I have some pretty amazing childhoods memories of Christmas. Truly magical memories. We didn’t have much in the way of money but when I was a young child my parents always managed to find ways to make sure our Christmas was special. There were always presents and stockings overflowing with treats and trinkets. We didn’t have a fireplace in our home but I clearly recall the cardboard fireplace that always came out of storage during the holiday season and I’m pretty sure mom and dad somehow convinced us that Santa was able to find a way to use it to deliver his presents to us. So many presents. Barbie dolls, Lego, Cabbage Patch kids. My first boombox complete with a Cyndi Lauper cassette tape.
In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas there were often mysterious hoof prints in the fresh snow outside and at night it was not uncommon to hear bells jingling outside. Some days we would come home to discover small Christmas wrapped candies hiding around the house. There were also plenty of holiday gatherings. Friends would frequently pop over for some holiday cheer. The grown ups would assemble in the kitchen, the drinks would flow, the conversation was lively and cheerful. Us kids would eagerly head to the living room and plug in the Atari. There was Christmas Eve mass, so warm and peaceful and filling us with love and gratitude and all things Christmas. Yes the memories are so exquisite they hurt my heart today.
And then you get to that age where you know in your heart Santa isn’t real and Christmas starts be a little bit less about magic and a little bit more about time off from school and hoping you don’t get clothes for Christmas. But for me that magic remained because I was fortunate to relive it all through the eyes of my baby brother. Watching his excitement, his absolute joy over all things Christmas kept that magic intact for me for several years.
Eventually the magic did fade. As I got older and my relationship with my parents deteriorated Christmas was no longer a happy holiday. The joy was replaced with stress, with family bickering, with the expectation of gifts I could not afford to buy. I left home at 17 and for years every Christmas after that felt like a painful holiday reunion for the dysfunctional. One that was I obliged to attend. Eventually it got a little better. Well “it” didn’t but I did. As an adult I was usually able to divide my holiday time between my dysfunctional family and the family of whoever I happened to be involved with at the time. I’m pretty sure the dysfunction level was almost on par to what I was use to but somehow it’s easier to shrug off craziness in someone else’s gene pool. So, with some perspective I did learn to not dread the holiday quite so much even if the magic was gone.
And then I had a kid. And slowly but surely the magic started to reappear. Actually it started before she was even born. I was about 5 months pregnant the Christmas of 2009 and even then we had a tiny little “our peanut” ornament hanging on the tree. Already that magic was working its way back into Christmas. Already I was dreaming of how much Christmas would change in our home with a little one around. The next Christmas our daughter was 7 months old. Clearly she had no idea what was going on but certainly enjoyed all of the sights and sounds that the holiday brings. My favorite Christmas memory with her so far is the year she was 2 1/2. By that age she had this vague understanding of Christmas – that we were celebrating the birth of Baby Jesus and that this jolly red man in a red suit brings presents. But she didn’t really wrap her little head around it until first thing Christmas morning. She came bounding the stairs to see pretty red play kitchen Santa had left and her immediate excitement was quickly replaced with terror as she realized a perfect stranger had essentially broken into our house in the middle of the night while she was sleeping (don’t worry she got over it before long).
We work really hard to make sure our daughter experiences those magical Christmas’s every year that we knew as children. And when I say work I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s a labour of love. Every single second of decorating, Christmas baking, picking out and wrapping gifts, sleigh rides and trips to the mall to see Santa is worth it. So worth it. I want my daughter to be able to look back and have memories so exquisite they also make her heart hurt.
So for the love of all things good and magical and special – just leave my Christmas alone. I don’t care if you put your decorations up before the middle of November. I don’t care if you don’t put any up at all. I don’t care if you say Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa or Yabba Dabba Doo. I don’t care if you spend a fortune on presents or don’t spend a dime. I don’t care if you shop exclusively local, buy everything from a big box store or make every gift by hand. I don’t care if you eat turkey or ham or tofu. I don’t care if the malls start playing Christmas music two months or two days before Christmas. You have your Christmas (or not) and I’ll have mine. I don’t tell you how to celebrate your anniversary, Valentine’s Day or your cat’s birthday so stop telling me how to celebrate Christmas. Celebrating a holiday like Christmas is a deeply personal decision that we should all have the choice to do as we see fit. I am all for sharing the joy and even the sadness that comes with the holidays. I will laugh with you, cry with you, help you if you need a hand. But the words we use, when we put up our lights, if we go to mass, how much we spend – these all belong to us. My Christmas, my family’s Christmas, and how and when we celebrate it is not up for debate. Period.