Growing up, I loved Christmas. I suspect most kids do, and for mostly the same reasons. December brings the second longest school break of the year, often filled with a vacation to see far-flung family. Before that there are all the holiday parties, school pageants, shopping, music and dance recitals, cookie-baking, Santa visits, caroling, holiday lights and decorations, and a generally festive atmosphere wherever you go. And of course, there is Christmas morning, with gifts, goodies, and the family traditions that make a child feel safe and special.
**NOTE: I feel compelled to offer an aside here, which is that I realize this is not an accurate description of the holiday season for the majority of children on Earth, or even in the U.S., where 22% of kids are growing up in poverty. If I get a chance, I would love to dedicate a post to them this holiday season, but this is not it. This is about my subjective experience, which is that of the stereotypical middle-class (Christian/nondenominational) American child and parent. **
I’ve always loved everything about the holidays. Until this year; becoming a parent has changed my experience of Christmas.
Christmas in my family has never been about gifts, or even food. Whether it’s bringing a plate of homemade Christmas cookies to a favorite teacher or sitting through my sister’s orchestra concerts, the holidays are about taking the time to show those you love that you care. We don’t go over the top with gifts. Rather than spend a lot of money, the emphasis is on thoughtful (preferably homemade) presents and cards. This was great when I was a kid, when a collage and paint-your-own pottery mug were “Perfect!” or even as a young adult, when I felt proud to give a Christmas-themed poem and knitted hat.
This year, however, having a baby to play with and care for during my evenings and weekends means I have virtually no time (or energy) for homemade gifts or cards. Trust me, it is impossible to knit with a ten-month-old in the vicinity. He will get a hold of the knitting needles and every ball of yarn. And I don’t even bother with glue sticks or markers; that’s just asking for trouble. But I am thinking of my loved ones just as much as I always have. I have lots of great ideas for gifts and cards. Some of them I even started making before my son got hold of them.
Moreover, until recently, I only needed Christmas gifts for my mom, dad, and younger sister. Don’t get me wrong, the growth of my family is the greatest blessing of my life, but it is no small feat to find even small “thoughtful” gifts for my husband, parents-in-law, sister and brothers-in-law, and niece and nephews. Not to mention, of course, my own son. I have woken up many of the past nights in a panic upon realizing that I do not have a gift for someone, or that I needed to mail a present yesterday in order for it to reach the intended recipient by Christmas.
The pace of the holidays seems to have changed now that I am a parent. Going to see Santa doesn’t mean sharing my wishes and getting a free candy cane; now it’s about keeping my baby warm and occupied while waiting in a long line and trying to snap a decent photo (no such luck; we tried twice and my son was terrified by both Santas we visited). Holiday shopping no longer involves the excitement of getting a good deal on the perfect gift in a store decked out with greenery and smelling of cinnamon sugar. This year, I couldn’t bring myself to brave the crowds with a baby so ordered almost everything online after my son had gone to bed.
Having a baby in the house has helped me to live in the moment more, since every day brings new discoveries and memories. But the unintended consequence of spending my evening hours reading books and taking long baths with my son is that I put off my holiday preparations until just before Thanksgiving. As a result, I have been in an almost constant state of stress since then (which explains why I have not posted in two weeks, despite a half-dozen half-written essays). And I am missing out on the activities that usually put the holiday stressors in perspective.
My son is too young to stay up late for holiday parties or to sit through The Nutcracker. We can’t take him ice skating or sledding yet, and he is equally enthralled by the lights in our elevator as those on the National Christmas Tree. Traveling this year is filled less with excited anticipation and more with dread of getting stranded in an airport or lost on the road with a fussy baby. Just getting out of the house is a production with hats, mittens, jackets, and boots going every which way. And there will be no tree-trimming of cookie-baking this year. We could not even get a real Christmas tree, since apparently they pose a whole host of threats to curious toddlers (for the first time in my life, I have an artificial tree- and a tiny one at that!).
I am looking forward to seeing my family, but I will be glad when the late nights of shopping and gift-wrapping are over. I hope that the holidays will be fun again when my son is old enough to appreciate all the aspects of the season that I used to enjoy, and I can experience his joy vicariously. Until then, Christmas has lost some of its sparkle now that I am a parent. Is anyone else feeling the pressure of being Mother or Father Christmas?