The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney

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.

~Becky

© 2018 Rebecca R. Carney

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there…

 

Growing up as a preacher’s kid, Christmas was all about the birth of Christ and there was no focus on Santa whatsoever. We, as kids, knew that some kids truly believed Santa (Saint Nicholas) landed on the roof top in his sleigh and came down the chimney, delivered their presents and filled all the stockings. But, to us, Santa was a story of a man in a red suit who represented a nice concept of giving at Christmas. That was it. To our family, Christmas was all about Jesus being born in a manager.

imagesMy husband’s family, on the other hand, did the whole Santa thing. When we got married, Joe firmly told me that, when we had kids, we would NOT allow Santa to be the focus our Christmases. He said that he felt betrayed and lied to by his parents when he found out that his parents bought the gifts and that they were not delivered by Santa.  He couldn’t understand how they could lie to him like that. He felt like he was supposed to be able to trust that his parents, of all people, would be honest with him! It was a traumatic experience for him as a little kid.

It is kind of creepy, if you think about it. You’re told a man in a red suit is watching you all the time. He knows what you’re doing. Your parents lie to you and use it to control your behavior at Christmas. Just my opinion. I guess I never understood the fascination with Santa.

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake…

Christmas Carols – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Lyrics | MetroLyrics

When Eric was a baby, though, we were given a stocking for him that had been hand-made by a family member. It was cute and thoughtfully given, so we bought stockings for rest of us to up as decorations. We decided they would be a good place to hold fun little gifts for each other, and they became a part of our holiday tradition. A few years later, my sister gave beautifully hand-made stockings for each of us and we put them up every year. Finding little “stocking stuffers” to put in each other’s stockings became part of our Christmas tradition. It was the fun way we ended our Christmas Day celebration every year by “opening” our stockings, stuffed to the top with fun little gifts, all at the same time. A Christmas tradition.

As I said in my previous post, that first Christmas after Jason died was so hard. As I sat on the family room floor, crying while surrounded by Christmas decorations, I truly didn’t know how we were going to celebrate Christmas without Jason. I couldn’t even get the decorations on the tree because I was so raw with the pain of missing Jason. I could barely function that Christmas. We had tried to instill a sense of tradition at Christmas and create memorable moments for our family. How were we going to maintain our family traditions when our family was broken and missing Jason?

One thing I remember is sitting on the family room floor that Christmas, trying to figure out if I should put up the stockings. I stared at the five nails above the fireplace. If I put all five of them up and we filled them with little gifts for each other as we usually did, I didn’t think I could handle seeing Jason’s stocking hanging there empty. If we put something in Jason’s stocking, it would be sad because he wouldn’t really be there to “open” his stocking with the rest of us. I couldn’t put up the rest of our stockings and not Jason’s. It would be obvious he was missing and would feel like a betrayal by excluding him. If I didn’t put them up at all or put them up and didn’t put anything in them, we wouldn’t be maintaining one of our traditions. Was that fair to the rest of the family? I didn’t know what to do. None of the choices seemed right, because it didn’t seem right that Jason was gone.

We tried to maintain some of our traditions that year, just because we didn’t know what else to do. Our Christmas traditions had become woven into our family way of life. We didn’t want to cheat the rest of our family out of celebrating our traditional Christmas, but every tradition we tried to maintain that first year after Jason died just emphasized his absence.  No matter what we did or didn’t do that Christmas, it was obvious Jason wasn’t there. It was so hard.

That’s the thing about traditions – they are tightly woven into and become meaningful remembrances of a holiday. The hanging of the stockings was just one of many of our Christmas traditions that carried weight of meaning to us as a family tradition. Yes, it was just a fun little part of our Christmas morning, but every single tradition we had was part of the way WE celebrated OUR Christmas as a FAMILY. Now part of our family was gone. And there were so many more traditions we had as a family besides hanging the stockings, each one spotlighting Jason’s absence. Asian food for dinner Christmas Eve. Candlelight service as a family on Christmas Eve. Cinnamon rolls Christmas morning. On and on. So many traditions.

Traditions. What do you do with your family traditions after a child dies? I think it takes many years to figure out which traditions to keep and which ones are too painful to continue. Some traditions can be bittersweet reminders of past Christmases before our child died. Some are put away for a while and may be started again at some point. Some are put away for good because they just hurt too much. New traditions are added in. For us, I think it continues to be a work in progress, this finding of traditions to add special meaning to our family Christmas. I guess I’m still not used to the idea of celebrating Christmas without Jason. I don’t think I ever will be.

© 2014 Rebecca R. Carney