This advent season I was struggling with how to incorporate Christ into our Christmas traditions. As I was trying to figure it all out, my older daughter brought home a flyer from elementary school regarding ways to celebrate Advent with your children and prepare for the birth of Christ. Oh, hooray! I need this.
In the flyer, one of the ideas was to take bits of yarn and place them in a manger every time one of the children did a good deed, had a prayerful moment, gave thanks or otherwise acted in a manner contrary to their nature. The goal was to have a soft bed of straw for the baby Jesus to lie on after he was born on Christmas Eve.
I began searching for yarn. The only yarn I could find in my craft-challenged household was purple and smelled kind of funny. I next unpacked our plastic nativity, remembering only then that we lost the baby Jesus years ago.
Although I do not have a baby Jesus, I do have at least 37 or so glittery Martha Stewart Christmas balls I bought in a frenzy at an after-Christmas sale. I also have a cracked Waterford champagne bucket I have thrown away three times.
In some bizarre crystal resurrection ritual, my husband keeps taking it out of the garbage. So it seems I can’t throw it away and I can’t put champagne in it because A) I no longer drink champagne and B) It has a huge crack in it. So this was my idea.
Every time one of the children did a good deed, performed a kind act or said a prayer, we would put a Martha Stewart Christmas ball in the Waterford crystal champagne bucket.
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, which is what Napoleon said about invading Russia.
William, age 3, categorically refused to participate telling us, “I don’t want to be nice.” Sarah tried her best to coax him to kindness, but he was not interested. Emma, not yet a year old, just chewed on one of the three wise men. Sarah immediately ran upstairs to make William’s bed.
After making William’s bed, begging me to let her help with the baby, hugging her brother, picking up all the dirty laundry and saying a prayer, Sarah breathlessly announced that we now had five balls in the bucket and she raced about searching for more good deeds to accomplish.
I then figured out that my competitive, goal-oriented DNA structure was destroying the entire premise of actually “waiting” for the baby Jesus, and we were missing the entire process orientation of the project.
At this point I made a brilliant tactical decision and limited Sarah’s acts of kindness. She started shrieking. My husband cannot tolerate the shriek of a 5-year old girl, so he told her that if she didn’t shape up we were going to take balls out. I had to point out that if we took balls away, we were already at a negative balance for the night because, as William had pointed out earlier, he didn’t want to be nice.
Sarah asked us why, if she put balls in for being nice and then William was naughty, her balls had to come out of the bucket. It wasn’t fair. Instead, she informed us, we should have three buckets and three sets of balls.
Since I did not have three cracked champagne buckets or even close to three times 37 or so glittery Christmas balls, I tried to spreadsheet the entire exercise. This true-life application of a business skill set went exactly nowhere. As far as Sarah was concerned, if she couldn’t prepare for the birth of Christ as efficiently as possible, she wasn’t the least bit interested. Emma was too young and, as William told us from the beginning, he had no intention of being nice.
It would seem, perhaps, that you cannot substitute glittery Christmas balls and crystal buckets for straw and a manger.
And so here we are at 11:17, another December’s eve. The presents wrapped; the stockings hung. The neighborhood covered in snow, and the Christmas lights blazing. A cracked champagne bucket, five boxes of glittery Christmas balls and a nativity with a chewed-up wise man and a missing baby Jesus.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at email@example.com.