By Janice O’Donnell
On a Christmas night a few years ago, after the food was eaten, the gifts exchanged, the carols sung, I went for a head-clearing stroll and encountered my neighbor. “God Jul,” I said, in recognition of our common ethnic heritage. “Oh,” she said wearily, “Christmas is such a big deal when you’re Swedish, isn’t it?” I laughed and agreed. Christmas can be a big deal if you’re Italian or Portuguese, too. Passover can be a big deal if you’re Jewish or Diwali if you’re Hindu. And that’s fine as long as you’re enjoying it. But if the quest for perfection overshadows joy and meaning, consider a relaxed approach to the holidays.
It hit me that I’d confused some TV-special idea of a perfect Christmas with what’s really important when my daughter was 10 or 11. We were decorating the tree when I noticed her tears. “What on earth is wrong?” I asked. This was supposed to be a lovely evening: music on the stereo, warm spiced cider, homemade cookies. “Every time I put a decoration on the tree,” she sniffled, “you move it.” It was true, and I hadn’t even realized it. I wanted the tree to look nice and the big ornaments are better near the bottom and there was too much red in that area there, so I was rearranging everything she added. How embarrassing! I decided to relax about the tree.
My grandchildren taught me to relax about the cookies. I’ve made Christmas cookies for years and I’ve figured out exactly how to apply the colors so that Santa’s suit is the right shade of red and the star cookies are sparkly golden. But during a messy and exuberant cookie-making afternoon, Liv and Finn festooned the cookies with every possible color combination, used the Halloween cookie cutters as well as the tree- and bell-shaped ones, and molded the dough with their hands to make cloud-like shapes (purplish clouds, at that). The cookies were certainly not perfect, but the wonderful result of a wonderful shared day.
And then there are the presents. Talk to any parent or grandparent about kids and toys and usually they’ll tell a story about the big special present that the child ignored in favor of playing with the box it came in. Relax about the presents with these ideas for simple gifts with real meaning: a chapter book — maybe one of your childhood favorites — and a promise to read it to him; a board game and time to play it together; tickets to a play or show that you will take them to; a membership to the zoo or the Children’s Museum and certificates they can redeem for excursions there with you. The best gifts are your time and attention. If you approach the season with fun shared time as your first priority, it will help everyone relax and enjoy the holidays — and each other.
News and Notes from Providence Children’s Museum: Occasional posts about things to do with our kids – from places to go, things to make, ideas to think about, and ways to explore. Providence Children’s Museum – 100 South Street, Providence, RI. 401-273-5437 (KIDS).
Photo courtesy of Providence Children’s Museum.