Sunday, December 22, 2013

Waiting for the Light

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year. Today, with less than nine hours of daylight, will also be very short, but we've turned the corner. After months of increasing darkness we are turning toward the light. Longing for light seems to be rampant. In recent days light has come up in a wide variety of conversations:
  • I have heard a number of people discussing the "Christmas Morning Rules" also known as "How early can the day start?" Parents want the tree lit, everyone properly garbed (though definitions differ.) One 8th grade boy gave me his Christmas morning formula this week. It was elaborate and involved sunrise, Christmas movies, collusion with siblings, and a dawning awareness of the joy of giving as this year he bought gifts for parents and siblings with money he had earned and saved. 
  • I discussed the hopes and fears of motherhood with a young woman whose first-born child will soon see the light of day. She is filled with joy and anticipation but also fear that she isn't ready. I could only reassure her that the child would help to show her the way. 
  • A friend who is currently living and working in the southern hemisphere is musing on her blog about Christmas in the "summer." She is a bit befuddled by the long days after spending most of her life with dark and snowy Christmases.
  • As I drive up and down the streets of my town I enjoy the lights people have strung on trees and eaves and around windows. I love the inflatables lit from inside and the painted wooden cut-outs illuminated with spotlights. The light poles downtown are festooned with lamps, just for the season.
  • Biblical accounts of the birth of Christ tell of angels appearing to shepherds with the glory of the Lord shining around them, and highlight the star that led the Magi to the manger.
  • My new home also has gifts of lights. At the entrances are lights with motion detectors which turn on the light as I approach. In fact, as soon as I open the door from the garage the light begins to shine. Once inside, the hallway is also equipped with motion detectors so that I can step out without wondering what awaits me in the dark. 
  • The human eye can see the light of a single candle in full dark from a distance of 3.6 miles.
  • John, the brilliant poet of the Gospel writes, "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." Joseph Mohr, writer of the beloved hymn Silent Night, refers to the baby as "love's pure light."
Light is nearly always welcomed. It brings comfort, joy, relief from fear, sight, information, protection, and hope. Light fulfills our hopes. It is a fitting metaphor for the Christ child, and the Risen Christ to come. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tossing a Wrench in the Wish Machine

The WISH MACHINE is running at maximum capacity. My inbox is more inundated than ever before the call to buy this or that for this or that bargain price or to get free shipping or some accompanying extra. The sidebars of my inbox are perfectly attuned to my desires, and the commercials on television make me long for a) chocolate, b) the good old days, or c) a magical Christmas surprise.

It might be a good time to share a few lessons in debunking advertising with your children. Give them a few basic instructions and then sit down to pick apart the commercials. You will have done a lot to slow down the wish machine, whose primary purpose is to make you feel bad so that they can sell you something to make you feel good. Here are the basics*:
  • The Weasel Claim: this ad ALMOST says what you heard, but with qualifiers: Leaves your dishes virtually spotless. In other words, not actually spotless.
  • The Unfinished Claim: this ad promises you MORE: Our product will save you more. More what? More money, more time, more anxiety?
  • We're Unique: There's nothing else like it. This implies that is superior but the product may only sport a minor difference. Perhaps there are many things like it but this is the only place you can get it in this color. 
  • Water is Wet: makes a claim true for any product of its kind. 
  • So What?: Something true is stated but it doesn't give any real advantage over another brand. Brand X has twice as much of something - but do you need it? Can your body absorb it?
  • The Celebrity Testimonial: Just because someone famous says it's good doesn't mean that they actually use it or that it works. 
  • The Scientific Claim: The use of numbers to sound authoritative. "Wonder Bread builds strong bodies 12 ways." What ways? How can that be proven. And so on. . .
  • Compliment the Consumer: "For the discriminating diner" or the "person who knows quality".
  • The Rhetorical Question: Asks a question that really has no bearing on the product's quality: "Don't you wish you had a peaches and cream complexion?" tells you nothing about the product.
How your kids respond to the "Wish Machine" will impact their later happiness a great deal. This is nothing new. Even the Old Testament contains reminders to hope for what is real and good. The write of Ecclesiastes goes on and on about chasing after things that will not satisfy. 

There is no easier time than Christmas to get caught up in wishing for things that will not make you happy or more satisfied.  Depending on which source you read, your kids are exposed to between 247-3000 marketing messages a day from the wish machine. Even if it's the lowest figure, 247 messages is a lot. Fortunately, there is also no better time for getting wrapped up in things that will last: the Christ child, your family, holiday traditions, giving to others.How many messages about the child, the family, the meaning of the season do they hear? 

Building awareness is one of our jobs as parents. Teaching them to look both ways before they cross the street and teaching them not to hunger for things that won't satisfy them are just a couple of the privileges of being parents. So go - tear apart a few commercials and then go and make some holiday traditions. You'll enjoy it all!