Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Christmas on the Prairie

When my daughter was four, approaching five, a very kind Christian woman gently pointed out to me that her attention span was somewhat lacking.  Since this woman was a kindergarten teacher, I took her very seriously.  I asked what I could do to help my child, and my friend suggested reading chapter books to her.  I have always read to my kids, but before that time, I had been reading small children's books.  I had always said I would read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to my girls, and this seemed like a good opportunity.  It had been years since I had read them, and I was surprised to see how much my perspective on them had changed since childhood.

For instance, I see Ma in a whole new light now that I am a wife and mother myself.  In Laura's account, Caroline Ingalls truly embodied I Peter 3:3-4.  "Your adornment must not be merely external "braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God."  Ma had a gentle and quiet spirit.  She did not raise her voice to her children, yet they all obeyed her.  She didn't always like Pa's wanderlust, but she followed him anyway, never complaining.  And when something was important to her, she was able to stick to her guns.  She wanted her girls to have an education, so they stopped wandering in DeSmet and settled down.

Even when they stopped traveling and built a house, the Ingalls were not blessed with an abundance of material posessions.  Their first house in Dakota territory was barely big enough to hold three beds and a stove.  But the family made the best of it in a cheerful way.  They were used to making do on very little.  One of the stories that impressed me as a child still impresses me today.  When the family  was still living in Kansas, they had an unusual Christmas.  The creek had flooded, and there was no way Santa could make it to their house.  In other words, there was no way Ma and Pa could get them gifts. But their bachelor neighbor, Mr. Edwards, came to the rescue.  He brought the girls presents, and told them he had met Santa Clause in the nearby town of Independence.  Mary and Laura each received a tin cup, a stick of peppermint candy, and a cake made with white flour and white sugar.  The next lines are so powerful to me.

Laura and Mary would never have looked in their stockings again.  The cups and the cakes and the candy were almost too much.  They were too happy to speak.  But Ma asked if they were sure the stockings were empty. Then they put their arms down inside them to make sure.  And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining, bright, new penny!  They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny.  Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny. There had never been such a Christmas (Little House on the Prairie).

When I read these lines, I realize that my children are spoiled.  I've never thought we've gone overboard for holidays.  My kids get 3-4 presents each.  But they have more "stuff" than we know what to do with.  And they are not any happier than Mary and Laura with their cups and pennies.

Our world today is so much more materialistic than theirs was.  I'm not suggesting to we go back to living in one room shanties and giving pennies for Christmas.  But I do try to impress on my children the importance of being happy with what we have.  Of being content.  And Laura Ingalls Wilder is a great teacher!
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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