When I was around 6 years old I saw this movie on TV- it was Christmas Eve and the whole family was wearing matching sweaters and gathered next to a big beautiful Christmas tree, drinking from little matching cups and singing Christmas carols. They smiled at each other with deep affection. I remember it looking so magical and loving, and wondering if people really did that?!
Up until I was 8 years old, we weren’t even allowed in the room where the Christmas Tree was. I could see it though, through the frosted glass doors.
Our Christmas looked different than other peoples. My mom decorated the tree by herself while we were at school, until one year my father bought a fake tree with the decorations already glued on. My parents were all about ease. We didn’t bake any cookies or watch any particular Christmas movies, or do any caroling. But we got more gifts than I could even count. I knew other families that went to see the Nutcracker every year or went ice skating together or decorated shortbread cookies. But in my house, Christmas was simpler. For a few years my parents just dropped us off at the toy store and rolled over two shopping carts, “You can each get whatever you can fit in your cart!” My dad stood outside smoking while my mom stayed at the front of the store. I remember going up and down the aisles not really sure what to put in. I think I got a big round beach ball and a twirling baton, trying to fill my cart with the largest things of little value in silent protest.
Christmas Eve was the most stressful night of the year for my mother. As soon as it started to get dark my mom would get anxious. She would ask my brother to bring up all her wrapping paper and bows from the basement and she would spread them across the dining room table.
“Okay, come on, get to bed, I’m gonna be up all night wrapping” She’d say, already sounding exhausted.
I was never tired but I would go up to bed anyway. I loved spending time in my room alone.
One year, when I was 7 or 8 years old, lying there in my bed, I decided it was time to start my own Christmas Eve tradition…
I got into my pajamas, turned the lights out, face planted on the bed, and squished my head hard into my pillow.
“Dashing through the snow!…”
I began to sing all the Christmas carols, one after another!
“Deck the halls with boughs of holly fa la la la la”
I sung loudly into that pillow.
No one could hear me. It was my own private concert…for Santa.
In my mind Santa didn’t represent presents, he represented happiness and love and family. He symbolized magic. And that’s what I needed. I needed Christmas magic.
One by one I sung all the Christmas Carols I knew. Only coming up to breathe. I convinced myself that if I sung Christmas carols every year on Christmas Eve, Santa would hear me and one day he would bless my family with a magical Christmas, just like the one I had seen in the movie. It was exciting having this little secret. Every year from that point forward, I got so excited to go to bed early on Christmas Eve. I had something to take care of.
I don’t remember when I stopped singing into my pillow on Christmas Eve but it was well into my twenties. The magical family Christmas never did come.
A few years into my marriage I confided in my husband about my secret tradition. Then one night a few days before Christmas my husband suggested we have a little sing-a-long. We printed out a handful of Christmas songs and sat on the floor nuzzled into each other in front of our festively decorated fireplace and sung them together. I felt so overwhelmed at the sheer joy of singing Christmas carols with someone I loved out in the open, that tears streamed down my face as I sung. It was as though in that moment I knew that my dreams had finally come true. I had been blessed with the magical Christmas from the movie I had always wished for. A life filled with love, not filled with things.
We have a whole slew of Christmas traditions in our house now. We have our special magical family Christmas movies we re-watch every year, we bake gingerbread and shortbread cookies, we decorate a fresh new tree, we toast panettone in the oven and eat it with butter… and we sing Christmas carols.
My fondest memories of Christmas growing up aren’t all the gifts we got, or getting to fill a shopping cart of toys, it’s coming home after sledding with my brother and my mom handing us a warm mug of hot chocolate, it’s going to a packed church and listening to the choir sing, and it’s singing christmas carols into my pillow.
The best part of any holiday is spending quality time with the ones you love, making new memories and enjoying each other without the distractions of work and life. Celebrating and being grateful for all the things we already have. Each other.