It’s that time of year when I secretly wish I could revert to being a child again. Christmas is still fun for me as an adult, but it can’t compare to the magic and mystery of Christmas when I was a child. When did it change, I wonder? It makes me sad that I’ve become like the parents of that little boy in my favourite children’s book, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. I just can’t hear that sleigh bell ring anymore. Today I was trying to figure out what’s different about Christmas now, and I’ve come up with the following thoughts.
1. I rarely sing or hear Christmas carols being sung.
I only recently realized what a big role church plays in creating a festive, holiday spirit. Going to church every week with my parents, I used to sing multiple Christmas carols for at least a month prior to the big Christmas Eve service. We’d do my favourites — O Little Town of Bethlehem, Once in Royal David’s City, and We Three Kings.
Now that I don’t go to church anymore, there’s no setting in which to sing carols in a group, going over the lyrics and harmonies that I’ve learned by heart over the years. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned carol sing to set the mood for Christmas, but now I just listen to recordings, instead of create it myself. Every morning I crank up the King’s College choir and let the soaring sound of carols fill my home, but it’s not the same. (Probably much better, ha.)
2. I don’t believe in magic anymore.
As a child, I believed unwaveringly in magical things, such as the two little elves that Santa sent from the North Pole to help my dad build Christmas gifts in the basement while my sister and I were sleeping. I believed in Santa, in the North Pole, in flying sleighs and reindeer. I believed that all the animals in the forest spoke aloud for one minute at midnight.
Eventually these childish beliefs lost their hold on me, dissipating with age and reason. There was never a shocking moment of discovery, but rather a sense of delight that I had enjoyed believing for so long. I’m incredibly grateful to my parents for not hesitating to weave magic-and-make-believe into the Christmas season, since there are so few years in life when it’s possible. But, sadly, some of the excitement disappeared along with the magic because everything is so explainable now.
3. Opening gifts is less risky and, therefore, less exciting.
Christmas used to be my one annual shot to stock up on worldly goods for the next 12 months. With no allowance, and parents who didn’t shop for anything but the necessities, Christmas was my only chance to get those extra items I craved. My wish lists were always a mix of wants and needs, and I edited them with tremendous care and forethought.
Now, by contrast, I have financial independence, and a bank account – with money in it! I no longer have to wait all year long to get that new journal for writing, add a long-awaited novel to my book collection, or replace those torn tights. I make purchases throughout the year as needed, so Christmas gifts are no longer necessary in the same way that they were when I was a kid. It’s certainly less stressful because I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to get something if it doesn’t show up under the tree, but it also takes away some of the wild anticipation.
Thank goodness for my little boys, whose delight in Christmas seems to intensify with each year that goes by. At least I can live vicariously through their excitement. For quite a few years yet, I’ll be able to pretend — legitimately — to hear that sleigh bell ringing.