I can remember vividly one Christmas Eve as a five year old girl, pulling up from my grandparents’ evening celebrations unloading the gifts we’d brought home from our gathering. As I stood in our driveway, the night lit by the moon and the twinkling lights of Christmas village homes in lifesize form, I looked up in wonderment at the sky, adorned with stars. I stared and as I did, I saw a flash of light beam like a shooting star and heard the jingle of bells faintly. I knew I’d just seen Santa. It was 1983.
Many Christmas’ have come and gone since 1983. I’m not five anymore but I still have a longing for the Christmas magic I felt that evening and even with children of my own now, it seems like I miss the mark on holiday magic every year. I love this time of year. I start playing Christmas music anywhere I am right after Thanksgiving. I book our calendar with cookie-making, tree-cutting, and festival-going. Yet nothing seems to meet the magic of that one night in 1983.
I wonder what I’m doing wrong as an adult now that I no longer feel the holiday magic I did as a child. But maybe that’s just the magic of childhood and the innocence of a simple mind that can imagine miracles. I hope my kids don’t feel an absence of it and then I wonder what my parents felt as they created the holiday traditions we still hold to this day. It isn’t as though that much has changed when I really think about it. My want for toys and games wasn’t less than that which my own children exude even though I often put pressure on my family to practice gratitude and grace and not want so much. It isn’t as though stores were less crowded or more crowded or Christmas music was cheery-er or less. I would agree that Christmas is a bit commercial but then again hasn’t it always been?
What I know about memories is that they aren’t accurate. What I know about myself is that I romanticize like crazy. I often have a much fonder version of a memory than a moment in time and I try to keep this in perspective as I go through this holiday season, saying to myself my mindful moments are good, but my memories of this will be amazing. But it’s a constant reel in my my mind of what I should be doing to make it so.
The passage of time is so tricky for me and I’m no less nostalgic today than when I was young. I see this same trait in my son Graham who will often get sad and tearful about “growing up.” I want to cherish and hold this time with my children so tightly and remember with tremendous regret that not that long ago I couldn’t wait to be out of the chaos of having littles. With a daughter headed into high school next year, a son headed into junior high, my “baby” is now going to be 8. He’s already asking questions about the truth of Santa and I’m just not ready to let go of that kind of magic for him. I can’t believe that something I can remember so vividly about being a child is coming to an end for my own children. This time in my life of creating such amazement around the holidays for them - there is an end in sight; an end I don’t want to get to this time.
Yet I can never remember to move our elf, Sparkles, and I get annoyed when I’m laying in bed nearly asleep and remember to do it. I dread running errands so shopping - and returns - are a real chore for me this time of year and baking cookies with the kids - you know like the ones in commercials - sounds so lovely in my mind until ingredients are all over the floor and our cookies are burnt, my daughter hormonal and crying over - literally - spilled milk and my boys slapping one another with dough-laden spatulas. I’m a mom trying to make magic for a season that I remember being amazing while I’m tired, cranky and honestly still trying to figure it out. The hard part, as if I already haven’t mentioned enough of those, is that when I remember my parents at this age doing these same things, they don’t look like I feel which brings on only more guilt and second-guessing of whether my parenting is good-enough, whether what we’re making together here in our home will bring just as much nostalgia and magic for them as it did for me. I don’t think I’ll know the answer to that anytime soon.
What I do know is that I already look back on pictures with the kids from Christmases past with such awe. It feels both like yesterday and such a long time ago at the same time when we had lunch at the Walnut Room, snowmobiled in the snow at grandma and grandpa’s or spent the day after Christmas one year in the ER with Graham after he rode his new ride-on toy down our basement stairs; I can’t say I have a similar childhood Christmas memory of that caliber.
I wonder what I’ll remember about this Christmas. I wonder what my children will remember and with what level of fondness and nostalgia. Maybe a lot, maybe not much at all. What I do know is that I can’t remember what the presents were that I was helping my parents unload out of the car that Christmas Eve in 1983. But I also can’t remember any of the presents I got on Christmas minus one actually. I can remember the smell of my grandparents’ home and what their tree used to look like, the table set for dinner in their basement. I remember the setting of our Christmas mornings and the laughter and fun and crazy humor of the family on Christmas Day. And cutting the Christmas tree down, and putting up the decorations every day-after-Thanksgiving while listening to Christmas music.
What I remember most vividly when it really comes down to it are the feelings. It wasn’t all magic, but there was a lot of love, tons of it. That’s one I can definitely do and it’s the one that comes most naturally to me and to most of us thankfully. I can’t recreate a shooting star and what was most likely Jingle Bells playing softly on the radio the way that beautiful combo happened for me that Christmas Eve in 1983. I can however create a whole lotta love and connection and Christmas is as beautiful a time of year as any to make more of that together.