Advent: Christmas Memories

written on 09 December 2020 by Jan Pierce

Christmas time is magical, especially for children. It’s grown in commercialism since I was a child, but there was a lot of greedy anticipation back then too. My brother and I loved the lead-up weeks in December when we helped bake and decorate cookies, decorated our tree, hanging that lousy tinsel one strip at a time until my Mom finally allowed us to have our own little tree and mess it up as we wished. Christmas morning was, of course, the big pay-off with wrapping paper strewn and some great toys amongst the socks and underwear.

I loved Christmas the most when I was a young mom with two little ones. I totally threw myself into making homemade gifts, baking, and ensuring that the season was as wonderful as possible. One year my husband’s parents spent Christmas with us and I outdid my little hippie self by sewing patchwork vests for the men, complete with bright orange silk lining. I give all credit to my father-in-law who manned up and wore that vest for the family pictures.

I remember our kids spending hours looking through the Sears Christmas catalogue searching for the toys they wanted. It was so easy to please them in those days and I feel a bit nostalgic each year wishing we could return to those simpler times. Then I could control the entire Christmas show and make it the way I wanted and it was good. We often spent Christmas Eve with the kids reading the Christmas story, slowly and carefully, with just the Christmas lights from the tree as our backdrop, and then having our own candlelight service. It was sweet and simple and meaningful.

As our children grew we were caught up in the frenzy of holiday concerts, programs, parties, and an ever-more-expensive list of Christmas gifts. I admit to overspending in those years when the kids were teenagers and I wanted to give them what the other kids had. I also over-baked. One year I ended up baking twenty-three loaves of Christmas bread because I didn’t want to slight anyone on my staff at school. That’s when the holidays began to be an exhausting display of excess that, in retrospect, was rather unhealthy.

But time marches on and soon our kids were in college and then married and before I knew it I was no longer queen of the Christmas planning. Sure, I still shopped and baked and sometimes cooked a big dinner, but now I was dependent on others who might celebrate the holiday with us or might not. This really hit home when we finally realized our children needed their own family time without us, just as we had in earlier days. They wanted to have that gift-opening extravaganza on their own. That was a gut punch, but just as we had to let go of our kids as they grew and matured, this was another time we were called upon to let go. It was their time, not ours.

And that brings us to Christmas today. Holidays for seniors are unique. They’re easier, quieter, more reflective, and sometimes sadder. I still love some things about Christmas—the music, the spirit of generosity that reigns, but I don’t get that rush I used to get in early November when the holidays were on the horizon and I had soooo much to do. Now I choose how much I participate. Why decorate when no one will see? Sometimes we spend Christmas with family and it’s wonderful. But mostly we spend the holidays quietly and with just a few friends. This year we’ll be alone because of Covid, and it’s okay. At ages 75 and 80 this is a good year for doing a lot of looking back and remembering. Christmas memories. Those are the gifts we treasure now.