If Christmas lights a spark for my grandchildren, inspires them to dream of the future and desire the shiny-new and surprising—for me, Christmas is the vehicle of memory. As soon as I open the first carton that stores my ornaments and Christmas decorations, a door to the past will open. Memories will explode from the carton that holds the stockings with my children’s names, the Jack-in-the-Box that goes under the tree, and of course, the ornaments. I’ll anticipate unwrapping the fragile blue doll given to me when I was pregnant, the ballet slippers celebrating Christine’s early love of dance, the tiny piano with Carrie’s name, and so many welcoming the new baby—Andrew, 24 years ago.
Christmas, the season of wonder, illuminates memory. A single ornament holds thoughts of the person who gifted it, the tree where it was displayed or possibly a full-blown picture of the living room that it graced in years past. Memories abound at Christmas.
And though the Christmas season pulls us in many directions with errands and duties, school events and office celebrations, we are also making memories—an amazing and wonderful thing. When I find a quiet moment, I want to breathe in the scent of paperwhites, enjoy the sparkle of lights and ornaments on my tree and read Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. I’m looking back but also making new memories. What will you do to capture the essence of Christmas moments, to experience heightened joy or deep spiritual fulfillment? Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of us could once again capture elements of child-like eagerness? That would be a perfect gift.
Music certainly is part of the memories of Christmas. Do you have a carol that still chokes you up when you sing it? Did you experience the Nutcracker Ballet? If it’s a shining moment in your past, sharing it again with a young person would create a powerful memory. And there’s the selection of the Christmas tree that often creates a family experience that everyone remembers for years to come. I really wanted a Scotch Pine. No, you liked the Balsam, I remember! Each event has the power to become a shining ornament on the family tree. Each event increases the gift of love in our families. For Christmas is about love and giving, as it accentuates the amazing experience of family, and celebrates simple good times.
But when the season ends, the tree comes down and the ornaments are tucked away, we might notice a change in family members, especially children. Where before they were peering into the future, excited and bright-eyed, now we might notice they act deflated, maybe even sad or mopey. We ask why has the spark dimmed? We mumble to ourselves: We’ve had such a wonderful Christmas, why are they acting like this?
It’s truly okay. Children, all of us are forming memories. Young or old, we experience nostalgia, a feeling defined as pleasure and sadness, caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again. What a great thing, to honor our experience of Christmas by forming memories.
Ebenezer Scrooge said: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” Each of us carries in our hearts hundreds of memories that help build our traditions. For me it’s carols sung by the Robert Shaw Choral now re-recorded on CD. It’s a music box from friends that have meant so much in my life, decorations made by my children and grandchildren and carefully wrapped and saved each year, and every dish and bowl and glass that will be on my table—gifts from my mother, aunts and grandmother.
So as you race through Target to finish a list, help your daughter pick out a gift for grandpa, rehearse a skit for the Christmas party or build a fire with family gathered round, you are building memories, carving out future Christmases in the lives of those you love. You are giving a gift that is endlessly fervent, spiritual and uplifting. It’s an unforgettable gift, various and multifaceted as snowflakes—because we form families that are vastly different and various. And how amazing and perfect that is.
This Christmas, I will hold dear all my memories of the past, yet feel once again the excitement and joy of the present—especially when looking into the eyes of my grandchildren. Because I am certain that as each of them anticipates the future, they will also be building memories. And I will be in those memories. That will truly make me happy.