By Janna M. Hall
As children, can you remember a time you weren’t excited for Christmas? Christmas—well, the entire holiday season, really—meant time off from school, possible snow days, captivating Christmas lights, and presents. Lots and lots of presents. With each passing day that led us closer to December 25, the suspense grew. How many presents will I get this year? Will I get everything on my list? Will I at least get the gifts I wanted the most? Couple that with the excitement of seeing the house all decked out with lights, and holiday cheer was in full effect. Perhaps your fondest memories are of trips to grandma’s house on Christmas morning, or getting to open one present on Christmas Eve. Or maybe it’s spending the entire day installing, assembling, or programming the gift that was at the top of your list, and then spending all night enjoying it. Whatever your favorite holiday pastime, there’s no doubt that the magic happens when you’re a child, and as you grow older, the excitement begins to fade until you have children of your own to recreate that magic for.
But as it happens, children will eventually begin to grow out of their Santa Claus years, and then out of the “home for Christmas break” years. Their Christmas list will transition from “baby dolls and a race car set” to more practical gifts like “coffee maker and money to help cover my bills.” Slowly but surely, December 25th becomes a day of celebration and gratitude, sure—it’s the gathering of friends and family to honor and celebrate the true meaning of the season—but the magic? It fades. The idea of Christmas miracles only exists in the movies that loop on our favorite channels, and the most nostalgia we feel is through replays of A Charlie Brown Christmas. How can we reclaim that childlike joy and anticipation for “the most wonderful time of the year?” The lighting of the tree and wrapping of presents isn’t enough; even with a family of adults who no longer believe in Santa and know that Frosty won’t come to life with the placement of a top hat, the holiday season can be a truly exhilarating time.
For Chesterfield native Dana Felder, the holiday cheer, tradition, and wonderment never left, even long after she and her sister left the nest to begin lives of their own. The traditions she’s created with her sister, mother, and father, have maintained through adulthood, and now, they’re excited to carry it on with their growing families, keeping that childlike glee for everyone involved, young and old.
Why does she believe the marvel of Christmastime never left? Felder attributes it to a genuine appreciation and love for the holiday, devoid of the myths that eventually crush a child’s joy as they grow older.
“Growing up, we never believed in Santa Claus,” she explains. “So when we reached middle and high school, there was no change in the Christmas commotion, surprises, or traditions we’d developed. The commercial and mythical side of the holiday—Santa, Elves, etc—was never a part of it for us; in our household we were always taught that the most important aspect of Christmas was celebrating Jesus’ birth. The tradition, anticipation, excitement, and memories my parents created each year made Christmas a big deal for us, and it all stuck through adulthood.”
Those traditions, which began many years ago and continue on today, include a creative holiday-themed family portrait that showcases how the beautiful family evolves through the years. Not only is it enjoyable for the family itself, but friends and extended family anticipate its arrival each year.
And that is the type of tradition that is sure to keep family members engaged each year, despite age. Family activities that hold roots in something deeper than make-believe icons prevents enthusiasm from fading.
“That’s the hardest part to get through,” Felder agrees. “I think families can keep the holidays exciting for their kids by not letting their traditions or enthusiasm fade as they grow into teenagers. That’s inevitable when you rely on figures like Santa Claus.”
Another tradition that keeps the joy alive each year is their gift-wrapping activity. Growing up, the Felder family—which later grew into the Felder/Logan family—wrapped the majority of their gifts together on the days leading up to Christmas. They all spread out through the living room, kitchen, and dining areas, turning on Christmas movies, lighting holiday-scented candles, and wrapped gifts for one another.
“It’s fun because it builds even more anticipation as some people disappear to different rooms to wrap something super secretive,” she explains. “It’s minor, but it’s just so fun! I look forward to it every year.”
Lastly, and most importantly, the heads of the Felder family kept the holiday in perspective for their children, instilling values that they understood early on and never wavered on as adults.
“My mom and dad also tried not to spoil us with gifts,” Felder explains. “They reminded us that the point of the holiday was to celebrate Christ. Although their message stuck, they still got us a lot of gifts and we grew up feeling so blessed because of it. Now that we’re adults, everyone in the family works hard to bless one another when Christmas comes around, after thanking God for all the blessings He’s given us.”
All in all, the Felder family’s deep rooted values allowed them to understand the purpose of the holiday early on, begin traditions that reflected those values, and nurture their love of the holiday year after year. For them, Christmas can be just as incredible at age 77 as it was at age 7.
Tiona Bland, another Chesterfield native, usually travels home for Christmas, but will be spending the holiday at her new home in California, a painful first for her. Of everyone in the family, she’s the self-proclaimed stickler for tradition, so being away from the family and unable to partake in their yearly traditions that make the season special is especially tough for her.
“Decorating the tree was always a big deal in my family,” she explains. “My dad would go pick it up—we’d get a real one every year—and I was in charge of decorating, so all of my homemade ornaments went front and center. As I got older, we kept the tradition, and each year is just as fun as the last.”
Though she won’t be decorating the tree with her family nor exchanging gifts with her siblings, Bland’s mother is shipping wrapped gifts and her childhood ornaments to go under the tree she’s put up in her own home.
And while she’ll be missing the longstanding traditions she shares with her family, Bland’s made it a point to take the elements that made the holidays so special growing up and will spend Christmas with a close friend and her family, keeping the day as “normal” and family oriented as possible.
Her willingness to preserve the holiday cheer she felt through adolescence and early adulthood will only ensure a memorable Christmas 2016. She’s determined to maintain an optimistic outlook and remember the elements she loved as a child in order to incorporate them into the new life she builds.
The bottom line? Like Bland and the Felder family, in the midst of obligatory holiday playlists, the routine Salvation Army jinglers at your local grocery stores, and the very real seasonal sadness, there’s Christmas magic waiting to be unleashed and new memories waiting to be made. Gone are the days where this season’s just about the children; find ways to bring back the elements of Christmas that made it special for you and your family growing up, and recreate that magic over and over again.