's the blog where I originally found the idea:

PS- I know none of you reasonable people will jump to any crazy conclusions, but in case some person I don't know actually reads this all the wrong way: I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH OTHER PEOPLE DOING ELF ON THE SHELF. MORE POWER TO YOU. YOU ARE A BETTER PARENT THAN I.  IF I COULD DO IT ALL, AND DO IT ALL WELL, I WOULD TOO. There. (wink).