Christmas is my favorite time of year. I love everything (well, okay not the snow) about the holiday season. Decorating the tree, Christmas songs, buying gifts, Santa magic, we do the Elf on the Shelf, but most importantly, family time.
As my four siblings and I have all grown up and started our own families, there are fewer holidays where we all get together under one roof. And when we do, there are 16 of us which makes for a lot of noise, fun, laughter, and love.
If you don’t already know my story, I come from a family of 7, my parents owned a restaurant so they worked 7 days a week, at least 12 hours a day, 363 days a year. Christmas and possibly Easter Mondays were the only days that they consistently closed every year. We rarely ate dinner together and it wasn’t until I was old enough to start working that I really got to spend a lot of time at the restaurant with them.
So every year on Christmas Eve, they would close around 8 pm. We would set up for hot pot, which is similar to fondue except with a hot broth and different meats, noodles, vegetables, seafood and you basically cooked as you wanted. Then we would load up the presents from under the tree (which was set up at the restaurant and not in our house) and carry them all to our little home where we would sit around until midnight, anxiously waiting to open our gifts.
We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. So usually our presents consisted of a new outfit and maybe one of the things on our lists, such as a toy, a small electronic, or a game. Santa didn’t come to our house. Our loyal customers always gave us gifts, which were usually boxes of chocolates, cookies or snacks of some kind.
Then my siblings and I would stay up as late as we could playing with our new toys and watching tv and continue doing so the next day. But the beauty of Christmas morning was that my parents would sleep in. They wouldn’t have to rush to get ready to open the restaurant and we got to relax together. We enjoyed the leftovers from the night before and another delicious family dinner together.
Of course, as a child, I wanted more presents. I wanted the latest TV, disc man, computer, clothes, boots, all of the things my classmates and friends got. But my parents held true to what they could afford.
I don’t know whether they felt they overextended themselves at Christmas or not. Or if in January when the credit card bills came in, whether they regretted what they had spent but with 5 kids to buy for, Christmas was probably a challenging time of year for them.
As a mom myself, I spent the first few years going big. We had stable incomes and we could afford to give our daughter a ton of presents and have Santa also bring gifts.
We tried in vain to ensure that we got the hottest toy of the season. I would shop almost every day on my lunch hour to find stocking stuffers or other gifts that I thought she would like.
One year, when my daughter was 6 years old, my brother came to visit on Christmas Eve and watched as I wrapped her many gifts. He sat chatting as I pulled out bag after bag and stuffed box after box. By the 15th gift, he asked whether I felt it was necessary to give her so much. My answer was a resounding yes, almost defensively. There was no question in my mind that this was exactly what she deserved. He didn’t say much in response but something about his question was a turning point for me.
I pondered his question for the next couple of days. Could it be that in my quest to give my child everything I wanted as a child, I was really serving my own unmet childhood wants and maybe not hers?
The following Christmas was a very different year for us though. I had left my job and let’s just say my business wasn’t doing as well as I had thought it would. This meant that money was a bit tighter, financial stress was much higher. To add to my stress, her list was even longer that year because she had more influence from friends as to what the hottest new toys, electronics, clothes were.
I was angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to give her the same Christmases she had experienced in the past. Every item that I couldn’t afford was a shot to my pride. I had worked so hard to give her a “good” life and I felt like a failure.
Oddly enough, a part of me was content though. Every year prior to that, Christmas time was a break from work but I spent much of the time stressing about job stuff. Wondering if I had forgotten to get something done before the break, whether I should go into the office during the break to make sure I was caught up, etc. But that year would be different. I was working from home full time.
Life has a funny way of teaching us lessons.
I recalled my own childhood. The number of gifts mattered back then, but as an adult, I don’t really even remember the gifts I did or didn’t get. Okay, I do remember one year when I went to school with my brand new Walkman only to discover my friends had gotten Discmans but that is not the point. 🙂
Anyway, the memories I cherish the closest to my heart are the family traditions. Decorating the tree with Christmas carols on with my parents, the big family dinners, the time together, no worries of the restaurant or business.
So that year, I had to remind myself. I might not have been able to give her as many presents but that year, for the first time, I could give her my full presence. Maybe that was the year to redefine what Christmas truly means.
If this time of year is a financial struggle, I totally get it. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
What new traditions can you start this year that doesn’t involve money?
What are some other possibilities that could make this the best Christmas ever? It could literally be as easy as this is the year you all go outside and build a huge snow fort.
It is okay to give your child a lot of presents. I’ve been on both sides and not judging either side. I’ve been incredibly blessed in my life and none of that is based on the material things I own.
This year, give yourself permission to allow your presence to be presents enough.