“It’s snowing outside!” My two-year-old son announces as we trudge through the white stuff. “It’s snowing outside!” He says a few feet later. Then again just a few feet after that.
Normally the repetition would grate on my nerves. But not today. The innocent marvel in his little voice is catching and I’m grinning ear to ear as the snowflakes continue to fall, each one flawless and unique. It’s hard to imagine a time when snow and colored lights and Santa Claus were novelties. But to my son they are.
As a child I adored Christmas. When I reflect on what I loved and remember about the season, it’s not going to midnight mass (even the mind-numbing boredom of that recedes with time); it’s not the deluge of toys and clothes I received all those years ago. In fact, very few material items stand out in my mind. What does stand out, though, are the fond memories I have of spending time with my family.
They say having a kid makes you reevaluate a lot of aspects of your life, and I certainly can vouch for that. For many years I arrived at 25 December in a harried race, feeling broke in every sense of the word.
Everything, and I mean everything, was a panic – from buying the bird to what to get for so-and-so who was just IMPOSSIBLE to buy for. Work and social engagements ramped up for the occasion. Somewhere along the line I moved out of my spiritual home, the Church, and lost sight of what Christmas was all about.
Sure, I could wax lyrical about the ‘goodwill to all mankind’ with the best of them. I could look down my nose at all the big box stores and try not to get too wrapped up in the rampant commercialism of X-mas. But mostly, if I’m honest, 25 December became a good excuse to eat and drink copious amounts, visit a few relatives, and then bask for a while in a turkey-induced lethargy before maybe snagging a bargain or two in the sales.
Flash-forward to today. Already my son is noticing the warm glow of Christmas lights on our street. He exclaims every time he sees our own Christmas tree lit up, and is starting to learn the choruses to Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman. As he gradually uncovers what this funny celebration called Christmas is all about, I vow to do my best – for as long as the illusion lasts – to deck the season in a magical aura for him.
While we’re a distinctly secular household, I consciously want to establish my own rituals of charity and goodwill so that he grows up deriving meaning from the holiday. In other words: among other things, keeping Christmas ‘Christian’ and passing along the story of Christ’s life (because, whether you believe or you don’t, His story packs one hell of a moral punch).
As for my own traditions… After a big meal, my family (then a very tight-knit group) took a walk in subzero temperatures to ward off the turkey coma. Teeth chattering, we belted out carols, and one year we even organized a sleigh ride. I was probably about eight at the time. Sitting on that hay stack was the coldest I’d ever felt. But being bundled up between aunts and uncles and cousins I cherished more than made up for the utter loss of sensation in my toes!
So despite what may at times seem overly commercial and hardly worth the bother, we are slowly putting the ‘mass’ back into our own Christmas. Seeing the look of wonder in my son’s eyes this Christmas is like reliving all the aspects of 25 December that I grew up loving.
There is nothing more precious and worthwhile than staring at the world through the eyes of children, where everything is new and fresh and bright with promise.
Follow Julie on Twitter at @juliemgreen