For all the emphasis we put on Christmas gifts and the excitement of Christmas morning (and I’m as guilty as anyone…nor do I think these are bad things), you know what’s really surprising? Try to think back and remember individual Christmas mornings.
If you’re like me, you remember specific gifts and noteworthy Christmases, but have large swaths of holiday mornings that have vanished into the mists of time (the mist is tinted a festive red and green, of course, but it’s mist all the same). I remember, for example, one Christmas when the local Kmart was going out of business and my parents were able to get me two significant lego sets. This was a big deal! Also, I remember the Christmas when we got a new puppy on Christmas Eve and she woke us all up at 4:30am the next morning. Presents were all open before 7 that year:-).
But there have been lots of Christmases and lots of presents that I have no memory of. I sometimes even have trouble parsing out the holiday’s we’ve had with our kids, and I’m sure the specifics will dim further with time.
One thing I’m hoping will really stick with our kids as a lasting memory are the repeated traditions that we establish around the holidays. Several years ago at Easter we started having a “dark day.” Credit for this idea goes to my sister-in-law, I think. At sundown on Good Friday we put tape on all the light-switches and don’t use any electricity (with a few minor exceptions) until Sunday morning. The darkness forces us to slow down and enforces a feeling that this is not a normal day; the lack of electricity forces a simpler dinner on Saturday, which further enhances this feel. After trying this for one year, we were pleasantly surprised to find how impactful it was to the kids. They really remembered it and looked forward to doing it again.
It was harder for us to find something similar for Christmas. We have an annual drive around the neighborhood to look at lights, but we wanted something tied more to the meaning of Christmas. Two years ago we tried this: on Christmas Eve we watched a new movie together as a family and then the kids constructed a “tent” in the living room. They brought down their pillows and sleeping bags and slept under the “stars” (Christmas lights) like the shepherds did that night so long ago.
The tradition stuck.
It’s a simple thing. We’re not teaching any deep theology and, admittedly, the connection is at a very surface level. But it seems that it will be a lasting practice: they remember it and look forward to it and I hope – apart from setting the day apart as special – that this tradition shines out in their memories despite the inevitable fogs of time.