“It’s Christmas, Mommy!” declared my 3-year-old. It was not, in fact, Christmas. It was August 21, but time means nothing to a toddler, especially one witnessing approximately 4,728 aisles of half-stocked holiday shelves at Hobby Lobby. Bulging boxes waited to reveal miles of garland, heart-stoppingly fragile figurines, and ornaments shaped like everything from nativities to video game controllers. Some of the Christmas trees were already out, transporting my toddler to his own personal heaven as he admired green ones, flocked ones, lit ones and spinning ones in a blur of holiday bliss.
For some people, “Christmas creep” has the opposite effect. Seeing the merchandise come out earlier and earlier every year can make you feel like the big box stores are bulldozing over the introspection of Thanksgiving and going straight for the cash grab, ruining the joy of both celebrations. But if you take a look through the eyes of a toddler, maybe you can reclaim the season for yourself, however long it may be.
When we got home from Hobby Lobby way back in August, my son wanted to get our Christmas tree out. And while I want the tree out ASAP after Thanksgiving, it was too soon to surrender that much space in the living room. But you know what we did have space for? The sparkly silver 12-inch tree I got in my college days. There was no real reason to not let him start his Christmas joy early, so start it we did.
The signs of the season kept trickling in, and he was newly delighted by each one. Since mid-November, his first words going into any store are, “Oooo Mommy look! A Christmas tree!” We take a moment to admire it, maybe name what colors the lights are. We sat on the floor at Menard’s and watched a Santa crane. We’re at a precious stage with him, and his joy is infectious if I pause the mental task list for a moment.
That’s not to say I don’t still sometimes feel sour about things. Incorporating a holiday meal contribution on top of regular grocery shopping is not my strong suit. Watching a package bounce from Kansas City to Tennessee to Georgia has me mentally screaming, “You’re going the wrong way!” By the time it finally arrives it can be hard to summon the joy from the dregs of exasperation. Fortunately, I have a built-in solution for that. Enter, toddler.
Wrapping the wayward package goes 1,000 times quicker without him, but involving him offers a chance to have an intentional moment. He helps load presents into bags and selects tissue paper that may or may not match. We talk about who it’s for and arrange them under the tree, amidst frequent reminders that they’re going to stay there and are not for touching. He slows the process down, so I am forced to also slow down, and if I let myself be in the right mindset, that can be a bonus rather than a detraction. (Although, I do still wrap some quickly and efficiently after bedtime.)
One of my favorite and most personal traditions has been making an annual photo ornament. They capture the highlights of each year going back to our wedding in 2014, and my son loves pulling them off and guffawing as he names who’s in each photo. For the weeks prior to December 25, he’s more interested in the friends and family members on our tree than what’s underneath it.
Come December, our plush advent calendar comes out, and he gets to velcro a new figure onto the nativity scene each day. A sheep might land on top of a palm tree, and a shepherd might stand next to the manger instead of Mary, but the countdown is something my son looks forward to daily. I believe that ongoing joy can help us reclaim the holiday season. In my toddler, it’s natural and unadulterated. The inflatable reindeer delights him the 50th time as much as the first. There are no false pretenses about his joyfulness.
So if you’re struggling with Christmas creep, exhausted from taking the lead on shopping, wrapping, baking… try to have a toddler moment. Maybe you have an actual toddler who can lead you into some childlike mirth. Maybe you see one at the store, laughing at a singing Santa statue. Maybe you become the toddler yourself and stroll a store’s tree display with nothing more than a mind to enjoy the twinkling lights.
Don’t buy anything, or post a selfie, or think about how much more glamorous your home décor could be. Just soak up the season for a few seconds, a few minutes, and maybe if we repeat that enough, we’ll make it to December 25 having loved the long holiday season.