OPINION: Holidays inspire memories, gratitude
December 28th, 2012 | Carey Restino
It's snowing outside, finally. My dog heralded the news when she burst through the door last night, her black fur covered with white fluff. Not that we were in danger of having a green (or brown, more appropriately) Christmas up here in the hills, but town was looking very inappropriately dressed for the holidays. And my yard needed a fresh coat of white, too.
This morning, it was beautiful out, even in the post-solstice dusk that we call daylight. The trees were all adorned with white, and every post and weed was a work of art, heavy with a balance of frozen flakes.
There's something wonderfully cozy about a fresh snowfall, especially when there hasn't been one for so long. Our pathways were slip-and-slides, and we were all becoming wary of that first step out of the car after one-too-many encounters with the impact of ice and gravity working in unison.
This snowfall, coupled with the smell of baking cookies that permeates my house this time of year, made me gather my children close and tell them stories about the holidays when I was a little girl. We homesteaded in rural Nova Scotia, far from other families, and didn't have much in our larders that we didn't grow or kill ourselves. But Christmas was one of the times when my parents splurged a bit. There would be a big bowl of fruit in the center of the table, another bowl with nuts in it, and on Christmas morning, there was bacon.
I read my little people a chapter from Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House in the Big Woods," about Laura and Mary being so thrilled to receive a stocking with red mittens and a stick of store-bought candy in it.
I watched my children process that as they looked at the dozens of packages under their tree, the overflowing fridge, and the rooms filled with toys and books that would have made Laura and Mary's eyes bulge. Wealth, I told them, is really more about your perspective than it is about what you actually have or get. My childhood holidays seemed decadent, but to my children, they probably wouldn't have.
Then again, maybe they would have. What we had instead of tons of presents was time and tradition.
Growing up, we didn't have electricity. No electricity meant no electric lights on the tree, so instead, my parents had little silver candleholders that would clip to the branches.
The thing about putting candles on the branches of a Christmas tree, though, is that you don't want that tree to be too dry. So we would get our tree on Christmas Eve each year. In the morning, we would tromp out with our snowshoes into the endless forests that surrounded our little house.
When the perfect tree was found, we would cut it down with a saw and all drag it back to the house together. The rest of the day was a flurry of holiday decorating, as boxes of strange-but-familiar decorations were unearthed from their wrapping. Our tree was eclectic, decorated with everything from traditional stars to rubber bats. There was an inevitable battle about how much tinsel to use. But it was always beautiful.
After dinner, we would gather and light the candles on the tree. It was an awesome sight. Then we would sing Christmas carols together.
These were simple things - no major orchestration came together to make them happen. They certainly didn't cost much. But they were meaningful because they were our traditions as a family, and they were special. I can assure you, those memories are some of my favorites. There was no shortage of struggle on that homestead, but the holidays always felt fantastic and abundant. It's really all about perspective.
This year, the nation is once again having an identity crisis, as we recover from the most recent horrendous disaster. I don't know what the answer is for America - more legislation or more social programs or more cops. I'm pretty sure it's not an armed guard at my child's elementary school.
I was watching an interview with the Dalai Lama recently, and he said Americans don't need more successful people, they need more compassionate people. He said our children do not need more education, they need us to teach them moral ethics. We need to hug our children more, fill them with love so they can go out and spread that to their children and their children's children.
That sounds simple, but our culture really doesn't make it that easy. Our workdays are long, our kids are expected to be involved in lots of enriching activities, and before you know it, the day is eaten up, and you've barely had time to eat a meal together.
But I took the Dalai Lama's idea, coupled with my own experiences as a child in a materially poor home that was rich with time and tradition, and tried to put it to work in my own house this year.
Every time I started to get caught up in the rat race of the holidays, I stopped, and paid attention. The kids and I baked cookies together - really together, even though it was much messier and time consuming than just doing it myself. We made gifts together, mobiles from driftwood we gathered and beads. It took forever, and involved power tools, but we had a great time doing it. They may get out sometime before the new year, but it really doesn't matter. We also listened to holiday music, and my children danced around the house singing about joy and peace and grandma getting run over by a reindeer.
And amid it all, I tried to gently teach them lessons about gratitude and the joy of giving. I'm not sure if any of that will compete with Christmas morning mad present-opening frenzy - probably not. But perhaps a seed or two was planted this holiday that will grow in their minds.
Because I believe that humans are inherently good, and that all you have to do is encourage goodness and it grows with abandon. Look around you right now at all the goodness going on in your homes and in your communities. People are helping each other, smiling, sharing hugs. The trick is to carry that on through the new year and beyond. That's my goal - to give my children time and make more of an effort to teach them to think beyond themselves.
It's not as dramatic as running over semi-automatic assault weapons with a bulldozer, but it might just make more of an impact anyway.
Happy New Year.