When I was a kid, Christmas was all about the presents. On Christmas morning, my brother, sister and I, like millions of other American kids, would race into the living room and stare in awe at the magical scene before our eyes: a table heaped with candy and nuts, fat red stockings, and piles and piles of gifts piled beneath the Christmas tree. My parents would eventually stumble, bleary-eyed, into the room, and we all spent the morning ripping open packages of Barbies and Star Wars playsets and Cabbage Patch Kids while Nat King Cole crooned from the record player (yes, I said record player).
But when my husband and I had kids, we swore that we would celebrate differently. No piles of presents. No Santa Claus stories. No focus on the materialistic glut that Christmas has become. No…our kids would grow up with solemn Christmas Eve candle-lighting services at church, and stories about the baby Jesus in the manger, and one…maybe two small gifts beneath the tree. Simple. Quiet. Full of meaning.
But as our children grew, I learned something. As our children awoke on Christmas morning and raced into the living room, their eyes shone with that same eager, awe-filled, Christmas-y expression that my siblings and I had worn each year. And that look filled me with a new, even more wonderful feeling of magic. I wanted them to have that feeling, if only once a year. And so, the piles of gifts began to grow. The stockings grew fatter. And stories about good old St. Nicholas began to compete with Baby Jesus in the manger.
This year, we have spent a frightening amount of money on materialistic stuff. Our boys are getting shiny new bicycles. Our daughter will get an iPod touch. We have given in to the All-American Christmas Dream of contributing to the growth of the economy. I am excited, as always, to see that Christmas morning expression on the faces of my children. But the idealist buried deep within me still wishes there was some way to change the way we celebrate the season, to restore a greater sense of meaning to the most celebrated holiday of the year.