Becoming a Christmas Matriarch: What I Learned from My Child and My Elders
After Christmas 2009 I wrote:
I don’t expect Christmas Day to be magical and perfect. I’m happy to just get through it.
Getting through it, indeed. There are years that I thought of the Christmas season as a gauntlet that started around the middle of October and ended when we finally took the tree down and put everything away for the next year.
Christmas and all that went with it was something to endure and survive. There wasn’t a lot of joy in it.
I’m sure there must be other moms of many who feel the same – Christmas was another chore. “Doing Christmas” meant that on top of everything I had to do as a wife and mother (which often felt overwhelming anyway) there was now the extra stress of Christmas shopping, decorating, wrapping, sending cards, baking, getting to the post office, and preparing for Christmas concerts as well as making sure the family looked presentable at least for Christmas day with matching socks and shirts and pants that fit.
It was exhausting.
I still have three at home and they are older now, but I look back at what Christmas was and how my relationship with it has improved over the last few years and I wish… I wonder if there is something I could have done to make it more meaningful, less stressful, and even… fun?
And as I think about it, the answers were right in front of me, because the best Christmas memories didn’t involve shopping, or scurrying around, or any of those things. They involve people I loved and their reactions to the season.
When my daughter was about 2 we brought out all of the Christmas ornaments to hang on the tree and with each box she squealed with delight! The glitter, the color, the shapes, and the special ornaments, all of them were beautiful in her eyes.
To me, they had become something to find room for and store during most of the year, but to her they were magnificent. Just her innocent reaction to these pieces of tinsel, glitter, ribbon and glue was enough to change my heart a little bit. These weren’t just decorations, these were items her family had found important enough to grandly display, at least once a year, on the beautiful Christmas tree!
And because she loved them, I started to love the more too and my attitude changed. These were precious mementos and would one day be the carrier of memories!
The memories are what would live on after me, just like the memories of my folks from Christmases past live on in me.
The last Christmas present I ever got from my grandpa was a wooden candle holder. He said that it was lightweight, practical, and that I could easily move it from place to place. And that was that. He didn’t second-guess his present, nor did he spend a lot of time shopping for it. It was a simple gift and I still treasure it.
Similarly, my mother’s last few Christmas seasons on earth were pretty low-key. She shopped from catalogues or local stores, and when she couldn’t figure out what someone wanted for Christmas she gave a card with money – which was always appreciated.
As I look back now, I remember a peaceful serenity about both my grandpa and my mother as they drew to the end of their lives. They weren’t caught in a Christmas shopping frenzy at all. The cards were important to them, though, as was the time of getting together and catching up with family from near and far.
But of course the most important part of Christmas was going to Mass and reading the Christmas story, before, during, and after the great feast day itself. The story endures long after the parties, presents, and decorations are gone.
This Christmas, I’m chagrined by the busy-stressed-out mom I was, but hopeful in the matriarch I want to become. I want each of the ornaments to have their own story and meaning for our family, stories that the kids can pass on. I want our Christmas cards to bless the recipients. I want to live the season of Advent and know the deeper meaning of the incarnation of the Baby Jesus.
To accomplish all of this, I started my practical shopping in July and am almost done. My children at home still get three gifts (because Baby Jesus only got three gifts!) but they are practical. The kids on their own will get something that we thought they might need in their new adult lives, like gift certificates or tools. I’m even thinking a coupon book or auto club membership as a good gift that they could use. It certainly meets my grandpa’s requirements of being lightweight, practical, and easy to move!
I hope I can keep all of that in mind as I start the journey into Advent. If only I can hang onto the delight of my child and the serenity of my elders…if I can do that, then maybe, just maybe, Christmas won’t be something to endure and get through, but to savor and enjoy.
Copyright 2013 Elena LaVictoire