"At last, we get to celebrate Christmas!" my daughter exclaimed.

"You made us wait two years for Christmas," her younger brother added, fixing me with an accusing look.

I paused partway through my Christmas planning to-do list, completely taken aback.

"But last year, we gave you the best Christmas gift ever!" I protested. "We went to Disneyland and to Universal Studios. Remember how much you loved the Indiana Jones ride . . . and the jet-ski stunts at the Waterworld show?"

My son’s disapproval was contagious; his disgruntled look had now spread to his sister’s face.

"But we didn’t have Christmas," my daughter stated matter-of-factly.

"And that was just the beginning," I continued. "Then we boarded the flight to New Zealand–"

"Where Christmas disappeared!" my son interrupted.

Christmas abroad

And he was right. We had left Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, but when the plane crossed the International Date Line toward the end of the 12-hour flight, Christmas Eve had suddenly become Boxing Day. Nearly 12 months after the event, I could see my son still viewed that mystery with great suspicion.

In the homes of the many relatives we visited in New Zealand, there was little trace of our traditional Christmas celebration. There was no turkey, no "crackers" to pull, no fresh cedar adorning the mantels, no carols playing, and all the worship services were over. There were Christmas trees in several homes, all decked out with ornaments, but they looked oddly out of place in the southern hemisphere summer.

Teaching moments

Like an unreformed Scrooge, I continued to press my case. "But there were other benefits. For the first time, you met all your cousins. Remember how well you got along with Nathaniel?"

"We did lots of cool things," I added, recalling some other highlights for the kids’ consideration. We had herded sheep on my sister’s farm by ATV and on horseback, discovered a penguin in an oceanside cave, whispered in the dark in a glow-worm grotto and wandered through vistas made famous by the Lord of the Rings movies. For our family, it had been the vacation of a lifetime.

"All of it was really fun . . . but it wasn't Christmas," my son insisted.

"But this year," I pointed out, "it will be just the five of us again – celebrating just the same way we always do. We’ll go to the Christmas Eve service, but we probably won’t even leave the house on Christmas Day."

My son smiled. "And I’ll get out of bed on Christmas morning and the tree will be there, all lit up, with presents underneath – just like it’s supposed to be."

I could hardly believe what my son seemed to be saying. "Would you give up another trip to New Zealand, just so you could stay home for Christmas?" I asked.

"Yes!" he exclaimed, his eyes twinkling like lights on a tree.

The value of an "ordinary" Christmas

At first, I was perplexed by my son’s perspective. But as I mulled over our conversation later, I realized that he had given me a wonderful gift. For years, I had felt a little guilty about Christmas. I worried that I hadn’t made it "special enough" for the kids, and that, in their minds, the season might underscore the loneliness of our isolation from extended family. My son’s comments dispelled all my doubts. For him, our "ordinary" Christmas was precious – better, even, than an overseas adventure.

This year, I’ll find new joy in those old, familiar Christmas traditions . . . and perhaps I’ll introduce a few new ones, too. And I won’t be giving my children updated passports for Christmas again. At least, not for a few more years.

Simple ideas for a Christmas kids will cherish

It takes way less effort to impress our kids than we think. Try these super simple ideas for lasting Christmas memories:

  • Let your kids sleep in front of the Christmas tree for one special night.

  • Set up a treasure hunt with small treats hidden around the house.

  • Add some fun music to your usual, more worshipful Christmas collection and have a dance-off in front of the Christmas tree. For ideas, see if your kids like these fun oldies: The Christmas Cha Cha Cha by the Merry Macs, Merry Twistmas by the Marcels, Mele Kalikimaka, and I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. For something fun and modern for kids, check out the puppet Nativity version of Bethlehemian Rhapsody.

  • Gather by the tree for the traditional family Christmas photo, but take some silly photos too with funny props, or making silly poses like “grumpy Scrooge” or “ate too much figgy pudding.”

  • Pick a favourite Christmas tune and video yourselves singing it together. Choose a different song each year.

  • Choose a silly or serious contest, game or competition that your family loves and make it a tradition to play it together at Christmas.

  • Have dinner outside in the snow one evening, surrounded by Christmas lights.

  •  Make a time-limited dash to the dollar store to buy small gifts for each other.

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2008 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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