It’s December. The tree is up. The ornaments are hung and the lights are lit. There’s a wreath on our door with, at my daughter’s request, a big red bow. The gifts are purchased and the calendar is filled with plans for holiday cheer.
Growing up, Christmas was a magical time for me. My Grandma would announce the holidays with a jubilant, “It would be Christmastime!” We’d plan a family trip to pick out out our tree from a grocery store lot sponsored by our town’s Jaycees. My mom would play Christmas records as she decorated our house, and my sister and I would beg her to play French Jingle Bells just one more time. We still laugh about the made-up lyrics we used to sing along.
My birthday falls six days before Christmas, and as a kid, I’d pretend the world was lit up in red and green and gold just for me. I reveled in the cheer, in the kindness, in the giving and, of course, the receiving. I’d pick out cheap gifts for my whole family at my school’s holiday fair, and could barely stand the wait for Christmas day to hand them out.
I loved singing in my school’s Christmas program. I loved wrapping, sharing secrets of gifts and surprises, and getting together with family. I loved the tradition of making a family pilgrimage to remember the dear ones we’ve lost. I loved the snow, the joy, the music in the air.
When I got wise to the myth of Santa, I didn’t tell my parents for more than two years. One year, they finally took me out for a slice of pie and hot chocolate and asked me point blank if I still believed. I was the youngest in my family and I was so sad to close the door on what had been a lovely and magical and beautiful part of my childhood.
In this day and age, I know it’s perhaps a bit uncool to declare my love of the holidays. Christmas fatigue is strong, as stores start the season earlier than ever before. Black Friday is often a display of consumerism at its worst. The whole holiday can be marked by conspicuous consumption, which feels distasteful in these hard economic times. Big business competes to get bigger, folks sink further into debt, and forced togetherness can be stressful. Santa has fallen on hard times as many families wonder what, exactly, children can learn from a big fat man who breaks into our homes and brings our children material things.
Yes, Christmas can bring out the worst in us.
But to me, it’s so much more than that.
I want my daughters to have wonderful memories of the holidays like I do. I want them to sing carols and watch the night sky for Santa. I want them to feel kindness in their hearts as they pick out a gift for someone they love or give a toy to a child in need. I want them to daydream about a village in the North Pole where magic happens. I want them to know that magic can jump out of the storybooks and touch their lives. I want them to have memories of cocoa on cold nights, of hanging ornaments and making paper snowflakes. I want them to wake up in December to a festive house and twinkling lights. I want them to know the songs and the stories – the lessons of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, the beautiful cadence of the Night Before Christmas read aloud, the sweet melancholy of Charlie Brown.
I want them to have one day each year where all their hopes and dreams come true in spectacular fashion.
I want them to know the importance of family, the importance of time spent together. I want them to feel the raucous, chaotic joy of a room of 60 people who, despite living different lives in different places, truly love one another.
I want to teach them that we can and should put aside our differences at this time of year. That perhaps those differences aren’t so big after all. And maybe – just maybe – if we can do it at Christmastime, we can do it throughout the year.
So, this Christmas season, you’ll find me shopping and sending cards and baking cookies.
My house? It’s the one with the big red bow. I’ll be singing “Jingle Bells” with my toddler for the 27th time today. I’ll be driving to see family, to have a drink with a friend or through the lights display in the park. We’ll be at the much-maligned mall, sitting on Santa’s lap.
Charles Dickens said it best. Although Christmas “has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, ‘God bless it.'”