Today I was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Recently Past,* who whisked me back to my childfree days to show me what I’ve learned since becoming a mom of kids who are old enough to get excited about the holiday season. And now that I’m sitting here back here in the present, I can share how the experience has transformed me:
(1) I have stopped judging parents for being “so materialistic” over Black Friday and the general holiday toy-buying mayhem.
I used to snicker to myself over people who woke up at the buttcrack of dawn to fling themselves at whatever electronics and toy fads were being offered at deep discounts the day after Thanksgiving. In my mind, these crazed shoppers were forgetting the — cue angel choir — True Meaning of Christmas. Why not buy simple gifts, make something yourself, or even just skip gift-giving altogether?
The answer? KIDS. I remember a friend with kids pointing out to me, in my childless state, that you can’t simply ignore that toy ads are everywhere, and that kids talk about toys at school, and that it’s depressing to wake up on Christmas morning to a disappointed child. I remember hearing her out, but also thinking snidely to myself, “well, I’ll just teach my kids not to desire material, superfluous things.”
HO HO NO, I was so wrong. Of course I do what I can to orient my children to crave experiences, rather than things. I think we all try not to spoil our kids. But if you survived The Great Hatchimal Rush of 2016, you might appreciate how difficult it can be to maintain this strategy in the face of a toy craze. This year, I’m getting my kids generic Fingerlings (they appear to be squirrels, and I hope they actually work!) because I’ve decided I’m not paying double or triple the MSRP for little pink and purple robot monkeys. However, Santa is also going to help us out with some LOL Dolls and Shopkins, so I think we’ll be good. Moderation is possible, but cheerily announcing that your kids will be having a gift-free Christmas is bound to go over in your household like a stocking full of dusty coal.
(2) I’m realizing that it’s more fun to create your own family traditions than to worry about what your particular religion, or lack thereof, tells you to do.
I wrote this hand-wringing post back when I had a toddler and an infant. Should we celebrate Christmas as a family? Is it ok that my kid isn’t baptized? Also, I’m a godless heathen now, is that ok??
Geeze Louise. I now have two kids who vaguely know the Christian version of the classic pagan virgin birth story, and they are fully enjoying the spirit of the season despite belonging to exactly zero religious institutions, spiritual organizations or drum circle prayer groups. Seriously, kids don’t think too hard about this stuff. You want to do religion? Cool! You don’t want to do religion, but you want to make merry each December with family, friends and food? Also cool! The good news is that either one, or whatever amalgamation of holiday traditions you come up with, is totally acceptable!
My five-year-old recently asked me to explain the origins of Christmas, so I took a deep breath and prepared to unleash a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and pondering culled from my Protestant past and pagan present into my little one’s impressionable and inquisitive mind. I barely got to Baby Jesus before she walked away, bored and asking for a bowl of Goldfish.
Our little family unit is happy doing the traditional Christmas tree, stuffed stockings, and Santa delivery every year, buffered by copious feasting the day before as well as the day of. This is our family tradition, and we call it Christmas and love it.
(3) I understand that it is possible to rediscover your childhood sense of holiday joy as a grownup (and perhaps especially as a parent).
This is equally true for Halloween, in my case. I went through a young adult period of feeling generally meh about the holidays I had previously enjoyed as a kid. I think this phenomenon hits the hardest once you’ve finished your formal education and have settled into a career without fun stuff like summer and holiday breaks: it’s just all work, all the time, with some paid vacation time thrown in there if you’re fortunate. You might be glad to trudge back home, wherever that is for you, and indulge in some good food for a few days. But otherwise, the joy seems to have dwindled away now that you’re a grown ass woman or man.
Something magical happens, though, when you have kids. It probably won’t hit right away, at least not during the baby and early toddler phases. But the closer your kids creep into their preschooler years, the more fun they start to have during the holiday season — and the more fun you’ll start to have as a parent as well! Cheesy as the sentiment may be, I get a rush of joy when I see my kids bundled up in the snow, watching Santa announce the annual lighting of the town’s Christmas tree, and decorating sugar cookies (or at least bringing them home from Grandma’s, fully decorated). These are all activities that I enjoyed every Christmastime, and it makes me so happy to see my kids enjoying them as well.
Drop a note and let me know how your family is celebrating this holiday season. And wherever you are, and whatever you do, have a happy one!
* Totally a lesser known Dickens character.