My memories of Christmas as a kid are all about the food, the decorations and the people who came by to visit. My mom really liked to deck the house out in garland, tinsel and lots of lights. And the baking – it was always enough to feed a small army! With more than 20 aunts and uncles, and 50+ cousins, our family was a small army!
As the years went by and I grew up and moved out, I enjoyed going back home and seeing some of those same decorations out on display year after year. It was comforting, a little like going back in time, or taking trips down memory lane.
I followed her example when it came to the holiday meal. There had to be many pies, oodles and oodles of cookies and squares, and anything else newly discovered to concoct in the kitchen.
The same year my first child was born, my husband and I decided to host our families for a Christmas Eve dinner, a tradition that lasted throughout our marriage. Having 18-25 people for an annual dinner invariably meant a lot of wonderful memories!
Like most people, I got caught up in the belief that everything had to be perfect. The house had to be spotlessly cleaned, the food had to be perfect, the table setting beautiful, the decorations artfully arranged, the gifts – oh the gifts! They had to be just right, and exactly what everyone wanted.
It’s a lot of stress, isn’t it? It even has an official name. Holiday Stress.
Then as a single mom, there was one year in particular when I was at an all time low financially. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to do Christmas. You see, it wasn’t even about having Christmas, it was doing Christmas. Like Christmas was something we do, not have. Not celebrate.
That year, the gifts were very few. There were no gifts for extended family or friends, and the only things I could scrape enough money together to buy as gifts for my kids were a couple of books, a couple of t-shirts and an ornament each. (They are avid readers!)
My kids are young adults now, but one Christmas a few years later when they were teenagers, I reminded them about that Christmas when we just had so little, and how bad I felt. I knew they would understand but I still felt guilty, like I had failed them.
But their response blew me away, and forever changed how I look at Christmas.
They don’t remember that year.
They actually don’t remember.
They don’t remember all the gifts they’ve received over the years. There are a few favourite and cherished gifts they have and will always remember, but they don’t remember all the others.
They remember the dish that always, each and every single year, got left in the microwave. They remember the games we played. They remember the people who were here. They remember the ornaments they received each year.
Since they were little, I’ve given them an ornament each Christmas, something special to reflect who they were in that year; and now they have enough to fill their own trees. They have, or are, moving into their own homes now, so this is my last year for this tradition. My last year for giving them an ornament.
Their memories are not about gifts and the commercial side of Christmas. It’s about the moments, the fun, the laughter, the people.
The exact same memoires I have of my Christmases as a child.
Since then, I stopped stressing about Christmas. The gifts are few, but meaningful. The focus is on the people, the laughter, and enjoying our time together. And perhaps a little too much baking still!
If I can give you one piece of advice, it’s this.
Look back at your Christmases as a child…. what beautiful memories do you cherish? If it isn’t the gifts you received or how perfect everything was, then don’t stress.
No one else is going to remember that either.
Enjoy Christmas instead.
Merry Christmas, to you and yours.
featured photo courtesy of unsplash/Erin Walker