It really is the most wonderful time of the year. We’ve been looking forward to Christmas in this house for so long, and it did not disappoint. With my parents down in Charleston with my sister and her family for Christmas, we knew that it would be a very quiet day for us (well, quiet for a family-of-five Christmas). A few friends mentioned that they might stop by later on, but we knew that the morning was ours alone and we were actually looking forward to it. There’s something lovely about having no one else to coordinate or compromise with when it comes to the plan and how the day unfolds. We made sure to pull together the Christmas morning breakfast that’s become an important family tradition, even if we were going to be on our own: peaches & cream french toast (my mom’s specialty that K looks forward to all year long), grits with cheese and Cholula, scrambled eggs, sausage and soy bacon.
When I was a kid, my sister and I would wake up well before dawn and urge my parents out of bed, they would head downstairs first to plug in the tree and make some coffee while we waited at the top of the stairs for the go-ahead to rush down and see what Santa had brought. I know that there are many ways of doing Christmas morning, but in our house the gifts Santa brought were in stockings or on the hearth and were unwrapped, and everything under the tree and wrapped was from someone else (our parents, pets, etc.). Many of those gifts were already under the tree well before Christmas. I found out from Kristin only a few days ago that all of the gifts they received were from Santa, and all were wrapped and appeared only on Christmas morning. It became a point of contention when I started to wrap gifts and place them under the tree a few days ago, so we had to hash out how our own family’s tradition was going to unfold. To be honest, I’ve also had lots of complicated feelings about Santa, largely because I want Christmas magic to come from lots of places for our kids and not have it all in that singular person and event (and in receiving gifts – Jonah already says that his favorite thing about Christmas is getting lots of toys). So this season I’ve tried hard to actively remind him to notice lots of other special things about the holiday season, and I’ve been telling him that those are MY favorite things about Christmas. It seems to have a tiny effect so I’ll keep trying. At any rate, peer influence is powerful and this year he’s been more interested in Santa than ever, so we’ve embraced it and he was excited to put cookies out on Christmas Eve. I’m not really capable of half-assing something with meaning, even if I’m ambivalent about some of the details, so I was fully committed to it this year.
My parents usually have a big Christmas Eve party and we’ve been doing that for years, but with them out of town we had to come up with an agenda. To make Christmas Eve feel special and not like any ordinary Saturday night, we decided to go to church. This is not something we ever do. I told Jonah about it a week or so ago and he said “Oh church. That’s a really big building that can fit lots of people. What’s a church?” I told him that it’s a place people go to talk about the Bible, which is a book about God and Jesus. He replied “Oh, Jesus. She’s the baby, isn’t she?” The service was really sweet, lots of very brief Christmas hymns, a brief cute and funny sermon for the kids, and cupcakes and a round of Happy Birthday for Jesus. We ran into some friends there and they introduced us to their pastor and a few other members of the congregation, which was really nice. After the service Jonah somehow found the toddler room full of toys, and as I was putting him to bed later on, he said “Hey, maybe some Sunday we could go back to that church, but instead of the singing part we could just do the playing part.” I told him that the singing part was kind of the whole point of going to church, and he said that he didn’t care for the singing part. At least he found something he liked.
On the drive home we drove through the older part of our neighborhood, where luminaries along the road are apparently a Christmas tradition. Nearly every single house for blocks and blocks had them out front, with real candles. It was truly beautiful. Kristin and I talked about how there’s something really special when that many families decide that they’re willing to go out in the cold after the sun goes down to set these up and light them, just to make the world more beautiful for the people who will pass by. Sure, some of it is tradition and neighborhood pressure I’m sure, and some might be from a sense of specialness worth flaunting (it’s the “good” part of the neighborhood), but I truly believe that at Christmas there’s a good bit of willingness to make your little plot of land more beautiful for those who may see it, and that’s so magical to me.
K and I were up ridiculously late last night (2 a.m. to be specific) preparing for the day, including some Ikea assembly that we both could have done without. At 1:30a.m. when you’re almost finished and getting super excited, the last thing you want to discover is that you’ve put the 2nd or 3rd piece in upside down. Some disassembly and reassembly later, the crisis was averted and we were off to bed. I was curious to see what time the kids would get us up, since this is the first year Jonah was truly excited and knew what to expect in the morning. At some point he climbed into bed with me (Kristin had shuffled into Vivi’s room) and asked me if it was morning. Without even looking at the time I said “no, not yet” and insisted he go back to sleep. At four he’s young enough to be OK with that, which was a much needed Christmas miracle. He finally asked me again if it was morning at 7:30 and I told him that yes, it was. I had him go wake Kristin and the twins and we all made our way into the living room.
Jude and Vivienne were super excited about the toy kitchen, and spent a lot of time there today. That fiasco was totally worth it, even if they pulled the faucet out within the first 20 minutes. Vivi was initially disappointed that water didn’t come out and asked us repeatedly to turn it on. Maybe that’s why she removed it, who knows.
The kids also got a teepee from Santa, which they all enjoyed. A friend who stopped over today mentioned that we seemed to choose a lot of “classic” toys, and I suppose in some ways that is our style. We almost managed to avoid batteries this year, with the exception of one flashlight and a small backhoe loader that makes engine noises (a specific request from Jonah to Santa to replace an old one that had broken). We certainly can’t claim to be minimalist in any way, however, and there’s nothing Montessori or Waldorf about our playroom. We just tend to love those toys and love to see the kids using their imaginations and creativity.
If we struck out at all, I think that it was with Jonah. Along those same classic toy lines, we got him a marble run, which he loved and wanted to open and play with immediately in lieu of opening more gifts, which was amazing. That said, it was really the only gift he received today that he got to play with, whereas Vivi and Jude simply ended up with a lot more stuff that they were actively engaged with throughout the day. It’s not that we make any effort to keep Christmas small; in fact I come from a family that went WAY overboard on gifts every year, and it’s hard to break that cycle when it’s been passed down with such passion and love and enthusiasm.
The problem is that we have SO many toys already, and 90% of those belong to Jonah. Sure, we insist on sharing, but when we’re thinking about gifts we often think “maybe Vivi and Jude should have their own…” or maybe it’s just that they’re interested in their own unique things now and Jonah’s interests haven’t changed a ton over the last year, so there’s space for Vivi and Jude to add new creative toys, but Jonah has all of the Legos and Magformers and construction vehicles that he could ever possibly need. Plus he has a Thanksgiving birthday, so when it came time to pick out Christmas gifts, we didn’t c0me up with much. That, and when his grandparents and aunts and uncles on Kristin’s side asked for suggestions, we gave them most of the ideas that we had (and those gifts aren’t being exchanged until tomorrow). So he’ll be receiving more things to play with, but Christmas morning is a big deal, and I’m not sure it was everything he hoped for.
He actually got a couple of other super cool gifts, a sit on digger for the sandbox (which we don’t have yet, and which it’s far too snowy for right now) and a bouncy house (!) from my sister, which was a collective gift for all three kids. We seriously considered blowing it up in the great room today but never did; every time we thought about it the kids were engaged with something else and we didn’t want to interrupt them to change gears, and by the time they were bored Jonah wasn’t feeling well. Did I mention he seems to have come down with conjunctivitis today? Double bummer. That means that he’ll miss K’s family Christmas party tomorrow (along with me) which really bums me out, for him more than anything else, but also because I really wanted to be together.
I know that he’ll love those two gifts once the weather is right to use them in the yard, but it’s tough to wait on those things. Kind of like getting a bike for Christmas in this sort of weather, which reminds me of another example of “Maybe the twins should have their own…” They got scooters from my parents since Jonah has a scooter and they’re always trying to snatch it. We didn’t even realize that the same company has a version that converts from a ride-on to a standing scooter, and Jude and Vivienne LOVE them.
I don’t really have a good picture of the ride-on version, but V is sitting on hers in the very back of that shot. There’s even a storage compartment under the seat that came in rather handy since Jude needed to scoot while carrying baby, and once we converted his to the seat they both popped their babies underneath.
One of the highlights for both K and I was seeing Jude open that babydoll. Vivi has a baby that she adopted from Jonah’s toys; it was a gift he received from a friend on his first birthday and he never really took to it. She loves it to pieces and takes it everywhere. Jude never really had a baby, but this summer he inherited an old Cabbage Patch doll of mine which went lots of places with us, but it was in shabby shape and was really too large for him to carry around comfortably. We knew that he needed his very own baby for Christmas, and I think this moment made our day. I honestly didn’t even catch this kiss until I was going through the photos, and despite the fact that it’s out of focus, it’s the photo that makes me melt.
Last night, as Kristin and I were finally drifting off to sleep, we talked about how different Christmas feels when the magic is entirely up to you. It’s more work, of course, but it’s also kind of special. We felt like we were a team with a mission to do something really magical for our kids, and it felt wonderful. Last night as I looked around at the living room after wrapping and what not, I said to Kristin that maybe we’d overdone it. They just didn’t need this many new things. But this morning, seeing their excitement and joy made it all feel just right; maybe that’s why it’s so easy to go overboard. Christmas really is better when you have kids of your own. Kristin said it was the best Christmas she’s had in decades, and I might have to agree.