The weekend before Christmas, my husband, Ryan, and I spent the night downtown for our annual day of Christmas shopping. What started as a casual, "hey let's take the day off and go downtown for the hell of it," when we were first dating, has turned into a tradition that I look forward to every Christmas.
Maybe because, like most holiday traditions, there are so many special memories encapsulated in that small activity--the most significant being in 2018 when we found out I was pregnant (back when we thought it was only one baby), and we had our own little celebration before we revealed our secret to anyone else.
And now, maybe I look forward to this tradition even more because it's a chance for us to spend quality, uninterrupted (ie: have a nice dinner without entertaining anyone, sleep without fear of hearing a toddler scream during the night, and spend the day not centered around a nap schedule) time together.
2018 and 2021: 3 years and 2 kids later. I was skinny 3 years ago and didn't have to use eye cream yet.
Anyway, to keep my mind off the winter chill in the Chicago air as we were walking, I started to think about Christmas traditions--old and new. I thought about all the ones I grew up looking forward to each year, and the ones we are starting to make with the boys.
Babies' first Christmas. Loved all their presents.
Every year, I try my hardest to recreate some of my favorite Christmas activities I remember doing with my parents and grandparents. And here's the God honest truth, almost every year, they're a complete flop. Let me tell you why.
I have expectations. That's my first problem. I have this picture perfect scene in my head of how activities are going to be. Here, I'll give you an example. In my head, we decorate our tree all together with our favorite Christmas tunes playing in the background...maybe even have a cup of hot chocolate, and then admire our work.
Do you know what it was actually like? I cringed the entire time. If there was Christmas music playing, no one could hear it over me yelling things like, "Please use soft hands!" "Let's only take out one ornament at a time!" "Don't worry, I'll put the hooks on, you just need to hand it to dad!" "Please get out from under the tree!" and my personal favorite, "Please stop touching all of them, I should have just done it myself."
I muttered that last one under my breath, so thankfully no one actually heard (I mean, c'mon, I'm not a complete Grinch). Anyone else? No, just me out here hanging all by myself? Merry flipping Christmas!
After 30 minutes, the tree was decorated, but not all was "calm and bright." Oh, and then to make matters even worse, during a shuffle with some other decorations, Joseph's (as in THE Joseph from the Nativity) head broke off and had to be super glued back on (and now looks like he's wearing a necklace). Do I take that as a sign of how 2022 will be? Jesus, I hope not (no pun intended).
Back when they truly admired the ornaments with their eyes...instead of their hands.
I do the same thing to myself with decorating cookies. This used to be my favorite part of Christmas growing up. Now, come to think of it, maybe my experience was different than my mom, grandma, and aunt's while we were baking cookies (maybe even my older cousins too). I remember basically having the time of my life using all the cookie cutters, rolling the bodies for the snowmen cookies, and eating all the raw dough my 5 year old stomach could handle. Ah, what a life.
Now, when I do it with the boys? Eh, my nostalgia fades and some stress takes over instead. I spend half of the time trying to convince Jack to put the dough on the cookie sheet instead of scarfing it down and exclaiming, "I eat it!" (obviously he comes by it naturally), and spend the other half heeding Nick's warning to "be careful mommy" because I accidentally spilled flour in front of him one time. And I'm cleaning up sprinkles for DAYS afterwards.
Did we put the cookies the boys tasted tested in the regular batch we brought to Christmas dinner? No one will ever know.
But what I'm forgetting to mention or realize in the moment is that the boys LOVE both of these activities. They were in awe of all of our ornaments ("Wow, mommy, look at this one!") and they literally can't contain themselves when the phrase "baking cookies" is even mentioned. So that has to count for something, right?
So here's my advice (take it for what it's worth, I've only been a parent for a whopping 2.5 years and only have almost 34 [woof] years of life experience): Still do the Christmas things. Do all of them--bake the cookies, decorate the tree, look at Christmas lights, go see Santa, and do whatever you want to do to make the season special.
Polar Express: a train ride where the boys basically only cared about the giant chocolate chip cookies...and rang the hell outta the bells at the end.
But lower your expectations, like way down. Like, don't have any expectations at all. You'll be much better off in the end...and be prepared to clean up a mess of some sort (hopefully it's sprinkles and not any part of the Nativity).
Jack went rogue with the paint during a homemade Christmas project last year.
Oh, and make sure to create/hold true to a few traditions with your spouse too. Christmas can be magical through your kids' eyes, but little traditions with your partner in crime sweetens the deal a bit...and they might just help you maintain a little piece of your sanity during the holiday craziness.