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In a grown-up world, what can we learn from our kids at Christmas?

There’s a certain feeling from our childhood that we all seek to recapture. That’s what all the drama and hoopla is really all about.

Image: Shutterstock/MNStudio

THERE IS A certain moment on Christmas Eve that we all desperately seek to re-capture. That’s really what all the fuss is about, isn’t it? All the money spent, and lists made, and hours of preparation. All the queues of traffic, and wicked hangovers, and fraught family dynamics.

It is the moment that marks the pinnacle of the pre-Christmas build up. The one that takes us right back to being six years old, and lying in our childhood bed willing ourselves to go to sleep. For the purity of that excitement, the complete and utter joy of knowing that when you next opened your eyes, a little bit of heaven would be waiting at the end of your bed for only you to claim. That is surely a form of happiness that is virtually impossible to recapture in our adult lives?

And maybe the endless search to replicate that moment is what all the Christmas hustle and bustle is really about? Isn’t that what all the expensive ads and the festive Christmas compositions try to rekindle within us, as we dig deep and try to remember how to really savour the Christmas lights? Isn’t that why nostalgia is a commodity trowelled on in spades over the Christmas period, and why the John Lewis ad has already prompted 22 million views?

Because we want that feeling back. The one that makes the hairs on our arms stand on end with excitement. The one that connects us back to a time of innocence, a time of blessed naivety, a time long gone.


Brand new patent Clarks shoes at the end of the bed, still in their box, patiently awaiting their debut at mass the next morning. The lingering smell of mince pies, alongside the baked ham (if your mother got to it that particular year), with a hint of fresh pine needles as ever.  The electric carving knife dug out and at the ready on the kitchen table, and a fridge positively creaking at the seams. Echoes of Paul Young’s ‘It’s Christmas Time…’ Band Aid introduction and those very distinctive drums and bells, the official soundtrack to my childhood Christmas .

The big red candle in the porch window, lit to guide the baby Jesus. The spray-on snow my mother experimented with some year in the mid-1980s – the kind that gradually shed itself from the tree like dandruff, and that welded itself to the glass panes of the front door such that pebbledash would have been easier to remove come 2 January. A can of Guinness and a carrot strategically placed by the fireplace. The muted sound of older siblings’ chat from the kitchen, as they prepare to head out to the pub, and midnight mass after it if they’re still fit for it.

And even as I write this, an indescribable feeling comes to me, of magic and anticipation, of a million different butterflies dancing around inside in my tummy, a kind of excitement that the realism of adulthood tends to just clean wash away. A pure and delicate bubble of delightful anticipation that swells up inside you, that grows and grows from the moment the first door of the Advent calendar gets opened, to the crescendo of Christmas morning when it almost lifts you clear off the ground.

The absolute longing to go to sleep, to bring morning ever closer, just so you could experience the sheer delight of waking up, and leaping off the bed to see what treasure sat beside it. Is it any wonder that there is such an industry around trying to recapture that feeling? Because the suspended reality of 24 and 25 December is hard to beat.

So I buy the Variety Pack and the croissants like my own mother did. I ensure there are crumbs and mud en route from fire-place to Christmas Tree as solid evidence of Santa’s visit, and I try not to argue with them the next morning after the post-Cocoa Pops hangover kicks in. I do my best to remain patient with kids’ toys that insist on coming welded to their packaging, and I ignore the mountain of wrapping paper and plastic, and little pieces of God-knows-what toy, that will inevitably go missing within hours of opening and prompt World War III. And I try to let the stresses and strains of the build up gradually melt away, and wash over me.

I try to let my preconceptions around how Christmas should be, go.

Are you all set? 

The hundred different times the ‘Are you all set for Christmas?’ enquiry had been made throughout December, and the fact that every time I was asked it, I felt a rising sense of panic in the pit of my stomach. The ‘Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is whatever Smyths has already sold out of’ frustrations, and the subsequent battles for car parking spaces in retail parks around Dublin. The stagnant Elf on the Shelf that often was too tired of a December evening to bother moving, because he forgot that that was one of his (many) jobs. The futile hunt for that overpriced Reindeer Babygro that his sister wore years previously, which will no doubt turn up smiling on 5 January, when it’s no use to anyone.

I try to let that all go, and let some of their magic rub off on grumpy old cynical me. I jump aboard their four-year-old buzz for the ride. Because it’s a hell of a lot more fun than wondering if I’ve stuffed the right end of the turkey.

Because they have absolutely no expectations of Christmas other than that it will be fantastic. They have no doubts or worries about their ability to muster sufficient Christmas cheer. They are glass-half-full types who’ve no doubt that Santa will get them what they want, and more. They have the luxury of still recognising that Christmas is a time of joy and excess to be savoured, devoured even, unapologetically.

And maybe we could learn a little from their very straightforward attitude. Their blind assumption throughout Advent that Christmas will be all they expect, and more. The complete absence of any pressure, or build up, in any way other than an entirely positive one. Maybe us adults need to try a little less hard to capture the moment, and just accept the moment for what it is, good or bad. To our kids it is a day for fun, for excess, for gorging on the gluttony of what Christmas has to offer. It’s not a day for expectations of perfection, or constant good humour, or happy clappy families. The fights over who got what will be inevitable, but it certainly won’t spoil their buzz for long. They get the fact that Christmas day is a novelty to be savoured and experienced, not an accomplishment to aim for, or a destination to be reached.

Perhaps it’s worth remembering for all of us that Christmas Day is there for what we can take from it, not for what we expect ourselves to feel.

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read her columns for here.

Read: You’ll finally be able to listen to The Beatles on Spotify this Christmas

Read: 10 tips to keep you stress-free this Christmas


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