I thought Christmas wouldn't be as fun because my kids no longer believe. But I stand corrected. It wasn't the fat man in the red suit who delivered the joy all these years. It was our family, and all the traditions we've created, both big and small.
I was pleasantly surprised to find it's the familiar motions of Christmas – picking out the tree, hanging mistletoe over the kitchen door, sticking the wreath on the front of the car, listening to the same Christmas carols over and over, driving north to visit family – that continue to delight my kids.
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Even though she did it with a wink, my youngest insisted on leaving a plate of cookies and a glass of milk out on Christmas Eve. (And I still left huge bites in the cookies and drained the milk for her to find the next morning.)
Now that we're in on the big secret together, it's not the believing that matters – it's the rituals that we've come to treasure that remind us of who we are. There's a sense of security and identity in the predictability of how our family celebrates the season.
We may all wish for the latest Apple creation or the newest Wii game under the tree, but we also crave stability. In spite of all the changes my tweens are experiencing and in spite of all the economic turmoil of this past brutal year, in the end it was comforting to know that some things remain the same. We all knew I would still buy eggnog even though I'm the only one who ever drinks it; that we would dress in our Christmas best and sing the same familiar carols at Mass; that there would be twice-baked potatoes and beef tenderloin on our plates for Christmas Eve dinner; that we'd find our stockings stuffed on Christmas morning; that we would spend hours playing and reconnecting with cousins.
I could barely drive through Coconut Grove the other night because so many college kids home on winter break filled the streets. It reminded me of coming home after being away my first semester in college and how hungry I was for the familiar traditions of home. In seven years, I expect to see my own kids in those returning crowds of college students, electric with anticipation for all the new adventures ahead, but hustling home to make sure that a plate of cookies is still left out for Santa.