All month long, I’ll be sharing daily pick-me-ups, tips, and doses of inspiration to help us all find perspective during the month of December. We invite you to check back daily for these mini pep-talks as we prepare for a very unusual holiday season. –Meagan
I grew up in an old house with an amazing fireplace. I remember well the year “1886” stamped into the cast iron, the glossy green inlay, and the ornate mantle. Growing up, I spent hours curled up in front of that fireplace with a book on chilly northern Michigan nights, but never was it more magical than on Christmas morning, when bulging stockings hung above a crackling fire, accented by greenery and candles on the mantle.
Of course, I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to re-create that particular detail of holiday magic. Sadly for my mantel-loving heart, however, fireplaces have been elusive for the majority of my mom life.
The apartment we spent Jacob’s first Christmas in had a very nice fireplace, over which I hung his baby stocking with extra-special care. But after that, fireplaces were scarce. We have lived in a variety of older Midwestern homes – Victorians and Craftsmans and bungalows that practically scream for a fireplace – but house after house just didn’t have one.
Of course, I employed my motherly ingenuity to find alternatives for stocking displays: lined up on a shelf, standing in rows on the sofa, or for a couple post-divorce years, when we lived in a truly tiny space, crammed onto a narrow bookshelf. It worked, and the kids didn’t seem to mind.
But I’ll be honest with you: during the holidays, I mourned that missing mantel to a disproportionate degree. And when Isaac, about six at the time, asked “How can Santa get in without a fireplace?” I felt, for just a moment, as though I’d failed as a mother. Was it even Christmas without a fireplace?
(Isaac, on the other hand, accepted my stammered, I-didn’t-think-of-THAT “Uhhh…I guess he’ll come in the back door?” at face value, and happily skipped away.)
Perhaps you’re shaking your head and laughing at my silliness, but let’s be honest: don’t we all have something like that? Some unmet standard we hang our holiday-mom hats upon, some memory from our childhoods – or photo from Instagram – we try in vain to re-create, worrying that if the picture looks different from the one in our heads, we’re letting our families down.
But when I look back now over year-by-year photos of our holidays, I get warm fuzzies looking at my family’s stockings…lack of a crackling fire below notwithstanding. I remember the excitement as the kids’ eyes lit upon those full stockings, always the first thing within sight; the squeals as we all dove in and found the surprises held within, the smell of the Hershey’s Kisses – even the feel of the balled-up wrappers from last year, buried deep in each stocking’s toe.
Such a simple thing, a stocking stuffed with treats. But also the most consistent surprise I’ve been able to offer my kids, over 24 Christmases: some easy and abundant, some stressful and sparse. Who cares where the stockings were hung (or propped)? What mattered is they were there, filled with love. (And treats. Which, let’s face it, is 90% of what the kids care about, right?)
This year, we once again – 24 years after my first Christmas as a mom – live in a home with a great fireplace. I admit it gave me some long-awaited satisfaction to hang stockings the other night, neatly in a spacious row on the mantel, rather than crammed into whatever spot I could find. But looking back at photos from our other homes now, I realize the magic was there all along – no matter what the space looked like, or how tight our budget was.
I only wish I’d seen that sooner.
For many of us, this holiday will be unlike any we’ve ever experienced. Maybe you’re facing financial struggles, worrying about your loved ones, heading daily into a stressful work environment, or just dealing with the sheer exhaustion of having been stuck at home with small children for months on end.
Maybe you had to put off a move into a bigger space. Maybe you downsized to make things work. Maybe the dream you had of a renovation isn’t happening. Maybe your budget is so small you aren’t sure how you’ll pull off Christmas at all. All of that is hard, and disappointing.
But none of it is a deal-breaker. Find the beauty in what’s there, because I promise, even if what you have to offer this year is a pile of second-hand gifts, stuff from the dollar store, or simply a stocking stuffed with the best you can do, your kids will take their cues from you.
The fireplace isn’t the point. Nor is the quality of the photo op or the size of the gift pile. No matter where you’re starting from this year, you have something incredibly magical to offer your family. Offer what you have, and rest assured that even if you can’t right now, one day you’ll know without doubt that it was enough.
REFLECTION: Are there any holiday standards or childhood memories you unfairly hold yourself to or compare yourself against? When your children are grown and you look back over holiday photos, what patterns will you see, and how will you feel about the experiences you offered?