The holiday season naturally brings up quite a bit of nostalgia for most people - for better or for worse. This could be a time to remember all the family traditions that have held strong throughout the years, or it could be quite the opposite: a grim reminder that things are not as they once were, or that they never were quite what the movies promised. If you're anything like me, you might be somewhere in the middle. I'm clinging onto hope and tradition and wistful nostalgia any way I can get it, but it seems with each passing Christmas, it's harder to find the time to sit and relish in the present. It escapes so quickly. Not only have we run out of time to find meaningful gifts for our loved ones, but we've perhaps not found a single moment to actually enjoy the moment.
I feel as though this state has become almost as commonly talked about - perhaps even more talked about - than the "holly jolly Christmas" we all know and love from the best Christmas-themed media. As we've collectively grown older, we've learned that life isn't really like what we see and hear in all of it. It may be easier to feel the holiday magic as children because, if we were lucky, we had adults in our lives setting it all up for us. Our traditions were built into our upbringing without us having to give it a second thought. Mom would turn on the classic Christmas movies while we put ornaments on the tree, and any must-sees that were missed would get watched on some day leading up to the big one. We'd wake up on Christmas morning, let mom get a few things set up, anxiously wait with the little brother at the top of the stairs for the "OK" to come down and see what Santa brought. The best gifts were not wrapped, but displayed as if the big man himself wanted us to stop and play for a few moments, to take it all in. Later on, we'd head to the grandparents' house and gorge on grandma's noodles (more widely known as German spaetzle, though my family never used the real name), exchange more gifts with the cousins, then flee downstairs to play Mario Kart until the party was over.
But what happens when Santa becomes a concept instead of a living person? When no matter how hard your parents try, they can't meet the expectations of a middle-schooler constantly hyperaware of their own inferiority to their peers? What happens when older family members start to die, and the party gets smaller, and sadder? What happens when grandma breaks her wrist and can't make the noodles? What happens when the cousins move away and can't make the family dinner, or you feel so distant from them that you can't even begin to imagine what they'd want as a gift? How strange it is, suddenly, that this holiday once so seamless and beautiful turns into several weeks of fast-paced, money-gouging stress. Somewhere along the way, even the music becomes annoying.
I'm lucky. Though all of the above are real things that have happened in my family, this is genuinely the worst of it. The fact that in an hour I'll still be headed over to grandma's, and this year, all the cousins will be in attendance, is nothing short of a blessing, and I am consistently reminding myself of that fact. I know that for many people, this is not a time of togetherness, and that knowing of having to spend time with people who weren't good to you adds an extra layer to the difficulty of finding any genuine joy.
But I believe this is where the true definition of holiday spirit lies: as we get older, it gets much harder, of course. But it's still there. It's always been there. The difference is that now we are in charge of setting it up for ourselves and our loved ones. Whether that's our cousins, our grandparents, or our chosen family, maybe it really is just ourselves...we are in control of our own outlook. Without the façade of Santa, or the promise of a white Christmas, without every family member who always used to be around, we are left to rely on our own devices.
If I've learned anything this year, it's that absolutely everything within our control begins with a choice. Amidst the chaos and challenges, one choice stands out as a beacon of light – the decision to rediscover the magic of the holiday season through the lens of childlike wonder, all on our own. As adults, we often find ourselves tangled in the web of responsibilities, deadlines, and the relentless march of time. Yet, buried beneath the layers of responsibility we now have, we still have access to the memories, traditions and emotions that can make this season feel like magic. Now is the best time to reclaim that sense of wonder. Start by intentionally choosing to see the holiday season through the eyes of a child. Marvel at the glittering decorations, embrace the crisp winter air (or whatever the weather is bringing you, because I know I wish it were colder and "whiter" here), and let the anticipation of the festivities rekindle the warmth within. If you are lucky enough to be surrounded by loved ones, intentionally, deeply love on them.
In the rush of adulthood, it's easy to overlook the simple pleasures that once brought us delight. Take a moment to stroll through a holiday market, inhale the aroma of freshly baked cookies, and let the laughter of children carrying on through the area be a reflection of your inner world. These small, intentional choices can reignite the spark of wonder that often dims with the passing years. Reconnect with the traditions that once made the holiday season magical. When my mom invited my partner and I over to decorate the tree we made sure to include some Christmas music in the background. I made as much time available as I possibly could to spend with my brother and sister-in-law; since they moved to Atlanta a few years ago, this time of year is one of the few guaranteed times to see them. Rituals and intentions such as these carry the power to transport us back to a time when joy was unbridled, unapologetic, and automatic.
This holiday season, let the spirit of generosity take center stage. Choose to give not just presents, but the gift of time, attention, and shared experiences. The joy found in the act of giving is a timeless reminder of the magic that lies in connection and shared moments. It's easy to lose sight of the enchantment that once defined the holiday season. But with a simple choice to embrace our inner child, we can unwrap the gift of joy that has been waiting within all along.
So, let this be the season of choice – the choice to see the world with wide-eyed wonder, to believe in the extraordinary, and to infuse our lives with the magic that makes this time of year truly special. Perhaps, if we practice, we can extend these magical feelings into the new year.