Saturday, December 4, 2010

Virtual Advent Tour: Bittersweet Christmas

Christmas is a time of love and tradition and family and it is definitely my favorite holiday of the year. (See my post from last year about the things I so love about Christmas.) It's an easy holiday to love what with the giving and the getting and the enthusiasm of the kids. But this year it's a little bittersweet too. My kids are getting old enough that the excitement is a little jaded. When they were small, Christmas literally shone in their eyes. They were in awe of Santa when they sat on his lap at the mall (well, except for my daughter R. who has always been leery of strange men--she was terrified of Santa and screamed in his general vicinity). They thought that every ornament we pulled out to put on the tree was the most beautiful in the whole world. They oohed and ahhed when we drove through neighborhoods looking for elaborate light displays. But most of all, they believed in all of it.

They believed in Santa and the spirit of giving. They sprinkled reindeer food and shopped their little hearts out at the Santa shop at school, wanting to find the perfect gift for everyone in the family (generally amongst the $1 items on the white elephant table, fiscally responsible little goobers that they were). It was pure magic to see their little faces the first time they laid eyes on the presents under the tree. It warmed my heart to watch their sturdy little selves trundle up the center aisle at church for the children's sermon and to be so solemn about the pastor's gift of a candy cane (said solemnity quickly changed to glee when they discovered they could eat the candy cane while the service continued). They were so little, so trusting, so full of belief.

And now they are older. So Christmas is a little bittersweet for me. When the children in the congregation go forward, my older two stay in the pew with us and the youngest one only goes to the front if he's accompanying his younger cousins. And Santa Claus, well there's one unbeliever and one believer. Then there's R. who never much liked him in the first place. Her current line is that she doesn't "believe in him all the way but I don't not believe either." She's hedging her bets, the sceptical one. And she still believes in presents so she won't jeopardize those. The oldest is lobbying to be allowed to help put presents under the tree with the adults. I've told him no. I'm not ready to give up the look, fleeting but still there, that crosses his face when he first sees all the gifts on Christmas morning. Or maybe we should let him so he'll know just how bittersweet it is when you join the ranks of the grown-ups. Then he probably won't want to join in next year but will be content to going back to being a kid.

The traditions of Christmas with small children are waning with my growing kids. They'll be let in on all the mundane secrets of the grown-ups soon, some of it tradition of its own type: like why my dad always thanks his mom, who my children never had the privilege of meeting, for the socks and underwear in his stocking, how the rest of us head to bed long before daddy is finished wrapping the myriads of things he's purchased in his ongoing effort to keep every mail order catalog on the planet in business, and why we all chuckle about the use of the funny pages or store bags as wrapping when the family Claus gets too tired or runs out of supplies. But knowing these things takes just a little of the magic out of Christmas and marks another passed milestone on the road to adulthood. I'm selfishly glad that I still have the one who believes so I can still catch some of the pure delight through his innocent and unjaded eyes. When that goes, well, a tiny bit of the sparkle of the holidays will be gone too. And I know that day is getting closer. Sweet filled with love Christmas but bittersweet too.

If you want to read other posts on the Virtual Advent Tour, look at the dedicated Virtual Advent Tour blog to see the schedule of postings, including others today.


  1. Lovely story! My kids are 12 and 13 and totally unbelieving, of course. Still, Christmas is great fun as we meet up with much of the family, with the boys' grandparents, uncles and aunts and nieces. And for us, that is now the magic of Christmas. We don't see them very often, as we live in a different country, so it's special to see them at Christmas.

  2. Family Christmases are so special - I loved your description of yours, especially your sceptical daughter!

  3. I bet as your kids age you'll all find other aspects of Christmas that bring joy to your family, too.

    But savor this Christmas, too, as a good one for the memory banks.

  4. Lovely. First of all, the Santa tag that says "believe." We do love Christmas with kids and they're suspension of belief when it comes to Santa. But somehow, even when they know the truth, it still sticks, it resonates and we know they'll pass it along in various ways as they mature and then when they have their own families. I know what yu're talking about, that's for sure. Our kids are now in their 20s. We are blessed to have them come home for Christmas and insist on the things we've always done on Christmas.

    I loved (and had to laugh out loud) your part about your husband doing the wrapping and defaulting to newspapers and bags when the wrap (or the energy?) runs out.

    Thanks for sharing all this. And oh, I hear ya, on the bittersweet. And yet, is there a more magnificent holiday that stretches across so many days (and so many countries?)

    Happy Holidays to you and yours!

  5. Yes there will be a few years where the innocence of Christmas through a child's eyes will be gone - but then the grandchildren will come one day - and your joy will start all over again - that is what is happening for me now :)

  6. We are in that in between stage with the kids also. It is hard that we no longer have those bright eyed children. However, i have noticed that there are some benefits like more help and a desire to participate in traditions. It is kind of nice. Thank you for your post.

  7. I am looking forward to having new Christmas traditions in the coming years. I admit it was funner when I believed in Santa. Now that I am an adult and haven't had children, it is harder to get in the spirit sometimes.

    Happy Holidays and thanks for joining in with the tour!

  8. Believe it or not, the magic comes back. It won't be the same, but the excitement of hanging heirloom ornaments on the tree, each with its own history, will eventually be something the kids look forward to again. I hope you have more sweet than bitter this Christmas!

  9. Love the idea of hedging one's bets. Too funny. Kids do grow up to fast sometimes.


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