Christmases Past Influence Our Presents

We decorated our Christmas tree yesterday. For the last two years we used sparse decorations for one reason or another, but this year we brought up every Christmas box that was in the basement.

My daughters pulled out ornaments that I haven’t seen or remembered in years. For the most part, I would assume it was a typical day of decorating that one would find in any home with young children.

There was the obligatory counting of who had more ornaments – Grace or Ella. Tears flowed when the special glass ornament made in kindergarten slipped through little fingers. I surreptitiously moved ornaments to more appropriate spots after they were placed by less than patient 4-year-old hands. All of it was more Murphy’s Law than Saturday Evening Post, but I have to assume that is typical, too.

Still, there was something very different about our experience this year. My older daughter wanted to hear the stories behind the ornaments that she had never seen. She asked why I had so many teacher ornaments and wanted to know if I remembered what student had given each one to me – only in rare cases could I oblige her. She asked about my favorite ornament and then quizzed me about what made it the favorite. In short time I was telling her stories about all kinds of Christmases past – poignant memories about people who made me the person I have become.

To be honest, in the past years I had been thinking about Christmas in terms of a checklist – a grocery list, a Christmas list, what to buy, what cards were still to be sent, what still had to be wrapped, etc.

Yesterday, my daughter reminded me of the spirit of Christmas in its simplicity. How had I lost it? Had the sales of Black Friday and the variety of holiday parties replaced Christmas traditions somewhere on the way to two kids?

What matters is that I shared those stories with my daughters. One of my education professors told us if we really wanted to make an impact on this world, we should give our parents a blank journal and ask them to share the traditions and history of our families. I still need to do that. This might just be the year. I might not have put pen to paper yet, but this Christmas my daughter learned through my story that even small moments with family and friends have a lifelong impact.

I cannot help but think of Mr. Rogers. The neighbor, far from my neighborhood, who made me feel special every morning. In 1997 when he accepted his lifetime achievement Emmy, he recommended as only he could, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.

Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are, those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. Ten seconds of silence. I’ll watch the time. Whomever you’ve been thinking about, how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made.”

The man understood the simplicity of what is important. I am taking a page from Fred Rogers’ book this Christmas. We’ll still find the Elf on the Shelf each morning. We’ll write our letters to Santa. We’ll probably buy too much and then set some things aside for birthdays. But this year we will also share a special Christmas memory each day.

Whether it be a memory of Aunt Helen who died long before my girls were born or a story of the Christmas we spent on a beach just a handful of years ago, we will pay tribute to the memories and the people who made each Christmas a benchmark of love in our family.

For those who have passed away, they will live again in the stories we will tell. For those who are still with us, I hope we share those memories with them. Give it 10 seconds to think about what story you would share with your child. In a nod to Mr. Rogers, I’ll watch the time.

– Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She and her husband have two daughters, ages 4 and 8.