There are so many reasons to be excited during the holiday season when you have kids. They aren’t jaded yet, or spent from shopping or filling out greeting cards. They are just bundles of pure joy, especially when they start taking in all the decorations and lights and sparkle. They remind us of the solid reasons to be happy this time of year. But there are also reasons why your kid will end up crying on Christmas, and I think most of it has to do with setting expectations too high. That's why my partner and I are always upfront about things in advance. For example: no, we are not getting a puppy, ever, so just move on.
I remember being totally let down by Christmas as a kid, and I am Jewish. I think it was because the whole month of December is spent whipping children up into a frenzy about one day. There is so much pomp and circumstance, from school pageants to neighborhood tree lightings to parties and gingerbread houses to all the damn candy. And then, the next day, it’s over. It’s like plunging into the coldest bath after being warm and fuzzy for the last 25 days. At least the children don’t have to go back to school the very next day. I can imagine that would put them in a state of immense shock.
So, when it comes to kids (and some adults, to be honest) you can expect to experience some big emotions on big holidays. Which is why I know my children will probably end up crying on Christmas, and for the following reasons:
When they still believed in Santa, it was impossible to convince them that he was magical and can get in and out of our home without coming down the chimney. They just knew the kids with fireplaces were reaping greater benefits, as if a chimney would be anyone’s preferred route of entry.
Every year, so far at least, my partner and I have been careful to ensure that each of our kids receives the same number of presents to unwrap, thus saving ourselves from the epic wailing of “No fair!”
This year, however, our son is getting the gift of a TV soccer package, which gives him access to a lot of international sports programming he’s obsessed with. There is no way to “box” that gift, so there won’t be anything to open (other than a token box to reveal the name of the TV service on a piece of paper). And since that is a significant gift (we’re canceling our cable to offset the cost), and we do spend the same amount on both kids, his sister will just have more presents to unwrap this year. There is no major gift she is getting, because her list was a bunch of small things she wants to use for art projects and doll dress-up.
This should go well, right?
This is never the issue in our house, since I don’t care how pristinely my kids’ gifts are wrapped. They are not judging for presentation. So while I do make my corners sharp, and try not to go crazy with the tape on gifts I’m wrapping for, say, my mom, my kids’ gifts don’t really deserve that meticulous attention to detail.
But in those homes where gift wrapping is a big deal, it can be frustrating for little kids to wrestle that stuff away from the prize inside, especially if there is a room full of adults saying, “Don’t rip it! We want to save the paper!” Personally, I enjoy watching my kids be banshees as they tear into their gifts. Seeing them so excited is truly a joy.
In an attempt to keep at least some of the gifts a surprise, I don’t ask my children to direct me to the specific make and model of the items on their list. I want them to think their parents care about them so much that they can intuit what the kids want. This always backfires. Always. It’s the right doll outfit, in the wrong color. It’s the video game they wanted, but it’s last year’s iteration. It's this, when it should've been that.
This year I’m hoping I got the details right of my daughter’s slime-making kit wish, but I am bracing myself for the moment when she tells me I bought the wrong glue. This will mean we will have to use up a gallon of glue and I don’t want to think about how much I’ll be cleaning off sticky surfaces for the next few months.
Can toy manufacturers make a universal rule that the only batteries ever required would be very common double-A ones? I do not expect to buy watch batteries for my children’s toys, and if I do, could stores at least sell them adjacent to the products that require them? Oh, and can they also insert them into the toys free of charge, because the last thing I want to tell my child on Christmas is, “Here’s an awesome toy, that won’t work, because I don’t know what I did with that miniature Phillips-head screwdriver.”
If we are expected to build the toys, what is the point of elves?
The toy that does not need batteries is usually a quiet toy without strobing lights or jerky movements. This is the best kind of toy Santa can bring… for the parents. Kids know better, though. Toys requiring batteries promise to be much more fun than those healthy wooden playthings. So even though the child did actually ask for checkers, the fact that checkers do not require four triple-A batteries must mean this is the worst gift ever.
A little tradition my husband started a couple of years ago was getting multi-packs of sugar cereal that the kids are allowed to have for breakfast over the holiday breaks. The problem? Everyone wants Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Puffs, but nobody likes Corn Pops or Fruit Loops (and I just can’t believe a child of mine would turn down Fruit Loops). Nobody likes my suggestion that they can share the boxes by having a half of each. Apparently that does not reflect the true spirit of Christmas, which is to fight and cry about it.
So my kids eat their crack candy breakfast through tears and eye rolls, and it must be so terrible, because they have it again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that. And all this sugar makes them irritable and cranky, which makes me irritable and cranky, and why exactly are we doing this again? Oh right. Christmas.
My kids can’t get enough screen time, except when it’s time to call our family in Florida and Buffalo on the holidays. Then they can’t stand looking at a screen. After exchanging pleasantries with their grandfather and cousins and begrudgingly holding up their holiday spoils, they devolve into whiney pests who can’t be bothered to offer up more than the top of their heads for their family to look at.
Once the wrapping paper has been ripped off and all the new and shiny things are gathered around a child who spent the last four weeks hopped up on gingerbread cookies and Santa savior stories, the post-Christmas crash begins. This crash, my friends, can be devastating. There is literally nothing left to do, other than play with the toys (that don’t require assembly or batteries or an enthusiastic adult to read any instructions), and that gets old as soon as the stuff is out of the box. There is nothing to look forward to if Christmas has been so hyped up for the whole season leading up to it.
That's why my partner and I don’t hype it up. We set spending limits. We make it about gathering with family and baking something. We plan something fun for the next day, so that when Christmas is over life continues. Sometimes I feel that New Year’s Eve celebrations exist to take the sting out of Christmas coming to a close.
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