My ’80s Christmases Looked a Lot Different Than My Kids’

christmas80s-2I can’t help but think that kids and parents these day are an overprotective, sheltered, fragile, sad bunch. At times when I compare my childhood to that of my own kids’, I think we’ve become nothing but a bunch of nervous nellies, frightened of our own shadows. Although I’ll admit when it comes to feeding my kids along today’s standards, I’m the last person to be calling the kettle black. But seriously, some days I think we all just need to pump the brakes a little on the notion of trying to get everything just so perfect, because we’re making ourselves a little nutso.

At no other time does this ring truer and become more evident than during the holidays. From staged Elf on the Shelf scenes to elaborate advent countdowns, complete with well-appointed toys and exciting activities for our children to partake in, it all just feels too much at times. This is my tenth year as a parent and my third year as a parent of three kids, and each year I feel myself pulling back more and more as I grow more and more tired. While some progressions in ways of thinking and how we do things have definitely been improvements in the right direction, like more sustainable toys and healthier treat options, I do think most of us could benefit from a little refresher on just how low-key our own childhood Christmases were. If you were a child of the ’80s, let’s take a little walk down memory lane and learn a lesson or two on how we can replace some of today’s trends and traditions with a few of the ones we grew up with.

1. Replace your fancy advent calendars filled with treats and promises of fun activities …

… with a flimsy cardboard calendar filled with the same wax-like chocolates to open day after day. After day 9, secretly open up the remaining doors and eat the chocolate yourself during a late night wrapping session. Blame it on the dog when the kids start whining.

2. Throw out the Elf on the Shelf, and instead, keep the kids in line with threats of coal in their stocking.

Today’s parenting mantra will lead us to believe that veiled threats don’t work and do more harm than good, damaging our child’s self-worth. But a weird elf that moves through the house each night isn’t the least bit strange and demented?

3. Decorate your tree with family ornaments that have been passed down from generations, and include plenty of the handmade kid variety.

I hear some parents today have separate trees entirely for the not-so-pretty kids’ ornaments. Is this indeed true??

4. During the school break, resist the urge to fill your kids’ days with both educational enrichment classes (our school does in fact offer such a series of classes over winter break) and super fun activities to get them “excited” for Christmas.

Instead, bake with them if you’re opposed to endless hours of TV. Or let them have a movie marathon of the Christmas classics, including Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman in all their Claymation glory.

5. Toss out the fancy wrapping paper and artfully crafted DIY gift tags, and throw everything in tissue paper-filled bags, making sure to leave the attached gift tag blank so you can reuse it next year.

As each year progressed when I was a kid, more and more of the presents under our tree were contained in gift bags instead of wrapped packages, thus signifying my mother’s “loss of magic” over the whole Christmas thing. I always felt a little “robbed” that I didn’t have a package to tear open, but I quickly got over it as soon as I saw what was in the package.

6. Cancel the family photo shoot specifically orchestrated with tasteful holiday cards in mind, and send out last year’s clearance cards you found in a killer after-Christmas sale.

You know, the kind with a simple greeting and picture on the front? Take the time to sign your name on the inside and write a personalized note.

7. Get your kids the plastic, battery-operated toys they are dying for.

Back in the ’80s, that’s all there was after all. Forget to include batteries in the package so they mope around all day until you run out to the liquor store to buy some.

8. Forget trying to make the holidays healthy, and live it up.

Bake sugar cookies from a pre-formed roll of goo; decorate with brightly colored icing made with chemical-laden food dye (instead of the organic plant-based dyes you normally use). If you have to do Elf on the Shelf, have him make snow angels in the bleached, non-organic variety.

9. Forego making the “reindeer food” you usually whip up for Santa’s crew, and put away the organic milk and locally sourced, farmer’s market carrots.

Instead, leave out a glass of spiked egg nog (yes, my parents did that one year, because “Santa sure could use the pick-me-up”), and a stack of store-bought cookies. Forget all about Rudolph, as he gets plenty of props as it is.

10. On Christmas Eve, scribble out a note in your own, easy-to-recognize handwriting so that your kids inevitably find out you really are Santa.

But no worries, they’re too old to still believe in him anyhow.

This list would lead some to believe my Christmases as a kid were bad, when of course I didn’t think so. It was Christmas after all! The hope of getting a few presents and a new bike on Christmas morning were enough to sustain me through the grueling wait of December, and my parents never went over the top, tiring themselves out from trying too hard. If they were stressed, it was about how to pay off the layaway bill, not how to make our Christmas magical, because Christmas back then was plenty magical on its own. I think a lot of us would serve ourselves well to remember that simple fact; the magic of Christmas isn’t about how green the toys we give are, how healthy the treats we serve are, or how many fun activities we can cram in before the 25th. The magic happens in the belief in something extraordinary, the times we spend together as a family, no matter how dysfunctional some of them may be, and the hope that once a year we get to write a wish list and dream big.

Image source: Russell Bernice via Flickr

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