December is upon us, and with it comes the big holidays — Christmas and Hanukkah. I’ve always loved and looked forward so much to this time of year. I love the twinkly lights, the smell of cinnamon and fir trees, carols and hot cocoa, and cuddling by a warm fire and watching Christmas movies. It all has a magical quality about it, and I credit the wonderful memories of the Christmases of my childhood for making this time of year so special for me.
This year, I step into the holiday season a little differently than I ever have before. This is the first year that I’m a parent to a child old enough to make any meaning of what’s going on (my daughter was just 5 months old on Christmas last year). At 17 months old, she doesn’t really understand what’s going on — but boy, is she paying attention! And so, as a family therapist and a new mother, I feel this weight of responsibility to be really intentional about the holidays this year and begin to build special memories for my little one. This is the year that I’ll revive some of my own childhood holiday traditions, and start some new ones. They’re things that I hope to carry with her through her childhood, and that I hope she’ll carry forward into her own family someday. What do I want my children to remember when they think back on their childhood Christmases, and how will I begin to instill those things this year?
I want them to remember family. By this I mean both our little family of three, and our extended family that includes their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. So I plan to make sure that in all the hustle and bustle of this month, we spend some special time together–just the three of us–laying on the floor under the Christmas tree and staring up at the lights, strolling through our neighborhood to gaze at the lights on our neighbors’ houses, watching Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on TV, and just being together. I’ll pare down my family counseling schedule a bit so that I have time to do those things — one of my greatest challenges. I also want to make sure to stay connected to our relatives, so we’ll travel a bit before Christmas to connect with some of them, and stay in close touch with others via video chat. We’ll wrap gifts together and talk about the people we love that we’re sending them to, and why we hope they’ll like those gifts. We’ll say out loud on Christmas Day how much we miss grandma and grandpa, and how much we wish we could be with them.
I want them to remember magic. I want my kids to someday look back on the Christmases of their childhood and remember what it felt like to truly believe in the tiny magical touches that punctuated our celebrations. So I’ll think of funny places to hide our Elf on the Shelf. I’ll wait in line so my daughter can sit on Santa’s lap, and put out the milk, cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve. They may be the same things that everyone else is doing, but there’s a reason for that. They’re good stories, they’re interesting to young kids, and they inspire that feeling of childlike wonderment. I want to capture that while I can — there is plenty of time for kids to turn into adults who know the truth, but just a few years when they can believe in magic.
I want them to remember tradition. There were certain things that my family did every year at Christmas, and looking back, those are some of the memories that stand out most to me. Attending the Christmas Eve service at our church, eating clam chowder and sourdough bread for Christmas Eve dinner, and getting up early on Christmas morning to unwrap our presents from Santa in our pajamas — those were all part of how I defined Christmas as a kid. This year, I’ll start a tradition of giving my daughter a new book and a pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve, then cuddling on the couch together as a family to read a story that none of us have heard before. When she’s 17 and it’s her last Christmas at home before she leaves for college, I hope she’ll look forward with joyful anticipation to sitting on that same couch with us and reading and snuggling together.
Most of all, I want them to remember giving. I think it’s too easy for kids to get hyper-focused on all they want to receive for Christmas. My daughter is a few years away from that (I hope!), and I want to make sure that she grows up knowing that there is so much more joy in giving — and in being grateful for all that we have. So we’ll start that this year by really emphasizing how excited we are to give in a variety of ways. We’ll adopt an angel from the Angel Tree in our community and shop together for a child who might not otherwise receive gifts on Christmas. We’ll write a letter to a deployed soldier, and talk about how important their service is, how hard it must be to be away from their family, and what else we could send to him or her that would make Christmas a little brighter. And we’ll start a tradition of creating a homemade gift together, shifting our focus away from the excitement of what we might receive and instead to our excitement about what we get to give. We’ll talk about how our gift might bring joy to others, rather than what we want for ourselves.
What are some of the things that you hope to instill in our kids this Christmas season, and how will you do it? Comment below!
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