When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I decided that I wanted–nay, needed–to know what the presents from Santa looked like before everyone else. I wanted to be the first of my siblings to know who got the most presents, the biggest presents, the prettiest wrapping paper–I needed to know what Santa had done.
I devised a plan. My alarm was set for midnight. I would wake up, sneak into the living room with a flashlight, investigate the presents in the stockings, and then go back to bed. The plan was executed without a hitch, though I thought I heard bells as I awoke (a fact that quickly morphed into hearing boots on the roof, as well as bells and reindeer, when I told my sibling about my adventures and their presents the following morning).
This late-night investigation became my own little tradition; each Christmas Eve, after my parents/Santa went to sleep, I crept from the warmth of my bed with a flashlight, turned on the Christmas tree, and gazed at the newly filled stockings. Later, I invited my sisters to join me. Together we would creep from our beds and into the living room. The house would be silent, the only sound the creaking of the floor beneath our feet, and we would have… a moment. In a recent school project, my sister Chloe mentions our late-night adventures: “one of my favorite memories of Christmas,” she wrote, “was when my sister told me [that] she would wake me so we could go see the presents early at [2am… For] a 7-year-old it was a super exciting moment. The presents toppled out from under the tree and the lights twinkled.”
It was a small thing, but she considers it one of her favorite memories of Christmas. And while there was something magical about these few moments, I think the importance of those memories–to both of us–is an important reminder. Christmas, as a season, in incredibly commercialized. Everything from the gifts in the malls to the trashy Hallmark movies is done in excess. My little brother was counting presents under the tree, and I couldn’t help but mentally compare him to Dudley Dursley when he began to complain that he had fewer gifts under the tree than one of my sisters. (“36! But last year I had 37!”)
I guess what I’m struck by is how it wasn’t the presents that really mattered to us at 2am. My sisters and I don’t cherish the memory of creeping into the living room because of the presents. It’s important to us because it is another story we tell together. And that’s the beauty of the holidays, especially Christmas: it’s not about the things. I can remember only a handful of the many gifts I’ve been given over my past 18 Christmases, but I have many memories of fun holiday experiences: caroling to neighbors with my extended family on a converted trailer, years and years of Christmas Eve services, secretly buying and wrapping stocking stuffers for my parents to open on Christmas morning… The list goes on.
As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember the little things. Take a moment to appreciate the family around you, the warm drink in your hands, the meticulously wrapped presents, and every little light on the Christmas tree. And, most importantly, remember the Light that dawned on those living in the land of great darkness, born of a virgin, come to save the world.