Celebrating the season of light

December 14, 2011

Harried yet? Crazed with the presents left to buy, cards left to write, food left to cook? Feeling less and less like you have any clue about what the “reason for the season” is?

The holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Kwanzaa, whatever festival you’ll be celebrating in the next two weeks — all have one thing in common. And no, I’m not talking about enormous credit card bills or impossible-to-meet expectations.

I’m talking about light.

These are the darkest days of the year, and it’s no coincidence that the flickering flames of the menorah, the twinkling lights on the tree and the Kwanzaa candelabrum all harken to the human need for the comfort of light.

But the holiday rush often provides more heat than light, and when it’s over, we are too often let down. We didn’t get from the holidays what we hoped we would. Perhaps it was because we didn’t take the time to see the light.

I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to falling victim to the holiday rush, but here are a few suggestions for making the coming days less chaotic and more cherished.

Let the kids help

Okay, I hear you. There’s so much to do, andkids take so long to do everything. Not to mention the mess. It’s so much easier to bake, decorate and wrap the four dozen cookies for the neighbors when the little darlings are in bed, right? But do the neighbors really need perfect cookies? Aren’t the ones with too many sprinkles or imperfectly shaped Christmas trees really what the season is about? (If you must, bake three dozen by yourself and let the kids help with the last dozen.)

As my kids get older, their roles in family holiday celebrations have adapted to their interests and skills. Christopher will put together a playlist of holiday music and a slideshow of Christmas photos that will fill the house during our annual Christmas party. At 16, he’s as proud of that as he was of decorating cookies at 6. The light in his eyes is the reason for the season.

Don’t do things because you feel you should

I hate to wrap presents, and I’m just bad at it. I lose the scissors; the tape gets stuck to three rolls of paper; the curling ribbon never curls quite right. Wrapping puts me in a bad mood. Voila, I have come to embrace gift bags. I spend a lot of time choosing the perfect present, but I’ve decided not to spend a lot of time wrapping it.

Let go of what you hate about the holidays. Can’t stand to write 100 cards? Don’t. Can’t stomach an evening with relatives who can’t stand you any more than you can stand them? Don’t. Do only things you can do with joy.

Embrace tradition

My mother-in-law made a ceramic Christmas tree with a bulb inside. Each year we decorate it by placing the “lite-brite” pegs into the holes, and each year one of my boys gets to put the star on top. It has become such a family ritual that we don’t leave to memory whose turn it will be the next year. A note gets packed away with the tree each year denoting whose turn it is to place the star on “Nana Grant’s tree.” It’s ridiculous. And sacred.

Remember, you are creating the next generation’s memories, ensuring your own immortality. You are creating the moment when your son or daughter will say to their own child, “You know, Grandma, Grandpa and I always watched ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town’ together when I was your age.”

However you and your family celebrate the season, I wish you this: Let there be light.

Tracy Grant, the editor of KidsPost, writes about parenting issues every other week. Send ideas and rants to grantt@washpost.com.

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