When this came up in my news feed a few days ago I was like “Saaaaaaaaaame.” What can I say? I’m just not in the Christmas spirit this year. To be honest, I haven’t really been in the Christmas spirit for the past few years. I’m listening to Michael Buble’s Christmas album just to get through writing this.
I used to love Christmas, and it was a big deal in my house growing up. We made a whole event of putting up the Christmas tree and multiple, colorful decorations.
My parents would tell my sister and I stories about each ornament as they were placed on the tree because each had a story. They’d been buying an ornament every year since I was born, which they thought captured an important event or the essence of the year. In addition to the yearly ornaments, there were beautiful handmade ones made by my aunt, the artist of our family.
Then there were the twelve special ornaments that represented each verse of the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and the whole family sang the carol as we hung them on the curtain rods around the living room.
As the presents accumulated under the tree, sometimes a lot and sometimes a few in the years when my family was struggling financially, my sister and I would make a game of guessing what was in each package. We’d squeeze the soft ones and say, “Ugh. Clothes,” and we’d carefully weigh the boxes in our hands, shake them ever so gently, and wonder if they contained the things we’d asked for.
We watched every Christmas movie and TV special we could on old VHS’s which had been used to record them. We’d exasperatedly fast forward through the commercials, waiting for Rudolph to find the misfits or for Frosty to come alive.
We had such a large extended family that we needed to do a secret Santa because we couldn’t afford to get gifts for everyone. There was a “ceremony” at my grandparents’ house for choosing the names and then there was the excitement of picking out just the right gift for the name you’d got.
The year one of my cousins turned sixteen I drew her name and knowing she wanted a car, I got her a Matchbox car, pretended it was the only thing I got her, and then laughed hysterically as I handed her the real gift.
Even throughout my teen years, Christmas was just as magical as it’s supposed to be.
Then we all grew up. We all moved away from each other. For a few years, everyone still got together at my grandparents’ house for the holidays, but as we all got married and some of us even started our own families, we started to host our own holidays. The magic started to fade.
I made an effort to keep the magic in Christmas by insisting on decorating each year. But as I got older and the stress of a job, responsibilities, hobbies, and bills piled up, Christmas began to fade off my radar. I wouldn’t even notice that it was the holiday season until I could order a Peppermint Mocha at Starbucks, and that was as far as my holiday spirit went. That’s pretty much how it is this year too. I’m just not psyched. The magic just isn’t there.
I’m in that transitional period of my life where there’s just not a lot of reason to get excited about Christmas. I don’t have kids of my own yet and there aren’t really any kids around to create the magic for. My husband and I are busy buzzing through our daily lives and we didn’t even really have time to decorate. Despite this, he does love putting up the tree and the lights while I’m out of the house so I can come home to a Christmas surprise.
This year I really started wondering why I couldn’t get into the Christmas spirit at all, and I realized that the thing that always made Christmas magical for me was the relationships with family and friends. Now that I have my own home hundreds of miles from my parents and sister, I’m not there for our decorating rituals. Now that all my cousins are grown and they host their own holiday celebrations, we’re not together for our giant family meal at Mamie and Poppa’s. Sometimes Christmas is just my husband and me with his parents and sometimes it’s just him, me, my parents, and my sister. It’s smaller and different, and somehow less exciting.
But it’s only less exciting because I make it less exciting. I’m so nostalgic for the Christmases of my childhood that I don’t let my adult Christmases be as magical as they could be. I don’t look forward to the festivities as they are, I wish for what could be instead of what is.
Isn’t this true in the rest of our lives as well? We struggle to be present and accept whatever is actually happening. We’re always wishing for something different, something better, something that looks like Instagram or Pinterest or our Facebook feeds, instead of being content with whatever is actually happening.
The real magic of Christmas is being close to the people we love, having gratitude for the gifts received, and rejoicing in the generosity of giving the perfect gift. This can be done anywhere, with anyone, as long as the spirit of love persists.
So, as I prepare to head to my parents’ house to celebrate Christmas with my husband, Mom, Dad, sister, and my only remaining grandmother, my goal is to be as present as possible. My goal is to project as much love as I possibly can. And my goal is to live in the magic of the faces of my family as they experience the gift of receiving both presents and love.