If you want Christmas, you gotta bring it

This Christmas was my son’s personal Rubicon. He’s not a kid anymore. As if learning to drive, the start of his college search and growing from nose-to-nose with me to nose-to-nose with his father didn’t clue him in already.

It didn’t come without warning. Over the last few years, his pile of presents has gotten smaller and smaller as he wants more expensive things. Electronics don’t come cheap. An IPad is in a totally different league from a Bionicle, and hopefully won’t end up in small pieces underfoot. Yet somehow, this year, it hit him like a ton of bricks. Being an adult often sucks.

He tried to hide his feelings, but he is a lousy poker player. He was totally joyful and grateful and did and said all of the right things, but some essential dude-ness was absent. That, he can’t fake. After the holiday was over, he and I talked about it.

He said that he got really cool gifts, and assured me that he really liked them. It just didn’t feel the same to him–it wasn’t like it used to be. The day lost some of its immediacy—that new truck, or Nerf gun, or computer game he’d spend a whole day immersed in wasn’t part of the deal anymore. His gifts were…useful.

And it occurred to me—I know exactly where my husband and I went wrong.

Children are Petrie dishes for the holiday spirit. You don’t even need to do very much. They watch endless Rudolph videos, make holiday art projects, and beg you to visit Santa while editing their wish lists over and over. You have the school assemblies to attend, and cookies to decorate, and they don’t roll their eyes at you when you suggest driving around to see the Christmas lights. Children drag you into the holidays kicking and screaming whether you like it or not.

This year, both my husband and I were preoccupied with worldly concerns—his proposal, my novel submission deadline. The tree stood bare for two weeks before we got around to decorating it. We took care of tasks, but we didn’t prepare. We expected our son to bring Christmas, but without the infrastructure of childhood surrounding him, he didn’t know how.

I explained to him that as you get older, Christmas changes. The anticipation, the preparation, is the event. Getting gifts is great, don’t get me wrong, but what I cherish is all of the warmth and joy that the season evokes. My son now needs to be a part of that process, not just the recipient of it.

We talked about how to create that feeling. We decided that next year, he can help me come up with the crazy stuff I get for his Dad’s stocking, ice the cookies, and maybe even dance to some holiday tunes when no one is looking (that’s one of my strategies. He’s not convinced). We can create new traditions to replace the ones that he’s outgrown. Christmas, however, won’t come to him like it used to, so he’ll need to send out the invitation and welcome it home.

It’s not too late, however, for me to capture some of the spirit, albeit belatedly. I’m baking some cookies. Sprinkles always bring out the kid in me, and if he refuses to help, I’m eating them all myself.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Richard Masoner © 2007 Creative Commons