Oh, the holidays! As I sit and think about the Christmases I have had my entire life, my heart fills with bittersweet moments. As a child, I always wanted that magical story of hearing the pitter patter of reindeer on the roof, hearing sleigh bells off in the distance, sneaking a peak at Santa dropping off the gifts. I think kids dream that up and hope for it, and even when it doesn’t happen, the magic and wonder is still there on Christmas morning when the presents have mysteriously arrived under the tree.
I had a very vivid Santa experience when I was around five years old. We stayed the night at a family friend’s house on Christmas Eve, and I remember hearing the sound of bells. The two kids that were close to my age agreed that they heard the same exact thing. It was magic. And then, Christmas morning arrived and I was sold: Santa was real, I was a very well-behaved little girl, and life was awesome.
But two short years later, I had lost three of my four natural grandparents. It was almost like a wave. We moved back to Kentucky after my maternal grandmother passed away to help take care of my grandpa. He died shortly after – on their 52nd wedding anniversary. My mom really struggled with that. She still does. But as much as my mom tried to put on the façade of enjoying Christmas that first year, her heart was sad and I could tell. I was seven.
After that, we didn’t really even celebrate. I can’t remember the last time she put up a tree. So, as a young child I was given the hope and magic of Christmas, only to have it swooped away. I learned very early that Santa didn’t exist–it was either that or I was just absolutely the worst kid ever. I am not sure which thought was more traumatizing.
A few years later, my parents divorced. I was eleven years old. My mom remarried and so did my dad – all within a few months of each other. My dad and step-mom tried to keep traditions alive with their families, but since I was a part-time inhabitant of their home, I never felt quite connected. They tried very, very hard, though.
I longed for that feeling of connection at my own home, too. I would compare myself to others and wonder what I did wrong to make my mom decide Christmas wasn’t worth it. At times, I had pity on myself and thought, “Why wasn’t I worth it?” A young girl goes through lots of emotions. Pity is usually one of them.
Since there was a struggle and a want for the “typical,” traditional, fairytale Christmas holiday season, I built up this perception of what I would want when I had my own family. I wanted the tree. I wanted the lights. I wanted the hot cocoa, and jammies, and snuggles, and movies, and cookies, and letters to Santa that would be answered, and decorating, and whatever else we could dream up that would make Christmas our own extra-special time. I wanted magic. I wanted mystery. I wanted children running all around the house and I wanted pure bliss on Christmas morning when we would make their dreams come true. Most of all, I just wanted family.
Jason and I got married when we were young, and he always found a way to make Christmas very special and sweet for me. But what really made it magical for us is when we had our son. And now we are expecting a daughter. And we are over the moon! Joey is older now (he is seven), but we are able to keep the magic alive for him. And that is very meaningful to me, because the magic stopped for me when I was his age.
Reflecting on then and now is pretty remarkable. We have the tree. We have the lights. We have the hot cocoa, snuggles, movies, cookies, and letters to Santa with replies. We have the decorating. We listen to Christmas music and say what we are thankful for (that was Joey’s idea this year). We paint canvases together. One year we did our family’s handprints to make a tree. (I look forward to updating that one next year with our daughter.) One year Joey painted a snowman. This year he painted his own tree all by himself and he is ready to start on another one.
We’ve created homemade ornaments. Every year, without fail, we order personalized ornaments from our favorite Pigeon Forge, Tennessee shop called The Christmas Place. Plus, we get a new ornament each year that is based on Joey’s interests and plan to give those to him when he gets married. We also participate in a program called “Angel Tree,” through which we purchase gifts for children with incarcerated parents–not to mention that Joey learns valuable lessons through it.
And while I haven’t sold my husband on the idea of the family jammies, we have a daughter who will be here soon, and when she is able to talk, I might have her try to convince him that it’s a great idea.
What is the best part of it all? Feeling the laughter, love, and family connection that I now have. It’s priceless. And it was worth the wait.
Photo credit: SurFeRGiRL30/Flickr