When my sister and I were little, we badly wanted a Christmas tree. But we lived in a part of the world where it was impossible for snow and the only kind of tree you could get was the plastic variety that came in a box. It never occurred to us to pester our parents because of the way we were brought up, so we set out to raise money to buy a tree ourselves.
We poured our energy into building a Christmas Tree Fund, making sure we had plenty of time to earn what seemed like a monumental sum of money. We did extra chores, (though it was a foreign concept to our parents to have to pay us), and we sold tickets to a musical we produced with an entire cast of toys.
The musical never took off, since my sister and I were the only mobile, talking members of the cast and we were terribly short-handed. I forget what happened, but I think my parents finally took pity on us and got us a tree.
It didn't matter that it was a bright green, spindly thing and that we didn't have the best ornaments. To us, it represented choirs of angels, dancing snowflakes, gingerbread houses, stockings by the fireplace, mistletoe and lots of merriment. We never got the first five things on that list but we did have some good times.
Over time, we grew up and went on to prefer hanging out with friends over Christmas. I got old enough to look forward to being entertained with fabulous parties, delectable food and great wine. None of that homespun stuff for me now - it was all glitter, sparkles and wearing black.
More time passed, I got married and had children of my own. All of a sudden, I felt that I needed to care about "doing Christmas" right for my kids. Well, it goes without saying that if only I knew how it was supposed to be done, I could reproduce all the necessary accoutrement to accompany the absolute best Christmas so that my children would have these unassailable memories of happy childhood holidays to sustain them through all of life's unhappier times.
The first years of my married life, we got a real tree, lit it up, made Christmas dinner, wrapped presents, and hung stockings. After my first child was born, we got a tree but left it bare. I bought and wrapped presents but didn't put up the stockings. Christmas morning was a flurry of trying to photograph my daughter opening presents but all she really wanted to do was to play with the giftwrap, and all I really wanted to do was to sit back and soak in the scene. However, there was special outfits to be worn and pictures with this person or other to be taken to "commemorate" the event. When I balked, I was told that it was "for the sake of the children".
This Christmas, we have two kids and no tree. No ornaments, no stockings, no special outfits and only the minimum of gifts. In many ways, I wish I could go back to capture all the promise of Christmas from when I was a child, cradle it in my arms and give it to my children. But I realize now that the magic is not found in the tree, the lights, the stockings, the cookies, the feasting, the lot of presents etc. Because in truth, I didn't get most of those things. It was the promise that mattered, not the stuff.
I believe that the point of all the work going into "doing Christmas" right would have been to be able to say to your child someday, "See, this is what your first (second, third) Christmas was like when you were little and here is proof that I love you." But if its love we're after, then we truly don't need all this stuff, especially when they are too young to care about it.
I hope my children know that I love them and that one day, they'll be old enough to maybe want the gingerbread house, the stockings and the tree. I know that if they were to ever stage a musical of toys, I will sit through every take and every scene. I will make sure that they know that they are cherished beyond measure, and that while they may not be able to earn their way into what they want so dearly, they may still get it, while its within my power to give.
And when they get it, they will also learn what it's like to hold on to the promise of something yet to be fulfilled, while reality falls short.