What is it about Christmas that is so magical? When I was a kid there was no other time of the year better than December. My sister and I would make a red and green paper chain to count off the days until the 25th finally appeared. I made it a tradition to buy one new unique ornament for our tree every year. I would also spend days creating Christmas ornaments of my own from things like sequins, glue, yarn, styrofoam and old jewelry pieces.
Starting at the age of seven I remember pouring over cookbooks to find the best cookie recipes and start baking for the big day. I’d make cutout cookies, chocolate crinkles, walnut toffee, gingerbread men, and anything else I could find that involved butter, eggs and at least two different kinds of sugar. Christmas cookies were my domain for most of my childhood. My mom would always tell me to make a list of whatever ingredients I would need and she would buy every last one of them. From coconut, to candied cherries, pecans, sweetened condensed milk or cardamom. Whatever I needed she bought. My cookie baking became such high art that I remember one year hand painting holly berries and leaves onto each cookie of one particular type I made. I was obsessed, but it was all part of the tradition.
As soon as the toy catalogues started appearing in the mail my sister and I would start writing out our Christmas lists. Yes, our toy lists were a project unto themselves. It was imperative that Santa know not only what we wanted, but the color, the product code and the page number of each item in the catalogue we were looking at. I thought if he didn’t make everything himself, Santa could at least know where to buy the gifts I needed. This worked out very well for us for years. Christmas was also a time of giving for us. At our elementary school we’d have a rummage sale where the kids could buy small affordable items for their parents. It was really a nice idea. My sister bought me a perfume called “Sunlight” at this sale. I always wondered who owned this perfume before me, but I realized it was the thought that counts.
Christmas Eve was always the best and most magical night by far. I was still baking cookies up until that day, but I also made a special bread for Christmas morning. The Christmas bread was made out of yeast and candied fruit and it would sit out to rise while we were at Church for Christmas Eve service. Afterward I’d bake it to have ready for the following morning. Later that night we’d drive around and look at the Christmas lights on display at the mansions in the rich side of town and then come home to have cheese and crackers and other treats before bed. The best feeling I had was lying on our couch in the living room, with every light off but the tree lights, listening to Christmas music with my mom and sister and looking at the shadows from the tree branches and Christmas lights on the walls and ceiling. It was usually snowing out so that was an extra nice bonus to the magical Christmas feeling. It was this way for years. This was our Christmas tradition.
My mom always said “Christmas is for children.” The older I got the more I saw this was true. There was less magic and more stress. And sadness. Missing the magic of childhood Christmases, where the only worries were getting the right toy product code written down and baking as many cookies as could physically be done in a month. I thought that after I had kids the magic would return to the holidays. In many ways it has – their wonder and amazement at Santa. Their neverending questions, such as if Santa has email or if he shops for things that he couldn’t build, like a Nintendo DS, always make me laugh. I love seeing their happiness and wonder and amazement everytime it snows as they dream of that magical Christmas night.
But our society has built the idea of the holiday season up to unreasonable expectations. It is supposed to be a time of family, togetherness and cheer. But not everyone has that in their lives. Spend money on everything that you can to buy happiness for others. Don’t worry about the bills until January. So…what if you aren’t Martha Stewart? What if you don’t host big holiday parties? What if your family is fractured and can’t all be in one place? What if you aren’t religious?
Now as an adult, Christmas has become a time of questions. Questioning my beliefs. Questioning my faith. Questioning my past, present and future. I think the spirituality of the season makes me wonder about life and what is beyond, if anything. It is a time for me to wonder where I fit into the whole world. Am I on the right path? Where is it heading? It is a time of deep reflection, likely due to the fact that a new year will begin soon after. A clean slate and a fresh start on tackling the things I have put off too long. Time to clean house and get my life in order. A tall order from someone who just wanted to make the perfect Christmas cookie.