Long ago and far away, in a simpler time – Christmas was truly magical. It wasn’t about Ipods, gift cards, impressing every acquaintance with a gift card or adolescent wish lists that were a mile long. It wasn’t about Black Friday sales, it didn’t send families into bankruptcy, and children enjoyed the simple act of finding a tree, cutting it down themselves, and decorating it with handmade popcorn laces and tinsel. Children baked cookies to give to teachers, and hand made gifts brought the magic of Christmas to grandparents and extended family alike. Christmas Eve was painted with eager children awaiting Santa, kids who weren’t afraid to go door-to-door caroling and parents who prepared home made food for days, waiting on family to join them in the blessing of a meal together. All so children could wake up on Christmas morning to a special gift, a warm fire, and something that truly exemplified the gratitude and selflessness that is Christmas. These same families went to church, for midnight mass and Christmas morning services rather than embarking on credit card paid ski trips to fancy resorts around the globe. So, what happened to Christmas? Who is to blame for the darkness that has enveloped such a magical holiday? And most importantly, how can we get back to our grass roots Christmas, experienced by so many so long ago?
Many people agree that Christmas has become commercialized. Even though you complain about how ungrateful your children are, how you really cannot afford the vast array of gifts that you bestow on everyone you know and despise the stress and busy-ness of the season, each and every year you do the same thing. God forbid you disappoint the children on Christmas morning or leave the impression to a teacher that you don’t have the money to buy a gift. Parents struggle to provide each and every child with everything on their wish list, name brand clothes and the latest and greatest cell phones and electronics. Small children as well are asking for and getting handfuls of toys advertised during cartoons which normally prove far too much for one child to deal with. Adults forced to purchase gifts for one another, use impersonal gift cards as reciprocation. Wouldn’t it just be easier to exchange money or better yet…agree to keep your money and not spend uselessly?
Consider the Christmas tree. Each year large businesses sell millions of dollars in pre-lit fake trees that smell like plastic instead of pine. The bigger the better. The taller the nicer. You look for trees that ‘look real’ but that aren’t. This way, your tree is as perfect as the holiday is expected to be – and definitely NOT something that you would find in nature. Think back to your childhood Christmas trees. Wasn’t it the bald spot in the back, the broken limb, the hole in the branches, the bird’s nest you found left over from spring, or the crooked tip that gave it such a grandiose presence in your home? This is the tradition built from Pagan and Christian beliefs eons ago – finding a tree from the outdoors to bless your home with the up and coming Winter Solstice; not sticking up a plastic tree and decorating it just so. In fact, today many parents don’t even allow their children to decorate the tree worried that they will mess up the color scheme or theme of the tree. And we are replacing angels at the top of the tree with bows. What do you need more of in life…angels or bows? What happened to the Christmas tree?
There isn’t a Christmas tradition that has been left untouched. Meals come prepackaged and are heat and eat. We eat cranberry sauce from a can. We deep-fry our turkeys and waste more on one meal for this day than on practically any other throughout the year. We shop for hams that cost $50 and buy cakes and pies pre-made that have more preservatives than ingredients. Grandma’s fruitcake cookie recipe has been lost due to the lack of sweetness and replaced with iced sugar cookies commercialized with Santa and reindeer.
Children eager for the treasures that await them under the tree on Christmas morning are emailing their wish lists to the North Pole and are no longer fearful about the prospects of receiving a lump of coal. Children lose their belief in Santa earlier than ever before – realizing and few schools are allowed to speak of the birthday that this holiday is truly celebrating.
And how does it all start? Innocent enough. You think of your Christmas’s past and you vow to hold on to traditions. Then, you have children of your own and become immersed in the commercial ideas and expectations of the holiday season that starts even before Halloween has ended. Long before the first snowflake has fallen – you are constantly made aware of the pressure to make Christmas magic. If you have children of your own, you realize that you give so much throughout the entire year – that making Christmas extra special requires more, more, and more than you actually have. They too are subjected to the commercialism and your worst nightmare is a disappointed child on Christmas morning.
So you buy and buy some more. And you stress, max out your credit cards and give in. You make so many plans in order to please every side of the family that you are filled with dread weeks before the holiday is even here. Then the day comes and it is busier than most. Children are forced to leave heaps of toys and impersonal gifts are exchanged for the sheer purpose of keeping up appearances. Soon after, the tree comes down and yet the recourse of the holiday can last for years and years. Instead of taking your tax return to make something happen for your family, you are forced to use it and then some – to pay down bills. You make a vow that next year will be different, yet it isn’t. Except for that it becomes either more expensive or busier depending on the aspects of your family. And lost through it all is the down-home feel of a fire burning in your heart and hearth on Christmas morning. Thus, the tradition is unwittingly passed down.
You have the power to bring back Christmas. Holiday magic is not created through material things alone. This isn’t to say that you should completely decide to boycott gift giving or wish lists. However, you can get back to the basics of the holiday. You can show your children that Christmas can be special indeed WITHOUT the stress of the holiday. You can show your children how to be grateful, appreciative and to have the heart of a true giver – by giving to others as well. You can explore the woods and find an awkward tree, make some home made decorations and let your children decorate it with wild abandon, not worrying about your scheme. You can tell family members that you will visit before or after the holiday and start some new traditions of your own. Let your house be filled with the smell of a roasted turkey, make gravy from scratch, and invite others to join you should they wish. Decide that you won’t be exchanging expensive gifts with grown siblings and parents, who likely have all they need or want anyways. Find a pine tree and make a wreath for your door, hang a cinnamon broom with the same hopefulness that it will ward of evil spirits and keep your heart clean. Go to church, even if you don’t go any other day of the year – just to hear the music, be around others, and show that the true meaning still exists within your heart. Set a budget. Buy everything with cash. Get your kids to decide on one or two things they really want. Kiss your spouse in the morning. Watch the clay-mation movies from 50 years ago. Mail your list to Santa. Take the kids to sit on Santa’s lap. Make the holiday a day of rest, relaxation and in the true spirit of love and gratefulness. Step out of the competition. Keep your tree up till New Years Eve, sing Christmas carols, and make a special breakfast together. Drive around and look at Christmas lights while sipping hot chocolate. Keep the radio tuned to the Christmas music channel for the entire month.
It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you realize that YOU have the power to pick and choose which traditions you adopt – and more importantly which traditions you don’t.
You aren’t alone in feeling that the magic of Christmas has been lost. But you are to blame for continuing – despite the unsettling and stressed out feelings that clog your heart for weeks ahead of time. You are to blame for continuing and perpetuating the tradition of a commercialized Christmas that beholds very little life, love and Spirit of the season. And you are passing it on to your children and accepting it as a tradition of your own by continuing. If you aren’t happy or satisfied with the Christmas that you are celebrating and creating for your family – then you have to accept the responsibility and therefore the power to change it.
Christmas is definitely magically and there is plenty left to love about the holiday. Stay true to your feelings, use your intuition as a guide and commit to bringing back the simplicity of the season for you and your family. No one should be left wondering what happened to Christmas?