“You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” -St. Augustine
My little boy walked up the steps that lead into my grandparents’ quaint, country home. As soon as he opened the door and made his way into the living room, his eyes lit up at the sight of twinkling lights, miniature houses, and a train. He let out a gasp filled with wonderment: Christmas at Mawmaw’s house.
This time of year pulls at my heartstrings. A longing for the familiar drifts over me like incense year after year. I find myself thinking about what once was, listening to music that reminds me of my grandparents, and going places that I frequented as a kid, grasping for a snippet of the childhood magic that unfolded so effortlessly years ago. These magical moments visit me on occasion, wrapping me in the warmth of youthfulness and comfort, if only for an instant. But they are gone as quickly as they come, and I am left with doing everything I can to find more wherever they may hide, be they at the bottom of a cup of hot chocolate or under a blanket on the couch while watching Christmas movies.
Whoever said you can’t go back was mistaken, though—you can through your children.
My two boys and I are staying with family over the holidays this year, while my husband is deployed. It’s a bittersweet time because while we would prefer to be in our own home as a family, it’s given me the chance to witness my children experience an Alabama Christmas that I grew to love so much when I was little: lights at Bellingrath Gardens, seafood gumbo, and family everywhere you turn. Driving with my sons down the roads that my parents drove with me as a child, showing them the fields where I played soccer, where I went to school, and the store that I walked to with my Pawpaw to get an afternoon snack make my stories come to life for them and again for me. The air has been thick with nostalgia lately.
Now that I’m an adult, I see the stakes that parents go to recreate that childhood magic, myself included. Countless amounts of time and money funneled down in a tireless effort to recreate the feeling of awe that fill innocent hearts each year at Christmastime. These efforts are done out of love, of course, but I’m finding that too often they fall short even with the best intentions. This is because children don’t require lots of money and effort to find the magic in life. My three-year-old is more enthralled with his dad’s old Hot Wheels or helping unload the dishwasher than he is with the toy that he got to pick out at the store for behaving all day. Oh, the irony!!
The overwhelming nostalgia that drives me to overspend and run myself ragged during the holidays isn’t rooted in a desire for Christmas magic or presents or even family, though it may seem that way. It’s for Jesus. That’s the real gift that I want to give to my boys.
Out of all of the memories I have of experiencing Christmas as a child, the one I cherish the most is of going to Mass late at night on Christmas Eve, knowing that something special was taking place. Gentle carols being sung, candles and poinsettias in every direction, driving home under a blanket of stars in the darkness of night. If my parents were tired or stressed, I never knew it.
When I step back from the planning and the shopping and the grasping for more, it’s clear that Jesus has been with us the whole time. In the meals we’ve regularly shared with extended family that are impossible when we are at our home across the country; the time spent with cousins, aunts, and uncles; new memories distracting the boys from missing their Daddy who’s on the “Big Boat”—Jesus has already given us the greatest gift this year, and it’s not Christmas yet.
A hole in my heart may pop up every December, but trying to fill it with stuff isn’t unconscionable, it’s human. Because my heart was made for Him, I won’t be satisfied until I’ve found Him. Thankfully, He will be here soon, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. But He can also be found daily in the eyes of my children.