As far as kids are concerned, once a year when December rolls around, the kitchen starts smelling of freshly baked Christmas cookies, lights suddenly decorate what they believe to be the most beautiful tree they’ve ever seen, and when they write a letter to Santa Claus, you can bet that the big guy will take the time to write them back (shout out to Canada Post, whose gracious volunteers reply to each and every letter addressed to the man in the big red suit).
As parents, you know that there is always someone behind the scenes making the magic happen; someone who buys the presents, someone who cooks the turkey, and someone taking cover behind the curly white beard (or if you grew up in our house, wearing white underwear and delivering a pillow case full of treats outside your door).
I always feel bad when I hear from people whose childhood is described as somewhat less than merry, especially when I think back to the effort my parents put into creating beautiful holiday memories nearly thirty years in the making. We would always buy our Christmas tree mid-December, marking the official start to the holiday season. My dad would blast John Lennon’s “So this is Christmas” loudly throughout the house and Christmas baking would begin, filling the kitchen with a buttery smell that would have all the kids stuffing ourselves with shortbread every night before bed.
The anticipation leading up to Christmas Eve was a wonderful kind of torture. After stuffing ourselves full of a French-Canadian feast circling around a delicious meat pie, we would hop into bed well before midnight in adherence to the strict schedule set by NORAD who provided regular updates as per the whereabouts of you know who.
When we awoke on Christmas morning (after having already opened our pillow cases and comparing our loot), we would be ushered downstairs to the sound of Christmas music and phone calls coming in from every corner of the world where family and friends waited to catch up on the happenings of another year gone by. When we got a bit older, we would toast with a bit of champagne and orange juice and, after exchanging gifts, make a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, curl onto the couch still wrapped in our PJs, and watch whatever Christmas movie one of us had received as a gift that year. That night, we’d head over to dad’s side of the family (the Brits) and do it all over again.
No matter how old we were, during the holiday season, time just seemed to come to a standstill. Roles within the family would shift as younger members joined the ranks, but that warm fuzzy feeling never left, regardless of the number of years passing us by. Now that I’m older, I can appreciate that these memories were the real gifts my parents gave me every Christmas; a roomful of family (a clan to be exact), a house full of love, and small moments that made Christmas such a magical time of year. It was never about the presents (although they were always well-received) but about the anticipation of a day that couldn’t be ruined, couldn’t be anything less than perfect, and it never was.
Like many moms and dads, I’ve become acutely aware of the responsibilities that come with my newfound role as a parent. I’m not only the baster of turkeys or the buyer of Christmas presents to wrap in multi-coloured bows; I’m a real live memory maker. I have the power to shape a childhood and create the moments that my children will pass onto their children and so on – and so do you. So, as your kids are running through the hallways on a sugar high and you’re cleaning the pile of dishes used to serve up a stellar meal that only took 9 hours to prep and you’ve reached the point where you just want to be done with all the hoopla, remember to slow down. Remember that you’re not just cooking, wrapping, decorating, baking and so on. You’re making a memory that will last a lifetime and giving your kids the best gift of all.
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