The Real Meaning of Christmas: Lessons from a 4 Year-Old

Katie Spirit Leave a Comment

I interviewed my best friend Tahra’s 4 year-old son Eustace via Skype Saturday morning. Tahra and I had talked about the way she and her husband are trying to teach Eustace about the real meaning of Christmas. Our conversation got me thinking about the questions I have about Christmas. So, I thought it might be helpful to ask Eustace. He sits smack dab in the middle of the age when Christmas simply rocks. His eyes dance. He runs circles. He jumps up and down. He throws himself on the coach in unbridled excitement. He does not have to think back to remember a joyful time, or take deep breaths when looking at the list of things to be done, or balance a check book to determine just how Christmasy he can be. He prances and laughs and squeals – part steam engine, puppy, and elf. He is present. I wanted him to give me pointers on how to find that place in my heart and mind.

Our conversation started once Eustace got focused. With gentle prodding from his mother and father, he began by showing me his family’s Christmas tree. I asked him about going to the tree farm to cut it down. He explained that he helped choose it, but that his father actually cut it down. The tree was huge and beautiful. The focal point of festive awesomeness in his house. He was very proud. He talked a little about ornaments, but was not interested in describing any specific one. He then did a quick once over of the stockings that adorned the walls. I tried to get him to describe his Christmas morning rituals, and he focused on Santa and getting presents. (Of course.) That discussion begged the question. “What is your favorite part of Christmas?” He said getting presents. I asked him what he wanted this year, and he said a zebra. I clarified that he meant a stuffed zebra, and he said yes. He then rattled a list of things he was excited about so fast I could not really keep up.

Tahra and George want him to learn the Christmas story. I tried to guide our discussion in that direction by asking him about Baby Jesus. I thought I saw a creche when the camera panned to the Christmas tree, so I asked. He was not interested in the question, and told me about his school Christmas party where he got to wear pajamas. I clarified with Tahra what he was talking about, and she told me they had read The Polar Express and had a pajama party. (Sometimes it is the simple things, like wearing pajamas and reading a good book, that make all the difference.)

One of my favorite parts of my interview with Eustace was when he shared the Christmas story. Tahra and Eustace recorded the Christmas story into a book to give to her mother as a Christmas present. (The book works like a greeting card that plays a song when it is opened.) Tahra and Eustace had read the story together into the book. Eustace could then hear himself (along with his mother) telling the Christmas story. The thought occurred to me that this would probably mean more to him in the future than it did in this moment. Right now, he was just proud of his reading ability, and happy about spending time with his mother. I am not sure he understands the meaning of the story, but there was something in the telling that was genuine and beautiful. That got me thinking about how much I understand the Christmas story myself. Do I really think about the possibility of love being born again in each of us every year? What would it look like to let that love manifest in my life? There was something meaningful about a mother teaching her son about love.

At one point in the interview, Eustace turned the tables and asked me a question. He asked me if I had a Christmas tree. I had to confess that I did not. He asked me why. I struggled to find an explanation. I fumbled saying I go visit my family, and that they have a tree. I then meekly explained that I help my Mom and Dad get our family Christmas together, and that I would be celebrating Christmas with my family. I am not sure he even wanted an answer to the question. I am not sure why words were so difficult. I feel a certain amount of shame about not having a tree. I am embarrassed by my lack of Christmas spirit. I have a million reasons why, but they melted away when Eustace asked the question. There was a simplicity to his question. There was no judgement. The question was not followed by advice punctuated with a should. He just did not understand how I could have Christmas without a tree in my house.

Perhaps the real reason for my conversation with Eustace that morning was to refocus my Christmas attitude on love. Eustace was giving me a profound gift. I will admit it. I spend a too much time during the Holidays thinking about what I do not have, crying about how things are better for everyone else, and lamenting decisions that I have made. Eustace reminded me, without even knowing it, about the possibility of being reborn in love each Christmas.

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