Think back to when you were a kid. What do you remember about those Christmases?
Sure, there was probably that one toy that made you scream hysterically the instant you tore the wrapping paper off. But I’m guessing the vast majority of your gifts are a blur. No, what you probably remember are the traditions that your family clung to year in and year out.
Like, you were only allowed to open a single present before everyone was forced to eat breakfast. Maybe the entire family wore matching pajamas on Christmas morning. Or ugly Christmas sweaters on Christmas Eve. You watched A Christmas Story, spread out among piles of torn wrapping paper, and everyone traded off repeating their favorite lines.
Even if your traditions were far more embarrassing than that, you’re likely looking back on them with fondness. And that’s because Christmas is more about the rituals than anything else, including the gifts. Though, it’s the gifts that make us such willing participants.
The trouble is, a Christmas tradition often starts by chance. As a new dad, I understood the importance of having them, but I had no idea how to go about creating any of my own.
Working on those Christmas memories
My son was born three years ago, about six weeks before Christmas. Last year, for the first time, we saw him beginning to grasp that Christmas is a different kind of day. Encouraged, we hurried him over to meet Santa—one of the more realistic-looking Santas I’ve ever seen. That went poorly. A year later, we still can’t mention the big guy without it eliciting an ugly scowl.
My wife has gone to great pains to cast the Elf on the Shelf in all sorts of entertaining positions, but our son has only seem mildly amused—and deeply concerned that someone’s supposedly tracking his every move. He loves opening gifts, of course, but it’s cruel to ask him to wait while we open some of ours. Our Christmas morning last year climaxed in under 10 minutes, and then it was just like any other day: a mess of toys as far as the eye could see.
There was a spark, however, as we drove through the Shady Brook Farm Holiday Light Show, in Yardley.
Three million lights and one quiet toddler
The night didn’t get off to a great start in finding a Christmas tradition. We figured if we got there right around dusk, we’d beat most of the crowds (incorrectly presuming we were the only parents of a toddler in the Greater Philadelphia region) and leave just in time to eat dinner at his normal time. Instead, we sat in line for over an hour, completely unprepared to fill it or him.
I questioned many times whether this could possibly be worth it. It was. A two-year-old needs constant stimulation. (The same could really be said of all of us.) A steady, two-mile procession of three million Christmas lights in all kinds of configurations is the epitome of constant stimulation.
Aside from the occasional “what’s that?” he sat in his car seat in almost total silence. That’s how we knew he was completely absorbed. He didn’t even feel threatened by the occasional Santa.
For years, we’d see the glow of the farm as we were headed home on I-95. But it always seemed like it was intended for, I don’t know, someone else. Now it appears to be our family’s first Christmas tradition — assuming we remember to pack snacks and drinks for the wait this year.