It’s Christmas evening as I write: my wife and mother-in-law are in the Family Room reading; we’ve all just topped off a wonder roast tenderloin and artichoke hearts au gratin dinner with some sugar-free chocolate tortes. I napped half the afternoon away, and played computer games the rest of it. Before that, I was scouring the Internet for accessories for the digital recorder my wife gave me. It was a peaceful, relaxing day, and I’m feeling rather comfortable.
I’m not very used to feeling well on Christmas.
When I was a kid, Christmas was great. My brother and I spent the months prior in a lather of anticipation, carefully going through our lists to make sure everyone really understood what we wanted most, and hoping all the extras would show up too. Dad did his best to make certain we got that top item at least; we suffered no delusions of a magical gifting from Santa. In our home, Santa was just a fun make-believe, and we all understood perfectly well that the presents came from Mom and Dad, and a limited budget. And, for the most part, I remember those Christmases very well. We had high, excited expectations, and rarely were any more than mildly disappointed, and the things we were happy about more than offset the things we weren’t so pleased with.
Then, something happened: we got older. Toys and games became clothes and toiletries. I remember quite vividly being super excited one year about a much-anticipated toy, some GI-Joe Headquarters thing (back when GI-Joe was 10″ tall, not those itty-bitty things they have now). I got the toy, all right, but somehow, I wasn’t so thrilled with it. I barely played with the thing; between the wishing and the getting, I had outgrown it. That was the last I even asked for a toy, and after that, somehow, Christmas seemed to lose it’s magic. I tried to celebrate the holiday for its own sake, but I would remember the excitement, and there was only emptiness in its place. Deep down, I wanted to be thrilled again, and it just wasn’t happening. It’s difficult to get too worked up over socks and dress shirts when you are 15.
It didn’t help at all that our family life was not all it could have been. When we were little, things were great; when I was a teen, I would rather be anywhere than home. I know, some of you out there are saying, “well, that’s normal for teenagers,” but I’m not talking about that. In the spirit of the holiday, I’m trying to be kind; take it on faith that my home life at that time was not good, was not normal, was not happy. The bottom line, and the part most pertinent to this discussion, was that lacking the material things, and the young child’s excitement over new toys and games, there was nothing left in Christmas to be excited about. By the time I was 18, I refused to spend Christmas at home. I would find a friend willing to adopt me for the day, and I would go there. It was all the joy I got out of the holiday.
Once I got a place of my own, I thought all that would be behind me forever. I made up my own traditions, I had my own friends and we had our fun and our parties. There was even less in the way of presents and things to get excited about, and by then I understood that all that was over. I was OK with it, too, or so I thought. But each year that passed, I found myself more troubled each Christmas season, and each year I was more depressed on the holiday. I would decorate my tree in a dark mood, and would grow more melancholy each evening as I gazed at it. The tree, more than anything, evoked for me the feeling of Christmas time, and that feeling, for me, had become a feeling of hopes dashed, expectations shattered, and emptiness. I wanted so badly to feel good, and mostly, it just didn’t happen. Some nights I would stare at that tree and just cry, without a clear reason why, and my wife would try in vain to comfort me. My peace came when the season folded back into the new year, but every November, I would start to hope again, for that indefinable something that wasn’t going to come.
So it comes as something of a pleasant surprise to me to have a peaceful, contented Christmas this year. I won’t say it was entirely joyful and without its dark spots, but compared to the last, oh, 30 years, it was wonderful. There were no epiphanies, no dramatic changes. In fact, I had thought with my mother-in-law coming to visit, it was going to be a nightmare of strained politeness and bored attempts to entertain her outside of our normal habits. But it was nothing of the sort – she blended right in with the way we normally live. It was a good visit, and a good holiday.
Which brings me, in my own circuitous way, to the title of this entry. I’ve heard, many times, the expression, “Christmas is for children.” Usually, it’s said in such a way as to make it very clear that the adults did all they did with little hope of enjoying it very much themselves. They bought the gifts, decorated the house, played the music and baked the cookies so the kids would have fun, and so the kids would be happy and excited. But, honestly, most have just as much fun doing thoes things for the kids as the kids do partaking of them. The joy might be vicarious, but it’s still a real joy. My parents had this philosophy, but without the vicarious joy part. They did a decent job of making Christmas good for us as kids, but without that underlying joy, there was nothing left when we grew up but a bunch of strained, empty traditions.
Christmas is supposed to be a celebration. It’s a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who came to save the world from the wrath of God. Even those who don’t believe in Christ understand, however, that its intended to be a time of festivity and rejoicing. But mostly, it has really become a frenzy of building expectations, and a shower of gifts. Is that really what we want to pass down to the kids, so all they have to look forward to is dissapointment?
No, Christmas is for everyone, just like the gift of Christ was for everyone. It’s a time to celebrate all the good things in our lives, not just that tiny bit of it we can squeeze under the tree.