The greatest gift of the holiday season? Family memories


When I was in second grade, a friend told me Santa was made up. Although every part of me wanted to believe, my faith was faltering. So my sister and I came up with the perfect test. We asked for just one thing for Christmas: snow.

I can still see my mother’s expression when she said, “Honey, it doesn’t snow in Phoenix!”

My sister and I exchanged smug looks. “If Santa is real, he can do it,” we insisted.

Walking down the stairs Christmas morning, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Our Christmas tree was covered in glittering snowflakes. Sparkling ornaments evoked a winter wonderland. That was just the beginning.

Brimming with excitement, my sister and I rushed to the backyard. Our entire lawn was covered with frost so thick we could scoop up a small handfuls of ice. To a couple of kids from Arizona, it may as well have been a foot of powder. Our faith was renewed. A Christmas miracle!

The holiday season really is a magical time. I have so many memories that elicit the same excitement as that Christmas morning. My parents were sticklers for tradition. Each year, we would pick the perfect tree, take walks to look at Christmas lights and bring a Thermos of hot cocoa to listen to carolers. To this day, we gather on Christmas Eve to hear my dad read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” just as his father did with him.

These are the things I remember.

I’ll tell you what I don’t remember from my childhood: I don’t remember whether I got the toy I’d been pining for that year. I don’t remember whether my sister and I got an equal number of presents. And it’s not because we didn’t have much to open on Christmas morning. My parents spent a huge amount of time and money on gifts. And yet, I can hardly recall that part.

Now that I’m a mother of young children, my holiday spirit has been revived. I get to spend this season baking cookies, reading holiday stories and watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with my sons more times than we can count. I feel the same giddy excitement I felt as a child. My boys will help decorate the tree as Christmas music plays in the background. These are the memories they will cherish.

As a parent, it’s my job to instill in them a joy of giving as well as a sense of gratitude. I’m committed to making the holidays a time of connection. I so often see parents stressing over buying the right gifts, braving crowded shopping malls and overspending to create the “perfect” holiday.

I hope I can show my sons the perfect holiday exists with or without material gifts. Yes, I will be buying them presents to open on Christmas morning. It’s such fun to see their faces light up at a new toy. But I will spend most of my time cultivating memories.

I hope to give them the same true gift my parents gave me: A chance to feel wonder and excitement, to feel connected and generous, and to always believe in holiday magic.