My happiest Christmas memory is the time each year that my aunt Nancy directed my cousins and me in a reenactment of the nativity. The youngest among us--a girl--was always baby Jesus, and as Mary, my main job was not dropping her when I placed her in the manger. That and avoiding wayward staffs twirled by the ragtag band of shepherds played by my boy cousins.
When I reflect on those memories, the principal player was my aunt Nancy. The yearly play was her idea, so of course we looked to her for to take the lead and to direct us as to when to proceed solemnly into the living room for our performance. But more than that, we followed her lead because she cared. She was enthusiastic about the story we were reenacting, so we naturally were too.
My happiest memories as a child, and the ones imprinted most indelibly on my heart, typically involve a happy or enthusiastic adult--a teacher who taught my class to dance the Virginia Reel during our Civil War unit, a softball coach who infused fun into every practice, and a band director who loved his job.
But the happiest of happy moments always involved my parents. When my dad laughed or my mom got excited about something, time stood still and my heart threatened to burst. I delighted to see them delighted; their enthusiasm and joy instantly and naturally transferred to me because I loved to see them happy.
Kids learn to love what makes their parents light up. I see it in my own kids now. My oldest son brings me the Sunday comics, points out a good strip, and waits expectantly to hear me laugh. All of my sons are adamantly loyal to my college team only because they know that I am. And when I ask them what they’re thankful for, they’ve learned to add a spiritual element, because they know Who it is that I love.
So what does this speak to me and to all mothers during this Advent season?
Sometimes Christmas can feel like pressure to a young mom who wants her children to be well-versed in all things Jesus. There are countless (wonderful) Pinterest pins, blog posts, activities, and books about how to make the most of the season and communicate the meaning of Christmas to our children. This year I have felt this pressure acutely, as my sons have moved beyond board books, crafts, and toy nativity sets. I want to make Christmas special and say all the right things that will imprint its meaning on their hearts.
I imagine, however, that what they’ll remember about this Christmas and all the Christmases of their childhood combined will not be coloring sheets or books or a lit candle on the Advent wreath, although these will certainly hover with warm connotations in the background of their minds. No, if they are like me, I imagine that what will have the most impact are the happy and enthusiastic adults in their lives, namely my husband and me, who have the story of Jesus joyfully tumbling around in their hearts throughout the year and the Christmas season.
Am I happy in the story of Jesus? Am I contemplating what His coming has wrought? Am I looking expectantly for His return? Am I enthusiastically speaking of it as I sit with my children in our house, and when we walk by the way, when we lie down, and when we rise up?
This is what our children will remember about Christmas, long after the presents are opened and the Advent calendar is put away. They will not remember the details of their December experiences, but they will remember what delighted us. And because it delights us, it will delight them too.