A few weeks ago some friends and I were talking about how we feel like we are massively failing at getting our kids to realize that there is more to Christmas than presents. And about 10 minutes into our conversation I realized that we were just about probably the 18th generation of parents to fear the very same thing. I mean, I know that my parents feared the same for my siblings and me!
My parents tried everything they could think of to remind us that we celebrate Christmas for something more than the coolest toy since Elmo or that shiny new bike we were sure we were going to get that year. One year, my mom got so sick of hearing my brother and sister and I comparing who had the most/biggest/most impressive gifts under the tree that she actually coded all of the gift tags so we had no idea which gift was intended for which kid. This was actually a brilliant system until on Christmas morning she got a little distracted and gave the wrong gift to the wrong kid and my brother opened up a Malibu Barbie.
When I asked Levi last week where Mary and Joseph were heading to, he quickly replied, “The North Pole!” #parentfail. And so then, of course, I launched into my big “Christmas is really about being generous and loving people well and…” and before I could finish he goes, “And Jesus. I know, Mom.” (insert eye roll here)
And although his response irked me because, as a parent, I want his little eyes to well up and his lip to quiver as he tells me about the miracle of Jesus and his birth, the reality is that he is listening. He’s getting it. But my expectation for him to feel the same emotional pull towards Christmas as I do now as an adult is a little absurd and going to lead to a lot of disappointment and #fails for both of us.
Reminisce with me for a moment. Think back to your childhood. Try to remember your earliest of Christmas memories. Even better, try to remember a memory from the age your kids are now. Do you remember that feeling on Christmas morning when you first opened your eyes and realized the big day had finally arrived? Do you remember those Christmas Eve services, where you sat in itchy, uncomfortable clothes, thought about the presents under the tree and sang those old songs that inexplicably made you feel all warm inside? Do you remember the flames of the candles, be them from Hanukkah menorahs, individually held candles in a Christmas Eve service or the battery operated kind that stood in each of your front windows of your house? Do you remember the lights on the trees and how they made everything look like magic? Hold on to that feeling for a minute, because I have a point, I promise.
Now, do you remember some well intentioned adult reminding you over and over that Christmas wasn’t about presents? Maybe you were raised being constantly reminded about Jesus or about the Temple being re-built or about peace on earth and goodwill to all men. There was a constant stream of all the other things, besides presents, that Christmas was all about being told to you like a broken record. Do you remember how that felt? A little annoying, right? I know I remember thinking, “What do I need to say or do to show these adults that I get it?” I remember feeling a little defeated every time the lecture started.
Because here’s my point: Go back to that Christmas feeling you had as a child. Recall it again and sit for a moment in its warmth. I would like to argue that THAT is what Christmas is all about for kids. Because I am willing to bet that that warm, deep glowing feeling didn’t immediately dissipate the moment the presents were all unwrapped. The feeling of Christmas lasted so much longer than that 30 minutes of paper flying and thank you’s being shouted over the chaos, right? There is an element of “chaos” to Christmas. I think it might actually be joy but it can look a little chaotic at first glance. It means running down the hallway. It means talking a little louder and giggling nonstop. And it stuck around all that day and far into the night, when no one can bear to not have the Christmas tree lit up once more and everyone tries to stay up as long as they can to hold on to that Christmas feeling.
I am ashamed to say that one of the most common phrases that Levi hears from me on Christmas day is “Calm down”. I am a steady stream of “Stop running”, “Stop yelling”, “Don’t shoot that thing in the house” (that one might be valid, because you will actually poke your eye out with that thing). And in saying those things to him, I am squelching his little heart’s way of living out what Christmas is all about. The initial excitement might be from all of the presents under the tree, but the feeling lives on because he is getting it. He is getting the joy of Christmas. For Levi, he is feeling the joy that arrived in a manger in a land far away, and a long time ago.
This year I’m hoping to join him in the joy. I’m hoping to let him skid down the hallway and shout a whole lot each time he opens a gift. And I’m hoping to actually do those things myself this year. Because, parents, take a load off this Christmas. The kids ARE getting it. They are just getting it the way kids “get” anything, with their whole little bodies. And it’s ok to meet them where they are. It’s ok that they squirm through the reading of the Christmas story. It’s ok that their little eyes don’t tear up when they hear “O Holy Night”. Keep gently telling them the story you want them to know about Christmas and then let them show you that they get it in the best ways they know how.
You are doing a good job. You aren’t raising a greedy, present-hungry monster. You are raising a kid. A kid just like you used to be.