Last Christmas was depressing and cruel. After a long, hard year, we were out of funds and struggling to make ends meet. Belief in Santa was at a solid 100%. While we prepared our kids by telling them we wouldn’t be having a big Christmas, they still held out hope that Santa’s special magic would make their dreams come true.
Most of our gifts were purchased second-hand, but even this was a stretch. I remember finding a fancy, red coat in my 8-year-old’s size. The price? $7.00. It was an unnecessary item, and $7.00 was a stretch when the other clothes I was purchasing were $3.00 or $4.00 a piece (and they were actually needed). I remember holding that coat in the store and debating if I should make the $7.00 splurge. I finally did, but felt sick about it.
We avoided Santa that year so the kids wouldn’t have the chance to lay all their hope at his feet. But Santa’s pull is strong, and a week before Christmas, my 4-year-old announced that Santa would be bringing her a pink scooter — just like her older sister’s.
It had been such a disappointing year, with No after No after No. I told her Santa was probably done making plans and he might not have thought about a scooter this year. But she was certain he would come through for her.
I had already been in a depression that year, but these disappointments were sending me further and further down. Then suddenly, we received an anonymous bundle of gift cards to Target and Wal Mart. While it admittedly hurt to be the one to receive, it also lifted me higher than I had been in a long while.
Our 4-year-old received her wished-for pink scooter that year.
Yesterday, that 4-year-old (who is now 5) randomly shared her memory of that Christmas. “Mom, remember how you and Dad pulled us around the yard in the sled? And then we came inside and had hot cocoa! And then we went swimming in the bathtub with our swimsuits on!”
No. No, I don’t remember.
I remember the snow, but I don’t remember what came after. I mostly remember feeling so sad. I remember that, even though we had been able to pull off a decent Christmas, the weight of financial stress still hung over me with a stifling oppression. I remember being ashamed of some of the second-hand gifts the children had unwrapped that morning. I remember the many gifts we were not able to purchase; the dreams we didn’t fulfill.
My sadness prevented me from creating memories. But children are magic, and they went ahead and stored up a handful of special memories anyway.
I woke up this morning, and knew I had to share what my daughter said to me. I knew I needed to write about the importance of experiences and memories. Maybe this post is for me; something I will be reminded of at a future Christmas. Maybe it’s for you. Maybe you’re in the same situation I was in last year.
Maybe it’s actually for me right now. This year is happier. Easier. Better. And our children are going to receive much of what they’ve hoped for this year.
Yes, Christmas morning will be happy. But I now know it’s what we do with the rest of the day — together — that will form a deep impression in the memory banks of my children’s minds.
This is something we hear all the time — memories are more important than gifts. But I think we hear it so often that its truth begins to lose power. At least, I know that’s what happened to me.
I wish I had taken the time last year to be more present; to be sad one day about the lack of gifts, but creative enough the next day to build special memories. It could have been a fulfilling Christmas for me as well, if I had only opened my eyes to my children’s experiences.
My daughter’s memory, randomly shared with me yesterday, reminds me to be there; to be happy; to say “Yes” to experiences.
Christmas is a hard time of year for many people. It’s difficult to take away the pain of a lean Christmas from a sad parent, but I have learned — too late for last year — that magic can be conjured up without gifts.
And that will be my focus from here on out.