The Magic of Christmas
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. My childhood Christmases were filled with the most wonderful memories. I’d wake up to the smell of bacon and run to the kitchen to hug my mom. Then, I’d eagerly wait by the window for my grandparents to arrive. As soon as they came, we’d beg to open presents, and then have the most amazing breakfast. Our table was like a dream for a food-loving child like me. There were cinnamon rolls, bacon, fruit, juice, and my Grandmother’s famous breakfast casserole – which we still make to this day in her memory.
I used to think the gift opening part was my favorite until I became an adult. I can’t even remember what gifts we got all those years ago. My Christmas memories are not full of toys and dolls, they are full of experiences and moments. I remember my Grandma’s gentle hugs. I remember my dad doing the dishes for my mom after breakfast. I remember my brothers playfully teasing me. Even today, I can hear my uncle’s corny jokes in my mind. I remember my mom putting on the goofiest Christmas song in the world and playfully trying to coerce us to dance with her. We’d laugh and resist her attempts before finally giving in to her requests. I picture her sweet, smiling face as we all teased her, hugged her, and danced to her favorite Christmas song. We did it to make her happy, but looking back on it, I’m the happy one.
Christmas became even more magical when I became a parent. Seeing my kids get to know the joys of Christmas has been one of my favorite experiences as a mom. The look on their faces when they saw the tree all lit up. The way they smiled as we drove around looking at lights throughout the neighborhood. Their tiny fingers covered in frosting as they decorated cookies. Somehow, I think all these things actually brought me more joy than they did for my kids.
When Duchenne entered our lives, everything changed. Only special needs parents can genuinely understand the bittersweet emotions that come with holidays. There always seems to be events that cause us stress, routines that get out of whack, and emotions that sneak up out of nowhere. Not to mention the people around us that don’t always empathize or understand what it’s like to walk a mile in our shoes. I’m not even sure how to explain why Christmas can be so difficult after a diagnosis of any kind, but it is. Holidays bring up suppressed feelings, previous expectations, and unexpected emotions. We smile, we decorate, and we act strong for our children, but inside we feel a hundred emotions at once.
Our first Christmas after the diagnosis was the absolute hardest. We were still grieving the news and trying to accept our new life. Symptoms were becoming more noticeable, and medications were causing dreadful side effects. The holiday spirit was not very present in my home, or in my heart. Due to my newfound perspective on life, I wanted it to be the perfect holiday, but I was struggling. We all were. I prayed for God to restore my love for Christmas, and I begged him to bring me peace.
Then one day, a few weeks before Christmas, I heard a knock at the door. I opened the door to find a small gift with an anonymous note attached. The kids were amazed that someone we didn’t even know would do such a kind and thoughtful thing for us. Each day it continued. First, with a knock at the door, followed by an anonymous gift with no one in sight. Each gift had a printed story attached to it about the joy of Christmas. The stories were about the beauty of the season, the kindness of others, and the precious love of Jesus. Every night we’d cuddle together and read each story. Every single one brought tears to my eyes and hope to my hurting heart.
The last gift had one closing note attached that read, “We hope you will always remember that more people love and care about your family than you will ever imagine. May the year 2019 be full of blessings and happiness! Merry Christmas.” We have since found out who our secret gift-giver was, and have thanked them for their beautiful act of kindness. They somehow brought the magic of the season back into our home, and for that, I will always be grateful to them.
This season I’ve desperately tried to focus on my gratitude, not my pain. This year I want to focus on the birth of my savior, the kindness of others, and the tender love we all have for each other. This is only our second Christmas with Duchenne in our lives, so it’s still hard to accept sometimes.
I decided to ask my kids to tell me their favorite part of Christmas. Their answers were surprising. They talked about decorating the tree, baking cookies, and watching family movies. They mentioned wearing their pajamas and drinking hot cocoa in the car during our annual Christmas Eve drive around the neighborhood to look at lights. They talked about decorating gingerbread houses and getting to spend extra time with Daddy. Not one child mentioned toys or presents. Of course, they love getting gifts, which was apparent from their detailed Christmas lists, but they somehow failed to mention that part. What they did speak about was our traditions, our moments, and the simple joys that they love.
This was a wonderful lesson for me. As I rushed around trying to get all the gifts on their lists, they were content with baking cookies. It made me realize something important. I could either frantically clean the house for company, or laugh at the sprinkle covered table as my children dollop frosting on each other’s noses. I could obsess over having a picture-perfect home full of the fanciest décor, or I could smile at the sight of our Christmas tree with the family ornaments that our children proudly placed in one giant clump. I could either focus on the part of Christmas that looks important to everyone else, or I could focus on the parts that we actually enjoy. I could just focus on the simple beauty of Christmas and leave out all the rest.
The real gifts are not the presents we buy and wrap anyway. The true gifts are the moments that you’ll never get back. It’s those early morning cuddles that your children will remember. It’s the frosting covered table after baking cookies that will stand out in their minds over the years to come. It’s the night you all stayed up late to watch Christmas movies together that will bring a smile to their faces. It’s the smell of hot cocoa, the sound of laughter, and the simple family traditions that they’ll talk about one day.
This year I encourage you to start a new tradition. Let go of the picture-perfect holiday. Stop stressing about the mess, and just enjoy the simple moments. Let your kids stay up a little later and cuddle a bit longer. Instead of rushing around trying to create magic for your children, remember where the real magic lies. The magic is in the memories.
In years to come, your children won’t remember what presents they received each Christmas. They won’t remember how clean the house was, or how much you spent on their gifts. All they will remember are the moments. Moments that seemed so simple to you at the time will one day become treasured memories. To quote Dr. Seuss, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.