The last few years, I’ve done nothing but complain about the holidays.
When I was a kid, Christmas was about anticipation. I counted down the days until Christmas morning with my classmates, all of us talking about what presents we thought Santa (or later, our parents) would give us. I watched sappy movies about the so-called “Christmas spirit,” and let Rudolph, Frostie, and even Ralphie Parker convince me it was real. When the Grinch’s heart grew three times its size, I think mine did, too.
But as an adult, my heart shrank back to Grinch proportions. The holidays were more stressful than satisfying. Whether it be the pressure of gift giving, the expense of traveling to see relatives, or the inevitable family tension, the holidays seemed to have lost the shine that they had during childhood.
I confess, having children did not initially change my Grinch-hood. Sure, it was fun to have Miles around during Christmas. Gift opening was especially fun — that kid could tear into gift wrapping (his or anyone else’s) with a fury. But the holidays were still a lot of work, and having a young child only compounded the stress.
This year, things are changing. Miles is finally to the point where he understands and is excited by the holidays for all the right reasons. He was excited when we went to see the annual lights at Lincoln Park Zoo here in Chicago, and proud of himself when he and my wife made a gingerbread house together. He talks to us about Santa and what gifts he should bring us. He’s getting the holiday spirit I remember from my own childhood, and watching that transformation has been reinvigorating.
The arrival of that Christmas consciousness for Miles was all it took. Despite the still innumerable holiday stresses — which is an ever-growing list with the addition of our second son, Jack — I’ve found myself getting into the holidays this year. More than that: I’ve been downright cheery.
We put up our tree the day after Thanksgiving, blasting holiday tunes and drinking eggnog like we hadn’t had it in a year. Miles helped us decorate, placing each ornament in a very specific place as if he had predestined its location. Watching him take this holiday tradition so seriously, as if he knew the significance of the moment, was enough to make this cold heart grow three sizes that day again.
Do you find the holidays fun or stressful? Did having kids help or hurt your enjoyment?
Family photo by Caleb Gardner.