I remember when the kids were preschoolers – not that long ago – and this holiday-frenzied excitement manifested itself, often, in bad behavior. As Christmas got closer, the kids’ naughtiness seemed to escalate. Shouldn’t it get better, I thought, with the looming threat of Santa passing them by on Christmas Eve?
Back then, I think the acting out was a combination of overwhelming excitement they had no idea how to handle and tiredness from the extra festivities, late nights, and too many sugar cookies.
Maneuvering through Christmas has become both easier and more complicated as my children have grown. Bedtimes are looser these days, and the kids are relatively self-sufficient, which makes many things simpler. But presents have to be more discreetly and expertly hidden. There are additional family and work obligations. And long gone is the era of wrapping gifts during the children’s naptime.
The holidays come at a time already busy for me and for my family. And sometimes, like most everybody, I am enveloped by my own version of the Christmas crazies. Sometimes I lose my patience. Sometimes I feel an acute sadness for the people in places far beyond the peace and happiness we treasure during this season, people where the world around them is, quite literally, crashing down. Then I feel guilty for being stressed out about whether I have enough stocking stuffers to fill an inordinately large sock.
Amid the frenzied sending of cards and wrapping of presents, of holiday parties mingling with work deadlines, I remind myself that behind the chaos of the season, the underlying purpose is joy and kindness and love. I remind myself to pause and focus on the important things, to savor these moments of Christmas craziness.
The craziness, after all, comes from a combination of stress and joy. The trick is focusing on the latter – on the giggling and wonder, the events that offer an opportunity to reconnect with friends and community, to reflect on both the passing of time and the spirit of the season.
Last week, during the school concert, I remembered when my kids were the littlest ones, the kindergarteners doing the Penguin Polka as the audience smiled and clapped and laughed delightedly at the sky-high cuteness factor. This year, mine were among the bigger kids, excited to take the stage after weeks of rehearsing. They were in the band, playing Tchaikovsky and Pachelbel, and in the chorus, singing Hava Nagila – which, if you’re wondering, translates to “Let us rejoice!”
My children are in that space between. No longer little kids, but not yet grown up. Aware of much of the reality around them, but still innocent in their hold on magic and wonder. Hoping hard that Santa will deliver the things they’ve asked for, but also excited to give the gifts they carefully selected at the school’s annual Recycle Sale – and others they were inspired to find or create at home after the sale.
There will come a time, likely very soon, when Christmas is not quite as magical as it is in these days of Santa and reindeer and resident elves. So I savor the joyfulness of my children – despite the Christmas crazies. I watch the lights twinkling on the tree, like stars in the cold winter sky. I delight in the sweetness of sugar cookies, kid-decorated with far too many sprinkles. I breathe in the kids’ excitement and happy innocence during this busy, but magical, time.
Tomorrow night, as we have done every year since they were babies, my children and I will snuggle together to read The Night Before Christmas. My mind will likely swirl with all there is to do after they are in bed, all there is to do the next day. But I will push those thoughts aside and tuck the kids in tight, watch the joy dancing in their eyes as I leave them to their Christmas Eve visions of presents and sparkling snow and magic.
Let us rejoice, indeed; Hava Nagila. And Merry Christmas to all.
Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the December 23, 2016 edition of the Littleton Record.