They don’t believe in Santa anymore. They don’t fill Christmas wish lists with requests for ponies or pogo sticks or Easy Bake Ovens. They don’t wake us up at the crack of dawn to open the pillowcase of presents on their beds, or rush downstairs to see if Santa ate the cookies they’d left for him. They don’t cram their mouths full of chocolate Chanukah gelt or spend hours playing dreidel games on the kitchen floor while I fry up the latkes.
But they also don’t fight over who gets to build which gingerbread house, or whose turn it is to light the Chanukah candles. They see me cleaning up the spilled candy and offer to help. They ask if, instead of a big bag of Christmas presents, we can use some of the money to send them to summer camp. They grate the potatoes alongside me, and can help flip the latkes without me worrying about the house burning down. They set the table for our annual holiday dinner party, and wipe down the guest bathroom.
They can spend whole days out skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing without temper tantrums and naptimes. We can watch movies without animated characters. They help carry in the wood for the fireplace and walk the dog.
Our holidays are different now that our three girls are no longer small children. Since we celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas (my husband and I have different backgrounds), December has always been particularly hectic and exciting. We have an eight-year-old who still (sort of) believes in Santa Claus, so we still get to tiptoe up to their beds tonight and drop off the bag of gifts, but the edge of magic has worn off for our 12-year-old twins.
It’s a different kind of magic now. One that has less to do with flying reindeer and is more about concentrated family time at a cottage by a snow-covered lake, where their cellphones don’t work and we aren’t competing with friends for their attention. The work of cooking and cleaning is divided between more hands, so we are less exhausted. There is definitely still bickering and sibling rivalry, but it’s less likely to end in tears and time-outs.
We’ve become aware that the kind of family Christmases we have with our children is changing. And we’ve begun to conceive of a time when one or two or even all three may be off travelling or spending time with a boyfriend’s family during the holidays instead of us (gulp). It makes these few days all the more precious and wonderful. That’s a special kind of magic.
I wish this kind of family magic to all of you this holiday season. Whether you celebrate Chanukah or Christmas or just winter, savour some of that special time with your kids. Because it doesn’t last forever.