In Search of the Holiday Spirit

By Jennifer Waldburger, MSW

When I was a kid, my mom, my dad, my sister and I would drive around our little town in Connecticut after dinner during the holidays, looking at the twinkling lights, nativity scenes, and lit-up Santas and reindeer on all of the snowy front lawns.  The story goes that when we passed a particularly impressive combination of color and lights and wonder, I would exclaim, “Holy smoke!”  And that is how over-the-top Christmas displays became known, in my family, as “holy smokes.”  I don’t actually remember saying that, but I do remember being excited about all the lights, and wondering what all the families inside the houses were doing to get ready for Santa.  I remember brimming with anticipation about what Santa would bring to our house, and thinking about how many days were left till school was out and he would arrive.  I remember drawing snowflakes on the fogged-up window inside the car, and my mom warming us up with hot chocolate and Christmas cookies as soon as we got home.  It was magic.

One might imagine I would have grown up to create my very own “holy smoke” each holiday season, so I could enjoy the show without having to leave my own living room.  Not quite.  Maybe I saw just one too many glowing, waving snowmen back in Connecticut as a kid – or maybe, like most of us, I developed an aversion to the glitzy, all-out holiday hoopla that seems now to begin just after back-to-school and doesn’t quite peter out until well into January.  Somewhere along the way, the holidays became a drain – what could I buy for all the people in my life who already had too much? how could I appease the people whose feelings got hurt because I visited these relatives and not those? – and the mission became to “survive.”  Over time, in defiance of all the expectations and shoulds and guilt (including about what I ate), I resolved to keep a yery low holiday profile, trying to maintain some sanity in the mad rush of shopping, holiday parties, and incredibly distracted drivers.

Last year was actually the first in many that I put up holiday lights at all – understated ones mind you, white only, just a few around the door and trim on the front of my house, and along a little fence that encloses my garden.  It took the requisite three times longer than it should have to get them up – and a couple of new curse words were invented in the process – but I had to admit, they looked pretty.  I got in the habit of sitting by the fire at night with my family, a little eggnog in hand, listening to Tony Bennett singing Christmas carols and admiring the holiday lights through the windows.

And then something happened.

To my utter amazement, a feeling sparked inside of me that I not only thought was long dead, but that I had more or less completely forgotten ever existed.  I’d be hard pressed to describe it – a little tickle in my stomach, a kind of combination of excitement and anticipation and…joy.  Joy? Was that word even still in my vocabulary?  It was that old magical feeling I used to get driving around looking at lights as a kid – though I don’t actually think there’s anything magical about where it came from this time.  It’s as simple as this:  I got still.  Without the distraction of TV, laptops, or Blackberries, an overwhelming feeling of love and appreciation for my family – in the glow of candles and the fire and pretty holiday lights both inside and out – completely filled me.  As kids, we know instinctively how to be in the moment – it’s just what comes naturally.  As adults, we have to fight for it, and fight our compulsion to cross the next thing off of the to-do list rather than just take a few moments to be quiet.

So you know what I did?  I decided to keep the white lights up – all year.  And now, I live in one of those homes where holiday lights switch on every single night, no matter what the calendar says.  And you know what else?  They make me really happy.  (I think the neighbors secretly like them too, though no one will admit it.) As a bonus, when the holidays rolled around again this year, my halls were already decked – no getting up on ladders, no Saturday afternoons vanished into thin air, no cursing.

More importantly, though, I make sure to take a little time, as often as I can, to sit and look at the lights with my family and just be together.   No holy smoke – but we laugh a lot, and sometimes we have hot chocolate and cookies.  And sometimes, when I’m lucky, the magic comes and lights me up.  There’s no gift under the tree that could compare.

Jennifer Waldburger, MSW, is a regular contributor in our extraordinary stable of experts at The Mother Company.  She is co-founder of Sleepy Planet, a company that offers collaborative consultation, education, parenting groups, counseling, and products to parents of children birth to five years. She is co-creator of the book and DVD “The Sleepeasy Solution,” and also maintains a private practice as parenting consultant and educator.  Check out more of Jennifer’s helpful articles:  Tantrums, Testing, & Talking BackWhen You Don’t Like Your ChildNightmares, and In Search of the Holiday Spirit.

The Mother Company aims to support parents and their children, providing thought-provoking web content and products based in social and emotional learning for children ages 3-6. Check out the first episode of our DVD series,“Ruby’s Studio: The Feelings Show,” which helps young children understand and express their feelings.  We want to be a parenting tool… For you!

Posted in: Expert Advice, Holidays