Thursday, December 17, 2009


The box of Christmas decorations that sits in storage for eleven months of the year seems to hold something more than fairy lights and tinsel, and by opening it on December 1st as we do in our house, it seems to release that extra invisible something, symbolising the start of the Christmas season and setting off little squeals of excitement, joy and hope as little hands reach into the box and take out the homemade decorations from previous years and noisily remember the origin of each one.

At least that’s how it was in past years.

This year we have an eleven-year-old in the house, who on December 1st emerged from his bedroom, reached into the box and barked orders at the other two while he stood at a distance and threw the decorations at the tree. Apparently he just wanted to get it over with, as he explained to me one night after asking me if we could go for a walk so he could let me know that he’s ‘not a little kid anymore’ and he ‘doesn’t get big thrills out of decorating the tree and all that.’

In past years, all I needed to do was put up the tree in order to trigger the magic of Christmas that bubbles up inside them. This year clearly was not going to be so easy. Being the oldest, he tends to set the mood for the other two. If he says it’s cool, it is. If he’s excited, they are.

On December 1st in our house we also begin counting down each night with chocolate advent calendars. Just before bed the kids open the little cardboard door and find a little chocolate inside, then count how many sleeps are left until Christmas day. Not-A-Kid-Anymore rips his open and devours the chocolate, then hands back the calendar, completely disinterested, but who’s gonna turn down free chocolate?

In past years after the tree was up, the tree that symbolises ‘it’s started’, they would sit down and make Christmas wish lists for Santa. This year Boy was the one who got it started, announced what he was doing and the other two followed. The younger two had no trouble writing down the few things they wanted. ‘N.A.K.A’ grabbed the Toyworld catalogue and copied directly from it onto his paper, even including the barcode number. On day one his list had over 50 items, and was made up of things I’d never heard him say he wanted. By day two he had stapled a second page behind it and was still copying things, this time out of The Warehouse pamphlet. Now the other two had picked up on what he was doing and had added to their lists by doing the same thing.

It’s hard to explain why, but at this stage I got really really seriously intensely insanely irritated. Looking at their lists I saw things like Bakugan on Wiseguy’s list (I know he finds Bakugan really boring, like most things these days) Lego meant for a preschooler on Boy’s list, and a book by T.S. Eliot on Princess’s list (apparently she likes the picture on the cover).

I sulked in my room for a couple of days, complaining to Hubby that the kids were “killing Christmas” with their stupid lists of a million things and I told them enough was enough, that the lists were too long and they should start again but this time only add things they genuinely wanted, or I wouldn’t send them to Santa. Then I explained that they would only be getting one present from us this year (to the horror of Hubby who likes to buy them presents, and was only comforted by the promise that ‘Santa’ could get them as many as he wants pfffft!) and it wasn’t because we couldn’t afford more than one gift, but because there were starving children in the world and we have a responsibility to take care of them. Shockingly, having a grumpy mum who’s threatening to give up your presents for what she decides is a worthy cause does not make for an exciting and joyful build-up to the big day. Basically I spent several days jumping between extreme immaturity and stubborn determination to put things right.

Eventually of course, determination won, as sulking in my room gave me time to digest the fact that my oldest son is Not A Kid Anymore, and that the way to get the ‘magic’ back was not going to be by depriving them or insisting on continuing with previous traditions. We still have the tree, and the chocolate calendars, and the cards, and the stories, and the presents, and Santa, but the magic didn’t really begin until we started a new tradition. I call it “Following the Christmas star.” No, it doesn’t involve a mad trek in the night, or a donkey or a baby or a stable, but I like to think it contains the essence of all those things. I wrapped a large empty box in Christmas paper and put it under the tree, with a card that says something like “Dear Santa. Please take these toys and give them to children who need them this Christmas.” I watched as N.A.K.A walked past the tree and noticed the empty box, got curious and read the card, watched his face as he contemplated the new thing, the wheels in his mind turning, then he looked at me, nodded and said “cool”. Success?! Could it actually be that simple?

In the hour that followed I watched as word spread to the other two and they quietly thought about it, me staying silent, really wanting them to drive the thing and not me, just wondering what would happen. Then suddenly, Mr Eleven puts one of his books into the box. I tried not to stand staring with my mouth open, because I know how he feels about his books. This is an actual sacrifice.

Gradually the box started to fill up with toys. I watched quietly as each of them brought a toy from their room and described the little boy or girl who might receive them. I was stoked to see them cleaning each one first, and putting into the box toys that they actually like. At one point Boy said to Princess “not that doll, you shouldn’t give that away” to which she replied (very loudly) “Yes! It’s beautiful!” What really got me was the excitement on all of their faces as they did it, and the number of times I heard the words “I love Christmas” said with a small sigh that usually comes from the accumulation of gifts, but this time was all about giving.

By the time Hubby got home from work the box was overflowing and the magic of Christmas was back in the house.


  1. SO cool! I LOVE how you said you left it with the kids and they embraced it themselves.

    and when the heck did our kids go from nappies to puberty? My oldest got 2 major pussy zits on his face this week....I was actually embarrassed for him.

    P.s You're a great mum.

  2. I love this post! What a wonderful inspiration! So glad you got the magic back x

  3. Okay!!! I am so loving this much so I think that I am going to do the same....i kow we only have week left but I could still get some stuff going here.
    It is so hard when they think that they are too old, but the thing is it is just about adjusting, for everyone. Good for you for walking it through...such inspiration!
    and I am with Widge, you ARE a great mum!

  4. Wow Chick. Thats just awesome. And dont worry too much, he sounds like any other normal pre teen. Ur da bomb sis!!

  5. Oh, this is such a beautiful post to read and you are a talented writer. You should seriously submit this to a magazine (or something similar). The idea of the empty box is genius and I love how you managed to turn everything round and find a new way to get the magic back.

    I found your blog via 'Kiwi Mummy Blogs'. Wishing you and your family a fabulous Christmas (with lots of magic). Best wishes, Sarah

  6. Oh thanks everyone, you're way too kind. Nice to have you along Sarah, thanks for your comment. I like the Kiwi Mummy Blogs site, didn't know I was listed there though. I'm a little slow lol.

    I was interrupted by the kids sooo many times while writing this post and failed to mention that the empty box idea was adapted from an idea I read on a website:

    I can't take credit for it, just wanted to write about the kids and their response to it. :)

  7. I just found your post :) What a wonderful idea, If it wasnt christmas eve I would do it! Have a great christmas chic xxx

  8. I blog-hopped to yours from Widge's site, hope you don't mind. That's a beautiful solution to one situation I'm dreading when my kids get a bit older - that 'too cool for school' pre-teen stage. Mine are 7 and 4 at the moment. I've heard of the adventconspiracy site... might just go and have a look. It sounds great.

  9. I remember this post!!!
    But you got me with the goosebumps all over again! Cass, I have been asked to write a story about Christmas for the December parenting mag; I wonder if you'd let me paraphrase/quote your story for part of it? This is so wonderful. Thankyou for sharing it.

    1. Aww thanks hun! :) Yes that's fine, you are welcome to use this story with a reference back to me/here. I've been thinking for a while about submitting something like it to the parenting mag myself, but honestly I wouldn't know how to go about it.


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