When my daughter was in nursery school, I attended meetings with other moms who, like me, were active participants in the co-op school environment. I don’t remember how the topic came up, but during one group discussion, we shared stories of family holiday traditions.
One mother who had three young sons excitedly relayed the lengths to which she and her husband went to convince her boys that Santa had indeed visited their home on Christmas Eve. They provided the usual clues, of course. A plate of cookies, freshly baked, and a glass of milk left on the mantel, which by morning became crumbs strewn about the dish and a bare puddle of milk left in the glass. But that was only the beginning. The father got up in the middle of the night and made gentle noises on the roof to suggest the arrival of animals pulling a sled. (I can’t remember whether or not he actually climbed on the roof to do it, but I don’t think he went that far.) The mother sprinkled soot around the fireplace and Christmas tree as evidence of Santa’s journey down their chimney. Someone embedded at least one hoof print in the yard to mark where a reindeer must have trod.
Many in the group ooh-ed and aah-ed over these elaborate touches, several wanting tips on how to create the same fabrications in their own households. Personally, I thought all the effort toward making the Santa myth come alive for these boys was a colossal waste of time, but I kept these thoughts to myself.
But I had to admit that these parents were creative and playful about the holidays in a way that I was not. When my children were young, I did my bit – milk and cookies for Santa, hidden presents that came out before anyone was up on Christmas morning, hot chocolate and sweets, annual trips to see “The Nutcracker” performed at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.
And yet I felt obligated, even duty-bound, to create lasting Christmas memories for my children, but it never occurred to me that I might create some for myself as well. The focus was solely on them, and as I look back, I think it was a mistake for me to pull myself out of the equation so entirely.
I don’t carry regrets about that. At the time, I was so ignorant of my own needs that I probably couldn’t have spelled them out for myself had I bothered to even try. And unless we’re talking about keeping the house tidy and clean, I still struggle with marking out territory and standing my ground on personal needs.
This year, however, I am attending a “Nutcracker” performance in the City, having not seen it in a good long while. I will be sharing Christmas dinner and holiday treats with my new son-in-law, not for the first time, but for the first time since he became my son-in-law. I will be opening presents on Christmas morning with my family, having laid out neither cookies nor milk the night before.
Hopefully, I’ll be creating a holiday memory, deeply personal and enduring, maybe even joyful. But I’m keeping it simple. We all make our own traditions, and enjoy the space to practice and refine them. For me, Christmas is simply the warmth that interrupts the cold, and lights that sparkle through the long nights. I honestly believe that you don’t need much more than that.