Oh the lovely conversations that happen here at the lake. I had just dropped off my eldest for karate. As the door slid closed behind her, my son announced, "Mamma, I would like to become Bahá'í."
"Okay," I responded. The Bahá'í faith is not all that unusual a topic as our close family friends are Bahá'í and we have spent the last seven years sharing our faiths with one another.
"Could you tell me more about that desire?" I asked.
Enthusiastically, and clearly with premeditated analysis, my son responded, "Well, I am not happy with Christmas."
I wondered allowed why he was disgruntled with Christmas. He answered, "Well, at Christmas Santa Claus brings us toys and stuff, but Ayám-i-Há (A Bahá'í festival that begins tomorrow) is a festival of giving. It's about giving, not receiving. I like that better."
This is the part that shocked me. We try very hard to make Christmas about the love of Jesus. We did not introduce the kids to Santa Claus, but once they discovered him, we never told them what to believe, except in one instance when my youngest forced the issue and I told her my first big parental lie (You can read more about that fiasco here). Other than that, we have stuck to stories of St. Nicholas and his desire to give to the poor children as Jesus commanded. Though we speak in the past tense about St. Nicholas, they have collectively decided that this St. Nicholas is indeed the Santa Claus who comes each Christmas. At some point, maybe five or six years ago, at their request (by virtue of tremendously clever hints like, "When Santa Claus comes this Christmas Eve and leaves a present, I hope he doesn't wake us up."), Santa Claus started delivering a book to each child every year. When pressed, we simply say that St. Nicholas' focus was the poor. Since we are not poor, St. Nicholas needn't bring us toys. With that, once we realized they were planning to embrace the Santa of both popular culture and their imaginations, we have had some fun with the concept. They leave treats for Santa and Santa leaves a map in their stockings that shows them where the book is hidden in the house.
We also donate gifts each year to various organizations in order to "help Santa bring more gifts to children whose parents and grandparents cannot provide for them."
As of this year, one child no longer believes in Santa, but pretends to believe, one child is hanging on as long as possible, and one child loves the concept enough to keep it going.
Our focus at Christmas is always the messages that Jesus offered us. We spend all of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, doing nightly devotionals about the legacy of love that Jesus left us and that we are called to give to the world as Jesus did. We spent many years making items to sell to earn money to send to Haiti at Christmas. And, on Christmas morning, each child receives, from us, very few presents (though the grandparents are very generous).
So my shock at this announcement is not that my son is considering venturing into another faith. I happily support him in discovering how he feels most comfortable worshipping God. My shock is that, despite everything we do to take the focus of Christmas off of materialism and onto charity and love, he still feels that the holiday is too, well, greedy.
And he's right. No matter what we do in our home, he is still bombarded by messages that Christmas is about the loot.
In fact, in many ways, Christianity can smack of that message year round.
Our church, for example, is planning a big fundraiser, with the money going directly to the church. I do not begrudge the church this attempt at balancing the budget. My son might not be aware (through obvious negligence on our part) of the money that our church donates to important organizations (for many years one of those organizations was the one our family donates to most, Fondasyon Limyè Lavi through Free The Slaves). In his mind, though, as he expressed to me, it feels confusing to be raising money for the church when he knows there are so many more desperate people who need it.
This criticism could be made of many Christian pursuits.
As we discussed the issue further, my youngest jumped in and shared with us that Ayám-i-Há is a season of giving. She said, "The gifts for Ayám-i-Há are supposed to be more godly gifts, Mamma." I am not sure how true this is, incidentally, and will have to do some fact checking with my BBP (Best Bahá'í Pal), A-funk over at Motherhood and More. She also said that the children are supposed to fast for lunch during Ayám-i-Há, which I am pretty sure is untrue, and that this year's festival is 5 days long because of leap year (that could be true). She likes to invent ideas, that one (Feel free to jump in Bahá'í readers).
I did find it interesting when my son agreed with his sister's assessment of the gifts and shared that he felt more comfortable with godly gifts and with giving to the world than with "just receiving random gifts twice a year" (he is including Easter).
Again his sister contributed, explaining another uncorroborated, most likely invented, fact that the Ayám-i-Há gifts are a way of sharing with Mother Earth. "I think that's a good reason to become Baha'i because you are honoring the earth and that way you are also honoring God."
(Should you decide to explore the Bahá'í faith, please do so knowing that my daughter's 7 year old understanding of the faith is interpreted and delivered through the eyes of a rather inventive child.)
So I have some interesting tasks ahead of me. One is to take a good look at how we are sharing our faith with our kids. Despite our best efforts, it seems that at least one of them is concerned that Christianity, even our very what you do for the least of these you do for me interpretation of it, does not focus enough on making the world a better place. This is a problem, not because I want my kids to worship God exactly as we do, but because I am drawn to Christianity specifically because the Gospel compels us to create heaven on earth for every inhabitant of it. One of my children, at least, is not picking up on this.
Is it because that focus has been somewhat buried at our church lately as we transition from one pastor to another? Is it because we got too busy this year and did not make money to send to Haiti for Christmas? Is it because his eldest sister chooses to attend a weekly Bahá'i´youth group because, in her words, "There is absolutely no gossip and no competition, everyone is very supportive, and we talk about things that matter" (She also attends the weekly youth group I started at our church that attempts to hold to the same values)? Or is it because, as he asserted toward the end of the conversation, "The Bahá'ís also have a lot more gatherings so they get to celebrate God more often"?
My second task is to confirm my kids' interpretation of the Bahá'í faith (A-funk? Help us out).
My third task is to re-evaluate Christmas and Easter around here.
And my final task is to take a good long look at how we are living out our Christian faith, how it is expressed within our church, and whether or not our life of faith feels sufficient for our children.
Good car talk, son. Good car talk.