Christmas used to be this fun, easy thing: Bake. Decorate. Find perfect little gifts for people that reflect how much I love them. Try not to make an ass of myself at the company holiday party. Eat and drink way too much. Lie around in my pj’s all day. Regret eating and drinking too much. Then promise to do better next year.
Now I have kids and I am freaking out because until this year, it never really occurred to me that the way I “do” Christmas will affect them, on every level, and possibly in a totally damaging way.
I have to decide what meaning to assign Christmas.
We all curl up on the sofa. They’re fresh out of the bath and cozy in their jammies. The tv is playing the fireplace channel and I start in on the story of baby Jesus. But before I even get to the bit about how Mary had to travel while nine months pregnant, my eight-year-old interrupts.
“But who’s the dad?”
“Jesus’s mom made a baby with God? How?”
Both my kids call bullshit. So I quickly switch gears
I try to retell the story in a purely academic way. My version includes Hanukkah – because it’s impossible to explain why all the rooms at the Bethlehem hotel were full unless you address the religious holiday that was already going on. Then there’s that thing about Roman imperialism and the whole census-taking deal that made travelling when nine months pregnant necessary. Before I even get to the part about the stable and how most of the imagery they see: the colours, the candles, the tree – are actually ripped off from earlier pagan goddess religions, my kids are fast asleep.
Then I have to decide what to tell them about Santa. I don’t want to destroy the magic. It’s so cute when they discuss their own theories about how Santa gets inside apartment buildings or how he manages to make it around the world in one night. Also – the threat of Santa’s naughty list is an amazing parenting aid.
I told them about how when I was their age, the best presents were the ones that were handmade. They roll their eyes. Which is exactly what I did when my mother said the same thing to me.
And I realise how badly I want my kids to have all these special memories around Christmas. So I buy tickets to shows and stand in line to watch the Santa parade – pretending it’s so much fun to wait forty minutes in the pouring rain for a two-minute glimpse of an old man in a rented suit. I pray my cynicism about these things doesn’t show… but they’re completely oblivious to my reactions. Because they’re taking in what they want and their memories will be their own.
My own memories of childhood Christmases have very little to do with church or presents or shows or even the Santa parade. My recollections have all blurred together into more of a blend of feeling. The only stand out memories are those involving incidents of crazy family dysfunction. And the lasting gift of those is that I can retell them every year as part of my own Christmas mythology.
Tune in next week for the story of the very weirdest Christmas dinner ever…