It is almost impossible to believe that it has been eleven years since my husband and I spent our first Christmas as a married couple.
I remember that year vividly. I spent the month before Christmas trying to find decorations that would make our tiny one bedroom apartment feel Christmasy but that also fit into our meager budget. At the time I didn’t know how to make anything, and I was too busy studying for my Master’s exams to learn.
I remembered holidays from my youth, all of us nestled around the Christmas tree in our Christmas pajamas on Christmas morning with holiday music on in the background. I remembered baking cookies. And eating cookies. I remembered the anticipation of Christmas Eve and the excitement of Christmas day. I remembered 9:00 AM mass when we would bring our new baby dolls and we were dressed in our fancy Christmas dresses ourselves. I remembered Christmas evening with extended family. Those memories were etched in my brain. They were a part of who I was. They were the joy and magic of childhood Christmases all wrapped up deep inside my memory, and more than anything in the world, I wanted to create those memories with my new husband as we started our family.
I ended up getting a decent number of decorations from discount stores that year, many of which are still in boxes of old Christmas decorations that are too fragile to take out with toddlers under foot. I used Christmas cards to decorate what other spaces we had open. I lit holiday scented candles. I blared Christmas music all month. And then Christmas Eve came and...
I ended up in the hospital with a severe case of pneumonia.
Instead of a cozy Christmas morning in our pjs opening presents and cuddling on the couch in warmth and tenderness, I was hooked up to breathing machines and IVs. Ideal it surely wasn’t. Memorable? You betcha.
And then after that we had year after year of Christmases with just my husband and I. Each year we would pray that the next would bring us a child, and for too many of those years, the prayers would go unanswered. Each year I would try so desperately to bring that spirit of Christmas joy into our home and every year it would just sort of fall flat. No amount of tinsel and stockings and ornaments could bring it out.
And now I sit on my couch looking around my first floor. We have a tree that is almost nearly finished being decorated. We have three of our seven stockings hanging from the banister. Two are still in a box and one has yet to be made. We have the handprint wreath Magoo made us at preschool last year hanging in our dining room, but the bunting hanging above it is left over from Independence Day, and I have yet to hang the new stuff that is in a huge storage box in our kitchen.
And yet, our whole house feels like it is brimming with the spirit of the holidays. The music I put on is met with multiple dancing feet. And when I turn the music off, I hear little voices still chiming in, practicing over and over (and over and over) again the lyrics to “Away in a Manger” that they will sing at the Christmas program on Monday.
Our decorations are more plentiful than they were that first year, but fancier they surely aren’t. Most of our tree is decorated with wood ornaments colored by a two year old, salt dough ornaments painted by a three year old, and paper ornaments made by all three of them. Our fancy nativity sets are away in storage and in its place is the Little People version that may not be pretty but it can stand up to little hands and blunt force. Strewn all about under the tree are boas and fairy wings and blankies and binkies.
And as I sit here, these eleven years later, I realize that the spirit of the holidays is always there if we know how to look. Years back I was looking to the trappings of Christmas -- the colors and the sounds and the smells. Now I finally understand that all of these things form the backdrop to our memories, but the memories themselves... those are of the people and the laughter and the hugs and the moments. Those are in the little hands and the wet kisses and the tender hugs and the gleaming eyes.
We adults can look around every corner to find that Christmas spirit, and if we are lucky, we will find it. But kids don’t need to look. Somehow it seems imprinted on their souls, and one touch of that from them can turn even the most lost of us into proponents of the power of belief. Kids know it's not to be found in a store or on the radio or in wrapped packages or fancy cookies. If we are quiet and still enough, they will remind us that it lives inside of us, and it can be found year round.
And I understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas and not all people who do celebrate it celebrate it in the same ways or for the same reasons. But regardless of religion or belief or inclination or understanding, I think it’s important that we have a time of year that reminds us to look deep into ourselves to find the place where wonder and magic still exist and that allows us to recapture a bit of the best of ourselves. And what better time of year than this? And what better teachers than the little ones at our feet?
Amanda Knapp is a writer and stay at home mom to her three little girls. She writes about her life on her blog, Indisposable Mama.