Welcome, Mamma Crew, to another chaotic, exciting, but always beautiful day of an older mom like you.
So, it started the debate: Big Christmas? Little Christmas? What should you have? I’ve seen a whole bunch of blogs and Facebook posts that say, “You should only get five gifts to your kids.” In the meantime, I get texts from my friends and some older moms that belong to the group saying, “I feel so bad because we like to do Big Christmases, but everybody thinks we should do Little Christmases.” Here’s my thing on that: do whatever is right for you and your family. And don’t give other people permission to determine your choices. Okay?
I love Big Christmases. I unapologetically love Big Christmases. The bigger, the gaudier, the better! Okay? Yes, I’m gonna be honest with you, in our home in the Caribbean, where the house is extraordinarily big, we usually have two Christmas trees.
Downstairs, it’s usually decorated in a beautiful theme, and then upstairs, there is a gaudy, gorgeous tree! My favorite one, in fact, because the kids decorated it. It looks terrible! There’s no rhyme and reason to it. There’s tinsel bunches. There’s too many garlands. Nothing makes sense, but it is absolutely beautiful! It’s beautiful! It’s gorgeous! I love it!
And I love the fact that it doesn’t make any sense. I love the fact that it has too many garlands and bunches of tinsel, and there’s no rhyme or reason to the decorations. And I love that every year, someplace I’ve either taken the kids (that’s usually what happens), I take the kids to a store or go to Disney or something along those lines. And we get each of us a special ornament that we name and date for that year, and we put it on that tree, okay?
I positively love that. I love having too many lights. I love homes that have too many lights. I really, really like the people that throw themselves all out, and they have light vomit, okay? And then, they synchronize it to music! I wish I was technical enough to do that in my home. I would love to synchronize it with music. I just love that. I think it’s absolutely, positively gorgeous. I also love the homes that go with a theme or do these tasteful little decorations. I love it! I absolutely love it. It’s so gorgeous.
And as far as the gifts: a little, a lot. You know what, when the kids were younger, Santa brought them tons and tons of gifts. Santa had been working all year. Santa didn’t wait for Christmas because Santa knew that, well, Christmas comes, there’s rushes. There’s not enough of the wonderful toys or gadgets or the things that the kids are going to want. So, Santa worked all year. Santa had to make decisions between, “Hmm… Should he take a trip to Hawaii during the year? Or should he perhaps keep that money and buy more materials to make more toys.” Santa had to make some hard decisions during the year.
And sometimes Santa, on his trips to get materials or his groceries or whatever it was he was doing about town: getting new boots, buying new red pants (‘cause he’s put on a few more pounds.) Santa would see something special for a kid he knew, and he would get that special gift for that special kid.
There have been years when Santa had too many responsibilities, and Christmas was not as big, okay? Things would happen; Santa would get sick. You know those medical bills. And it wasn’t that he wouldn’t bring toys to all the children in the world who believe in him, it was maybe that year, he had to focus on more special gifts, okay? So, what’s the big deal? Why is it that more and more people judge one another on their decisions to celebrate a big Christmas or a little Christmas? I think we permit people to have an opinion about our lives—way too much permission, too much of liberty to do that.
Now, before you say something like, “Well, listen there, Dr. B. You’re inviting us into your home so we can have an opinion about you.” Well, I hate to tell you this, before social media, I didn’t live under a rock. I had a lot of friends, more than an introvert deserves or really can handle, but I have a lot of friends or friendly acquaintances, okay? And they never felt entitled to criticize my choices, to write posts on Facebook, or send emails and say, “This is the way you need to celebrate Christmas. This is what I believe, and I’m going to impose it on you.” People didn’t do that. So, why do we do that on social media? I think it’s because there’s a serious disconnect. We don’t really know the people. We think we know them, but we don’t really know them, okay?
For example, my friendly acquaintances and my true friends usually know that I come from a very abusive background. My father was an alcoholic (is an alcoholic), and he ruined Christmases for us almost every single Christmas, okay? So growing up, most of my memories of Christmas start good and end in absolute dismal disasters. Now, I have to be honest with you; he never hit me on a Christmas or on a Christmas eve (which he used to do on other days on a regular basis). But it wasn’t fun when he would scream at my mother, or he would scream at us, or when he got in a fight with my favorite uncle, or when he got a fight with my favorite aunt, or when he got in a fight with a family member.
Or the least favorite of my Christmases: a Christmas that we spent with some of my mother’s friends. And it was a great Christmas party, and everything was going fabulous, there was great food, and good music. Everybody was into the Christmas spirit, and then my father started fighting with the host—my mother’s dear and close friend.
And let me tell you that most people were really tolerant of my father. Most of the time around the holidays to try to make things better for us, his children, or for his wife, my mother. But my father was so bad on this Christmas Eve. He insulted the homeowner (my mother’s friend), his wife, and his children. He even puked (you got it, he puked!) inside their home. They kicked us out! And there we were in our car, an hour away from our home, in our Christmas holiday dresses that my mother had sacrificed to get. Because even though my father made so much money, he spent it all on liquor (later on pot, and even later, on other un-recreational drugs), that my mother had to put our dresses on layaway, six months before Christmas so that we could have something nice to wear on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, okay?
There we are on our beautiful Christmas dresses that our mother has sacrificed for, hysterically crying in the car, while my mother is struggling to somehow keep her dignity—knowing that she’s lost this friendship forever because she’s going to feel too humiliated, too embarrassed to see her friend again. My father told my very young sisters (so young, one of them didn’t even get to make it to kindergarten) there was no Santa Claus. Why? He said it was because he was struggling financially that year, and we needed to know the reality of those struggles.
This is at a point in my life (in my father’s life, actually) where he made three thousand dollars a week. And before you say, “Well, maybe that’s not so much.” Come on, that’s a lot of money even today. But that was in the ’70s, okay. In the ’70s. You know where all the money went? Alcohol. And buying alcohol for his friends. And buying alcohol for the parties he liked to throw. And more alcohol. I can’t remember a single Christmas that I shared with my father in which he was not drunk.
I remember one Christmas (this was one of the best Christmases that I spent with my father), in which, the week before Christmas, he gifted us a hundred dollars each. And this was in the early ’80s, and he said, “Go buy yourself something nice. That would be your Christmas gift.” And that year, he did not scream at my mother for buying a three-dollar (three-dollar!) Christmas tree that we decorated with Christmas ornaments that we have had for decades. He did not yell at her.
So, we went with a hundred dollars, and you know what we bought? Underwear. Socks. New pairs of shoes. We bought our coat, and we were so grateful. We were so incredibly, incredibly grateful that he had given us the money to buy our basic needs.
By then, my middle sister and I were old enough that we could have a job, but my father wouldn’t allow us to have jobs. So, if you’re thinking, “Why didn’t you work to get your basic needs, you were old enough?” We were not allowed to do that. He didn’t believe that girls should be out there, doing God knows what, he would say. So, we were not allowed to buy our basic needs. We have to depend on him.
But even though he was making close to five thousand dollars a week at that point in his life, he still didn’t make sure that we had our basic needs. You should have heard him every month when we had to buy pads for our periods. And we were not spared the yelling and screaming that went along with it in December because it was the holiday season.
So, why do Christmases mean so much to me? Because every good Christmas that I have for my children, I feel like I’m rescuing a Christmas from the past for myself, to be honest with you. And I cannot begin to express to you the joy that I feel. I feel like a light comes into my whole being when I hear my children run down the stairs to look at the gifts underneath the Christmas tree. I can’t adequately express to you the joy I feel when I’m sitting down, and they’re decorating the tree and making it lopsided and putting clumping ornaments together that shouldn’t be clumped. And I think this year, I’m gonna do the Sheldon Cooper (from The Big Bang Theory) ornament measurement. They have to be this far apart. And every year, I don’t care. I feel so much joy seeing them run around, happy, having a healthy, normal childhood.
I feel so much joy when I take them every December on car rides to see the homes of beautiful, wonderful people who decorate them with one string of lights over a million stream sort of lights. Or in Alpena, Michigan, (here’s a shout out to Alpena, Michigan!) — the guy that stood out on the road dressed up as Santa Claus, so the kids could meet him and deliver Christmas cards. He decorates his house so gorgeous, to the hilt! It meant so much to us as a family to experience that joy.
So, back to what I said: Big Christmas, Little Christmas? Whatever fills you up. Whatever you feel is right. And the next time somebody criticizes you for your choice, remind them you did not give them permission to judge your life. It’s your life. Live it! Enjoy it! Remember, we only have one life to live; live it well.
Hey! I was just thinking, after all this time that I spent sharing content with you, good content! (I’m gonna pat myself.) Okay. I really hope that you enjoyed it, and hope that in this Christmas season, you will pass it along to another older mom, or hey, a mom who needs a little support. So please share our link on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever it is that you do for social media. And if you have five minutes, you could do all of them!
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