Memory Maker Moms
by Michele Sbrana
Why is it immediately after I unwrap the newly purchased little white lights they NEVER work??? Why is it the traffic is ten times worse in December? Why is it we have four Christmas tree stands and never can remember where they are? Why is it that one child comes down with a minimum of a 104 degree fever on Christmas Eve? Why is it I never go to bed any earlier than 2 AM the twelve days before Christmas? How do I spin eight Christmas Spode plates, hot glue three dozen Christmas crafts, wrap 59 gifts all the while listening to my children practice their songs for the Christmas concert again? The simple answer to these endless questions is that Mothers are by their very nature superhuman during the month of December.

Yes, we mothers are truly miraculous beings during the holiday season. You know it and I know it--it's our own little secret. I am convinced that God will have a particularly beautiful red ruby or green emerald in our heavenly crowns in honor of our elf like martyrdom.

But there is a more complicated answer to these endless questions. The answer evolves from the fact that we are, in the true spirit of all that is corny, memory makers. All the above mentioned trappings associated with Christmas aren't really what our children will remember. Think for a moment. Recall three of your favorite childhood holiday memories. I am going to bet Santas entire team of reindeer that your memories have little to do with gifts you received. Here is my hypothesis: Holiday memories have 99% to do with shared experiences with those you loved most in the world.

I myself recall a wickedly wet snowball fight with my family outside our rented Tahoe cabin just after spending Christmas afternoon skiing--this cabin was our family gift that particular year. I remember when I was eight, my Dad bought me a Christmas corsage with fresh evergreens, baby's breath and a crimson red rose just before we went to see the San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker. I tingle all over at the memory of holding a candle in church on Christmas Eve singing Silent Night accapella along with five hundred other people.

In fact, Christmas as we know it today is a far cry from what our ancestors experienced. Up until about eighty to one hundred years ago, Christmas was almost entirely centralized around fellowship -- sharing a festive meal, attending church, singing and dancing, visiting, and playing games. If you read any stories written before this past century, you will surely notice this to be true. And it didn't all happen in a day and a half either. Rather, it lasted for twelve days… however, it did not end on December 25th, it began on this holy day. Furthermore, gift giving was a very small part of the celebration and the few gifts that were exchanged were for the smallest of children. (What, no making sure each child has the equal number of gifts? What, no big unwrapped gift that requires 4.5 hours of assembly? What, no craft-making in July?)

Of course, we must realize that this peaceful scenario lacked something crucial; there was no social pressure telling us we needed to show our families love with unnecessary gifts. According to Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli in their book, Unplug the Christmas Machine, it wasn't until 1918 and 1919 that Madison Avenue began to find their unique power of persuasion. On December 15th, 1919 in the New York Times there was an advertisement that read:

"Don't give your family and friends frivolous gifts that are sure to disappoint, buy them worthy gifts that will let them know how much you care."

Robinson and Staeheli point out another ad featuring a sketch of a disdainful looking man with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The ad copy advises women that their husbands will be highly critical of their offerings unless they come from a certain elegant men's store. But they also add,

"In all fairness, it must be said that the (advertisers) found a ready and willing audience for their wares. People were delighted to give their families the opulent celebrations that were once the province of the rich. It seemed like a step in the direction of progress to give their children bicycles and electric trains instead of doughnuts and rag dolls. Since people had no way of knowing how commercialization would impoverish the holiday, they had no reason to resist it"

Whew! What I would give to take a step back in time to tell some of those women "DON'T DO IT!" Keep it simple. Save it for us! Keep Christmas about having a leisurely scrumptious breakfast as a family and then take a long walk in the snow to visit the neighbors for some caroling (Can you tell I am reading the Little House on the Prairies Series to my children right now?)

I know, I know. I'm an idealist and a daydreamer. Their lives weren't all that easy. It would have taken them two hours to do all those breakfast dishes before they could even take that walk to the neighbors because not only did they not have a dishwasher they didn't even have running hot water! But the bottom line is this: I have a much bigger responsibility than returning the broken outdoor lights or wrapping the Soccer Lego system or finding the tree stand. I have the incredible joy of being a memory maker -- creating experiences that will be indelible on the hearts and minds of not only my own children but their children as well.

So give yourself a much needed break and go play another round of Monopoly with a cup of hot chocolate or take a break from licking envelopes and get the kids bundled up and stroll the streets visiting with your neighbors. Or better still, light some candles, turn on Andy Williams and read your very favorite Christmas story. Be deliberate in your memory making…you've got plenty of time…twelve days, in fact.

Copyright 2000
Michele Sbrana


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