The night before Christmas was, once upon a time, the night that my family came together to celebrate the holiday. We would all meet at the home of my grandparents and have dinner, some laughs, and a gift or three. However, as all things of childhood tend to do, it slowly lost its magic piece by piece, year by year, until it became an exercise in survival, closet drinking, and gift receipts. The year my grandmother died the illusion shattered like a snow globe against the kitchen floor — so much glass, so many flakes.
And yet the memories of those early years are among the best that I have. Christmas Eve was the pinnacle of childhood joy. The air was thick of happiness and the forced smiles of people that, thanks to the soothing tone of my grandmother, hid their resentment of each other from the rest of us — at least those of us too naive and innocent to recognize such things. It was everything I wanted.
Christmas Eve isn’t what it used to be. My extended family has long retreated into their own camps, their own trenches. Their fires can be seen from holiday cards and Facebook greetings. They seem happy and fairly healthy, which is better than any gift I could have found for under $25. They keep Christmas in their own way, and I wish them well accordingly.
The years have turned and my vantage point with them. My lens on the world is now one of parent. Christmas is no longer about savoring the magic, but the creation of it. My goal, as always, is the happiness of my own children, only more so. It is through them that I find my joy. It is through them that I embrace the season.
We may not spend Christmas Eve with cousins or grandparents, but we spend it. The traditions of my youth have given way to new experiences. Some stick. Some float away like so many ghosts of Christmases past.
In the early light of Christmas morning with their hair unrestrained and their bodies wild, they move like a memory. They fly unwired and work without a net. There is nothing more real than my children in that moment — that moment where all they know dances with all I knew, and a lifetime of lessons and milestones melts down to now. Now, the moment that I am there again, too innocent to realize that innocence doesn’t last forever, and far too happy to care. It is the pinnacle of joy, and the only gifts that matter are two small boys smiling wide, their eyes filled with stars and wonder.
It is everything I wanted.
Whit Honea is the author of The Parents’ Phrase Book (January, 2014/Adams Media). Read more at his site Honea Express. You can follow Whit on the Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest (his opinions are his own and do not reflect those of Babble or most rational people).