As the holiday draws closer with each passing day, you may be noticing your stress levels rising as you continue to search for the perfect gifts for all on your list. You may even be worried about how you’ll afford said gifts, adding even more to the stress you may be under. But the truth is, the gifts you are fretting over aren’t what matters most. It may be cliché and is certainly not something you haven’t heard before, but in all honesty, these materialistic items are not what will be remembered years from now. What will be remembered is the time you spent together as a family, and the traditions you create together.
When I look back at my own childhood, I remember very few items I received on Christmas morning. Instead, what makes me love this holiday so much is the memories my family created and the amount of love I always felt.
I didn’t grow up within a traditional family. My parents separated when I was 5 years old with an agreement that they weren’t the best partners for each other, but they never divorced. Even to this day, 26 years later, my parents are still legally married. Although the two of them agreed they weren’t each others best match, they were both committed to being the best parents they could be- always putting their differences aside to ensure my siblings and I felt cared for and loved. When it came to the holidays, they went above and beyond to ensure we were always together as a family, continuing to create family traditions with each passing holiday.
Every Christmas Eve, my dad would drive us around in his old, mustard yellow Toyota Corolla Wagon to look at the overly decorated homes around town. He’d find the best of the best in the daily newspaper, taking time to circle the ones with the most twinkling lights and lawn ornaments in order to make sure we didn’t miss them. The heater didn’t work in his vehicle, so we’d drive around with a window cracked to avoid the windows frosting over. My brother, sister, and I- all bundled up in our heaviest of snow gear- would pile into the backseat with one of us getting the coveted spot of shotgun, and stare out the windows in awe at the glowing, festive homes.
Next my dad would take us to a movie- more often than not holiday themed- where we would sneak in our favorite candy bought prior at the grocery store because my dad was not one to purchase the outrageously priced snacks at the theater. Following the movie, we’d be treated to the most delicious pizza in a small pizzeria located in a run down strip mall in a less than desirable part of town. We’d often be the only people dining in the restaurant, enjoying every last bit of cheesy, doughy goodness, laughing joyously while replaying scenes from the movie we’d just watched.
With our bellies full and our hands and ears bundled back into our snow gear, we’d make the cold drive back to the home we lived in with our mom. Once settled back home, my mom would help us into our holiday pajamas and corral the 3 of us in front of the tree in order to snap a photo with her disposable camera. She’d always ask for us to give our very best smile for the first photo she’d take, but then would follow it up with a request for our funniest face for the second, which we happily participated in. We’d then be shuffled into our beds so we wouldn’t be awake when Santa arrived, making sure cookies and Coca-Cola were left near the fireplace, because if we learned anything from the Coca-Cola commercials, it was that Santa preferred Coke over milk. My dad would settle his 6’4” frame into the twin-sized bed he would share with my little brother every Christmas Eve, making sure he was present to see the excitement on our little faces first thing Christmas morning.
As I look back on these memories, our holidays were far from perfect, but they are the memories I will carry in my heart for the rest of my life. My parents may not have been able to give me all that I asked Santa for- although they did everything they could to try- but my love for this holiday is because the two of them always did the best that they could, navigating a path that was relatively unknown. They weren’t perfect, but they always made my brother, sister, and I feel loved and cared for, and that is all that I can ever hope to give my own children one day.