Jay Forte remembers the merrier Christmas celebrations of his childhood and offers a path to creating your own today—show up with kid-like enthusiasm.
Christmas—once upon a time it was the best thing ever. Presents. Food. Company. Special desserts. Lights. Music. Candles. Excitement. Happiness. It was all so magical in my family. No anxiety, no challenges, no drama. All fun. At least that’s the way I remember it. I wasn’t aware of any anxiety, challenges, or drama there might have been, because as a kid, I focused on the fun part.
Then I became an adult, and a father … and Christmas became … serious business.
There’s the pressure to buy gifts—the right ones. Pressure to decorate, cook, entertain, host, attend, and travel. Pressure to ensure everyone is happy, put up with the in-laws, tolerate the neighbors, return the bad gifts, and endure office parties. Moments of joy have become, for many of us, moments of aggravation. I have many friends who have told me they can’t wait for the holidays to be over—before they even start. I bet they didn’t say this when they were kids. I know I didn’t.
What happened? How did we forget that the greatness of Christmas and the holiday season is the magic—the energy, joy, and excitement? I think we forgot that we choose to see the magic. What we choose, we see. At one time, as children, we saw a season of fun. Now as adults and parents we choose to see pressure and stress and annoyance. One way to change that view is to look at how kids celebrate Christmas and enjoy the holiday season.
As a kid, I was tuned in to what was best about Christmas—I didn’t let myself get pulled into conflicts, pressure, or stress. It’s not that it wasn’t there. It is in any family, and in some worse than others. But I didn’t notice much who was upset with whom or why. I didn’t notice who wasn’t appreciative enough, who was dressed inappropriately, or who was singing off tune. For me, and for many of us, it was all fine. It was non-stop excitement. It didn’t matter if the plates matched, the dinner was perfect, the tree lights all worked, the gifts were wrapped well, or the party started late—children were free to be impressed, amazed, entertained, and most of all to have fun.
Are your memories of stores and towns all decorated, houses covered in lights, and Christmas music on every channel? Do you picture the allure of packages, the anticipation of guests, and the smells of baking? Think back to what your home felt like at this time of year, and try to recall your sense of expectation and wonder. And here’s the coolest thing. Those happy feelings, if you had them, are still there. But we have gotten distracted from seeing them. One way to bring that vision back is to take off our adult glasses and let the holiday kid light in. And some of us have very dark glasses …
The other cool thing is that even if you have unhappy memories of childhood Christmas disasters, the beauty of growing up is that you’re free as an adult to create your own happy, functional, celebrations.
Either way, how much better would our celebrations and traditions be if we tried to experience them with the hopefulness and excitement of a kid? Without all the adult filters. What could we see, do, feel, think, and believe if we just spent a little more time with the classic movies (some of my favorites are It’s a Wonderful Life, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Miracle on 34th Street) or just focused on positive messages of renewal, generosity, and hope, instead of glueing our eyes to the depressing newscasts and endless conflicts that fill today’s reality televisions shows? We could be transformed.
Want to have a great Christmas? Hang with a kid. Children always show us what’s important. They remind us never to get old in the way we celebrate—celebrate as a kid and celebrations will always be magical. And if a grown-up complains about something, just smile and help them take off those dark adult glasses to let a little more kid light shine in.
Photo—Shan Jeniah Burton/Flickr