We all think that Christmas is for the kids, right? They’re the ones that we decorate for, and read the stories to. We love to watch those big eyes widen at the lights and the sparkle. And they certainly do seem to love it.
But the more I think about it, the more I find myself thinking about how difficult this time of year must be for them as well. They’re excited, but they also have to live up to some crazy high expectations.
We push them onto the laps of strange men in red suits. Once they’ve entered the age of reason, surely this can’t be a comfortable experience for them. John maintains personal space. He shakes hands with Santa, steps back to about three feet away, and chats from there. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to snuggle up to some stranger either.
We serve them “feasts” made up of food they don’t really like. We love the holiday foods, but do kids really want a table full of food they’ve never seen before? Mine doesn’t. That boy would like pasta, peas, an apple and a hershey kiss for dessert. Daily. He’ll obviously eat other things, but it doesn’t fill him with the holiday spirit. I gave him a peanut butter sandwich (and peas) at a friend’s house for Christmas Eve dinner. I was a little embarrassed, but why should he not enjoy the meal?
We rigidly enforce a difficult set of manners. I’m strongly in favor of please and thank you, but at Christmas we go a little bit farther. People give presents, and of course the kid says thank you. But we also want them to mean it, to oooh and ahhh appropriately over the present, to give hugs and kisses as thank yous for the present, and to smile nicely even if they don’t like the present. Essentially, we ask them to use grown up tact, while maintaining that child-like delight. That’s a tall order.
We threaten them. Someone is watching you, so BE GOOD. You’re hopped up on sugar, you’re up past your bedtime, your daily routine is long gone, your energy level is through the roof and you’re stretched to the breaking point, but BE GOOD. And just to be sure the point is clear, we have songs containing actual threats, and we bring elf dolls into the house for an extra set of eyes. It’s actually a little bit mean.
John told me just the other day that he actually considers his birthday to be the best holiday of the year. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? All the presents, none of the pressure. He might be onto something.