It’s early December and my sons and I paint Christmas cards for people we know. It’s not a quirk but a ritual.
Painting cards is a good time to reflect on Christmas. Decorations have been up around town since the beginning of November, yet they miss the mark. Building up to Christmas Day takes more than shopping.
The boys make their lists for Santa, but that’s not the part I hope for them to remember.
They think of gingerbread and the walnut bread we bake and get giddy. We paint together and I tell them stories of my childhood Christmases.
I barely remember my Christmas gifts as a kid, not out of disregard for my parents’ effort to provide them but because my Christmas was magic in other ways. Worldly and otherwise.
I remember the house getting spruced up for Christmas. Big wool carpets cleaned outside in the fresh snow. Curtains line-dried and brought inside frozen stiff with an intoxicating smell of crispness. Hanging paper stars.
I remember the kitchen in the days before Christmas. Lent was always observed by my parents and while food was still tasty during Lent, the smell of Christmas gingerbread and chocolate-layered treats was a sweet coronation of a time properly revered but wished gone by kids.
I remember Christmas Eve walks with my dad and my sister. The dark, clear sky seeded with stars, the air cold and nippy. Snow squeaked under our steps and dad’s voice was kind as the moonlight. He would tell us stories of his childhood, and as I peeked through the windows of houses we passed by, I was mesmerized by decorated trees and lit candles, their yellow flames like little golden dancing elves.
With my small hand nestled in dad’s warm hand, I wished for nothing more. Upon our return, we would find gingerbread cookies. The tree, all decorated, was there. With it came the smell of dark snowy woods.
There were gifts under the tree, too. In Europe, Santa always arrived on Christmas Eve. We rejoiced, red cheeks and all, and thought of how we missed seeing Santa again. “By a few minutes or so,” my mom said every time. I felt sorry yet hopeful. Next time perhaps.
I loved the walk with dad so much, however, that if I had to choose between our walk and guarding the livingroom to see Santa, I would’ve chosen the creaking of the sparkling snow and dad’s stories.
Christmas rituals, whatever they may be, should be the ones nestling in our children’s hearts for years to come. Magic never comes from gifts, at least not all of it.
Sweet smells and busy hands dusting the kitchen in flour, painting cards, making ornaments and listening to carols, helping people who have less, there are so many rituals we can weave into lasting memories. We need our children to stay connected to what celebrations are really intended for — to bring people together.
I want my boys to remember the steps to Christmas and I want them to create their own when the time comes, saving some of the ones we have to pass on, because they add warmth. Rituals, ever so poignant. Because we need them.
Daniela Ginta is a scientist, writer, blogger and mother. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org