When our kids were born, we decided not to do the whole Santa thing with our kids. With my dad being a pastor, Santa was never part of our Christmases growing up, anyway; it was all about the birth of Jesus.
Growing up, my husband’s family encouraged asking Santa for gifts, taking photos with Santa, opening up presents on Christmas morning from Santa. When Joe found out, as a young boy, that the gifts were bought by his parents and not given to him by Santa, he felt like his parents had lied to him. He felt betrayed. Santa was a myth; his parents had lied. Therefore, he was absolutely adamant that our kids would know that Christmas was all about Jesus and not Santa, that the greatest gift of all was Jesus being born on earth. Gifts were bought, given and received by people who loved each other.
We did, however, put up stockings. Instead of gifts from Santa, we bought each other small gifts to put in the stockings. One year, my sister made all of us beautiful, handmade stockings. By Christmas morning, the stockings were overflowing with fun little gifts.
After Jason died, I really struggled with what to do about the stockings. It didn’t seem right to put them all up and continue the tradition of filling them with small gifts. If we did that, four stockings would be full and Jason’s would hang empty. I couldn’t put up just four stockings so we could continue our “before” tradition. I couldn’t just leave them in a box over Christmas. We had to figure out a new tradition.
I came up with the idea of Christmas bingo. We still hung up the stockings as decorations, but we came up with a new tradition. We bought fun little items, ones we typically would have put in each other’s stockings. Instead, all the gifts were put on a table and we played bingo. Whoever won the bingo game got to pick a prize. We chose an age-appropriate bingo game, depending on the year and who was with us at Christmas. Some years, we played “bingo” with card games; whoever won the card game got to pick a prize. It has ended up being a hit with all ages.
When a child dies, traditions that a family used to do only highlight the empty hole left by the child’s death. I can’t tell you how much I struggled that first Christmas. I tried so hard to maintain the Christmas traditions as we knew them – partly because I didn’t know what else to do, partly because I was trying to maintain some sense of normalcy, partly to try to maintain our traditions.
After the death of a child, holidays are incredibly difficult times. If you are experiencing such a loss, please know that you are not alone. I pray that God – along with your family and friends – will hold you especially close this season.
Missing my boy, this Christmas season and every day.
© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney