Sunday, December 23, 2012

a couple things I learned watching The Nightmare Before Christmas as a parent

The other night, we started watching The Nightmare Before Christmas.

If you're unfamiliar with it, it's a Tim Burton movie -- which means it's both beautiful and bizarre at the same time.  It takes place in a world where each holiday have their own separate world.  So there's a Thanksgiving world, an Easter world, a Christmas world, etc.  The focus of each of these worlds is to prepare for the one day a year when they celebrate their holiday.  They have no idea of the existence of the other worlds.

That changes when Jack, "The Pumpkin King," stumbles into the Christmas world through a tree portal and becomes enamoured with it.  The Halloween city then decides to make Christmas their own, and -- of course -- chaos ensues.

I honestly do love watching this movie.  It's nostalgic, it's beautiful, the music is interesting (albeit with really twisted lyrics -- "Kidnap the Sandy Claws - through him in a box.  Lock him up for ninety years, then see if he talks," is one mild example.  Oh, they get worse for sure).  Yes, it's twisted, but you're talking to a girl who was obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe for a good part of her adolescence.  For whatever reason, there's a part of me that is attracted to the macabre.

But watching it the other night was different, because I was seeing it for the first time as a parent.  And as much as I still enjoyed the movie, I realized a few things.

1) I'm going to be a fairly strict parent when it comes to things I let my kids watch, or at least WHEN and HOW I let them watch things

The whole time we were watching the movie, we kept commenting, "Oh man, we would not let Gwen watch this."  Okay.  Granted, she's not even two yet.  But I really don't know at which point I would let her watch the movie.  I guess it depends on the kid and their fright level, but it's a pretty twisted movie and the claymation is fairly frightening.  Even more than the somewhat-freaky nature of the movie, I was more concerned about the content.

Most Christmas movies are fairly innocent and are focused on family and love. That's good.  That's nice.  But that's not why we celebrate Christmas.  I mean, that's sort of why we celebrate Thanksgiving, right?  I'm not saying that I don't want our children to never watch any sort of Christmas movie or any other type of movie that is somewhat at-odds with our Christian worldview, but I want to be careful about when I let them see it.

For instance, my parents let me watch movies when I was old enough to understand bigger concepts.  I didn't see Nightmare when I was 5, but when I was older.  I would want my children to see movies and talk about both the good and dark qualities about them.  I'd rather have them be critically-minded about movies they watch, rather than mindlessly absorbing them.

Even Disney movies that are completely "harmless" can cause damage.  Take, for instance, Cinderella.  Now there's a classic, seemingly-harmless fairy tale, right?  And I admit: I have a very soft spot for the story in my heart, especially since Elliott and I met during a production of the story (yes, I was Cinderella, and he was the Prince).  But without being critically-minded, I think this movie -- and other movies like it -- can do a lot of damage to boys and girls alike.  In these movies, we typically see helpless girls waiting for a void in their lives to be filled by a man.  We also see knights-in-shining-armor coming in to save the damsel-in-distress.  There's worldview damage to be had, whether or not you're a girl who just wants a guy to make her life perfect, or you're a guy looking for disfunctional women to save.  It's a dangerous narrative, and I think watching those movies without an awareness of the worldview I was absorbing really affected the way I lived my life (and I know it affected Elliott as well).

The worldview I want Gwen and "Birdie" (and whatever other kids we'll be blessed with) to know -- that we are broken, in need of saving, and our only hope is found in Jesus Christ -- is not typically found in movies.  I understand that.  It needs to be taught in the home, and it needs to be lived out in our lives so they see the Gospel in action.  But part of teaching them our worldview is knowing WHAT movies we want them to see, and WHEN is an appropriate time for them to see these movies.  It's also knowing that if they want to see a movie we are not 100% okay with, that we need to watch it with them and talk about it afterwards, so they they can develop a discerning spirit.

2) I'm concerned with how we celebrate Christmas

Full confession: I'm a sucker for Christmas.  And you know what?  I think the majority of my energies are focused on decorating, carol-singing, and gift-giving.  I also love watching classic movies -- Charlie Brown, Emmet Otter, A Muppet Christmas Carol, The Christmas Toy, It's a Wonderful Life... I love Christmas movies.  I love the nostalgia that comes with Christmas.  I love re-living the Christmas "spirit" as a mom and bringing the cozy joy to my daughter.

But that's not why I celebrate Christmas.  At least, in my head, I know that is not why I celebrate Christmas.  Yet if I take a full unbiased view of my activities during this season, I am ashamed to say that I do not fully celebrate the birth of Christ.  Honestly, it's almost an afterthought.  And that makes me very sad.

Of course, we talk about how we want our children to grow up in a home where the focus of Christmas is the Gospel -- and the amazing miracle of God coming down in lowly human form to save us.  But so far, I don't see us living this way.  Our main focus is on family.  That's not a bad thing, but it's not why we live our lives.  We live our lives for Christ because of His grace shown to us.  It's an awesome, almost unthinkable-but-incredible truth that drives us day-in and day-out.  It's a shame -- and I seriously mean: a truly shameful thing -- that our Christmas season is not more focused on the Lord.

So I'm turning this to you now.  We're still a young family starting out.  We definitely have the chance to start Christmas traditions that our kids will grow up with.  

  • What do you do to ensure that the holiday season is one focused on Christ?  
  • What have you done with your children so that "PRESENTS!!!!" are not the main focus?  
  • What have you heard others doing?  

I'd love to know your thoughts, because Elliott and I want to be intentional about how we celebrate this season.

And this is probably my last "Christmas" post, so...

a very wonderful, blessed Christmas to you all!

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