There it was, splashed across the cover of the latest Parents magazine on the newsstand today -- the phrase that gets my back up at this time of year like no other can:
"Christmas is for kids."
Sorry, maybe it's the childless curmudgeon in me talking, but I refuse to believe that Christmas is just for kids, or about kids. Strictly speaking, of course, Christmas IS about "A" kid -- "THE" kid -- the Christ Child, and what his birth meant to the world. But somehow, I don't believe He came into this world just so that kids could bug their parents for mountains of toys and stuff themselves silly with candycanes and turkey. ; ) Or so that magazine publishers could sell magazines!
I love Christmas -- it is my favourite time of year. And of course, my love of Christmas dates back to my childhood, is rooted there. But those feelings didn't fade or disappear when I got older . They just changed and took on a different form. The older I got, the less the toys and Santa Claus meant to me. What I loved (still love today) was being together with my family, and re-enacting our decades-old traditions and rituals. Some things have changed over the years, of course, for various reasons -- new rituals have gradually evolved over the years -- but much stays the same.
The spirit of Christmas was embodied by my maternal grandfather. I spent every Christmas of my life with him for 37 years straight. When I was very little, we lived hundreds of miles away from my grandparents. Sometimes, my grandmother would stay home or go to be with my my mother's brother and his family -- but wherever we were, my grandfather would drive or travel by train or bus to be with us for Christmas. I remember vividly how one year, when I was no more than 4, my dad went to get him at the train station in the next town down the road. I pulled a little chair up to the window and fell asleep there, waiting for them to come.
When I called to tell my parents I was pregnant, in March 1998, the first thing my mother asked me (after she stopped screaming!) was "when?" & when I told her "mid-November," she sighed rapturously, "A baby for Christmas!"
Well, by the time Christmas 1998 rolled around, not only was there no baby, there was no Grandpa. He died October 15th of that year at age 86. It was the saddest, most melancholy Christmas I have ever experienced. A year later, my grandmother was gone too.
A year or so after that, we were all sitting down to Christmas dinner, and my father went to get the camera to take a group shot of us seated around the table, as he often had in years past. He stood there looking through the viewfinder and as we all looked back at him, a strange thing happened. He set the camera down without taking the picture, turned and went down the stairs to the basement family room. Everyone looked blankly at each other. My mother got up and followed him down the stairs, and I bowed my head & struggled to hold back the tears. I knew exactly why he had to put down that camera & hide the emotions that had hit him unexpectedly. Instead of growing, our family was actually shrinking -- so many people we loved just weren't there anymore (or, like my daughter, never made it there to begin with) -- and I knew instinctively that he had realized that as he looked through the lens of that camera.
After a few minutes, he came upstairs & took the picture. I love looking at pictures, but this one gives me pain to see. None of us are smiling in it.
My mother is guilty of the "Christmas is for kids" & "kids are what make Christmas special" mindset (and it sometimes sets my teeth on edge). I will often hear her, at Christmastime, telling her friends that "we don't have any little kids at our house for Christmas." (Thanks, Mom.)(My sister is childless by choice, and she and I, at ages 45 & almost 47, are still "the kids" at our house.) She (my mom) loves it when my aunt invites us to her family Christmas shindig the Saturday before Christmas, where we get to watch her grandkids, saucer-eyed in the presence of Santa (yes, Santa) as he arrives at the door bearing gifts. (They lose most of their shyness very quickly as soon as they get handed their presents.)
Yes, it's fun to watch; yes, it's an element that our family Christmases lack these days. Is it better than our own family Christmases have evolved to become? I don't know. It's just different. Most certainly, our Christmases would be very, very different these days if our daughter were here -- but when all is said & done, it's still Christmas, it's still magical, and I still love and appreciate it.
I'm rambling here, but the point I want to make is that while children may add a certain element of fun to Christmas celebrations, it's not just "for kids." If it's about kids at all, it's about the child that lives within each of us. The magic & wonder & generosity of the season is something for ALL of us to enjoy and to share with each other.