For weeks now, my kids have been excited about the holiday season. They could hardly wait to decorate the house, decorate the yard, write letters to Santa, have their pictures taken with the big guy himself, ice skate, go to see the tree in Rockefeller Center, and the list goes on. They have practiced their songs for their holiday concert and Christmas pageant for weeks. And, I too, have been excited for those things. But, along with those things come the present shopping, the present hiding, the present wrapping, the elf moving, the Secret Santa gifts, the get-togethers, the cookie baking and the cookie swapping, the feeling of not-enough-hours-in-the-day, and the endless questioning about the realness of Santa (and the elf, the reindeer, the North Pole, the sleigh, the toy delivery system, the shape of the chimney, etc.) to which I always reply (each time slightly more annoyed than the last), “MAGIC! That’s how!!!” But lately, the hustle and the hassle of the holiday season have had me feeling anything but magical. In fact, I have been downright exhausted and overwhelmed.
I started to wonder if I should pare down the holiday. Perhaps I needed to bring Christmas back to the basics—a minimalist Christmas, if you will … buy gifts for fewer people … say “yes” to fewer engagements. After all, what is really most important about this season is our spirituality, being together with family, continuing our holiday traditions, and remembering to be grateful for all that we already have.
And then, yesterday, everything changed. As I sat with some friends at one of those get-togethers that followed exhaustive cookie-baking and involved cookie-swapping (and, of course, cookie-eating), one friend began to share about her love for Christmas. She glowed as she recounted the most amazing childhood Christmases that she had. She told of trees decorated in almost every room and very intimate letters that she wrote to Santa. She shared that she learned later in life that her mother had budgeted, shopped, and planned all-year-round to make Christmas so elaborate and special for her family. And then she said (with such a look of admiration that I almost welled-up a bit myself), “My mom just did a really amazing job. I believed in Santa until I was way too old to believe because I just knew there was no way my parents could make everything so magical.”
Now, I stopped believing in magic years ago. But there, laced throughout the words of her story it lay: Magic. Perhaps it was the beauty of the story or the sincerity with which she told it … maybe it was my hope that my children would someday feel the love that I have for them as they recount a story about their childhood in much the same way … but, whatever the reason, the story breathed new Christmas life into me.
And, I thought, “Maybe I do believe in magic.” Maybe the magic of Christmas lies in the beauty that is the most ordinary things and events transforming for four-ish weeks into the extraordinary. The same deer, and trees, and snowmen, and trains, and lights that I see at other times of year appear vastly different during these few weeks. And often, these transformations come with a lesson for our children, from being kind to others, to how special it is to be unique, to finding value in things that are not materialistic, to being grateful, to the importance of giving to others … And, somewhere in the midst of the transformations and the lessons, we find ourselves becoming a little more kind, a little more giving. Magic. Just last week, my four year old (who is quite self-absorbed as most four year olds are) came to me and asked if we could buy toys for boys and girls who do not have toys. And, although we do this every year, I love that it was his idea.
But, perhaps the most astounding transformation of all, comes when the ‘ordinary, tired, cranky, mother who says ‘no’ often because she has to worry about not raising entitled jerks’ that I am all year, transforms for four of the most amazing weeks into an extraordinary, jolly, generous character whose main mission is to bring a smile to the faces of the two people that I love most in this world. And, similar to the mother that I am during those other eleven months, it is done in the most astonishingly selfless way that never asks for credit or thank-yous because the love of my children is more than enough. That, my friends, is pretty damn magical.
So, no, we will not be having a minimalist Christmas this year. We will deck the halls, and the yard. We will give, and bake, and write, and get-together. And, we will rejoice in the magic of Christmas.
And, maybe … just maybe … my children, too, will someday feel the love that I have for them as they recount a story about their childhood Christmases.