But pretty much, Christmas is all about kids. The antagonists of Christmas movies are either anthropomorphized animals or children. Pick a Christmas movie that centers around adults – Elf, for instance, or The Santa Clause – and the theme is about adults, mired in their stuffy adult worlds, who find redemption through the release of adult responsibilities in childlike wonder of the season. This is, in some ways, the theme of the very first Christmas movie, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Adult morality is the underlying theme, but on its surface, we see Scrooge reduced to childlike glee when he discovers that it’s Christmas morning and he can still redeem his wicked ways with the Cratchets.
And then there’s all the cultural trappings of the season. Shiny, bright things hung on trees; brightly-colored presents to be unwrapped; chocolate and cookies and goodies; and the ever-looming shadow of that greatest of childhood myths, the jolly fat man who flies through the night on reindeer and sneaks into your house to leave you toys. I’m amazed at how young I still was when I began experiencing Christmas as a nostalgic holiday; namely, that even as early as my college years, I found myself getting nostalgic at Christmastimes for how I experienced Christmas as a child.
This year, Christmas is different for me. Because, as I’ve recently discovered, Christmas is not just a child’s holiday, it’s also a parents’ holiday. My beautiful little girl is only seven months old and, like poor hungry Africans, doesn’t fully realize that it’s Christmas time at all. But she certainly does respond to the shiny pretty lights on the tree. And she seems to like the sound of jingle bells. And once she got over her initial distrust of this large red man who appeared at her daycare, she warmed up to how jolly and fun he looked and produced some winning smiles. It’s a thrill for me as a parent to see her wonder at these sights, and I can hardly wait until next year when she will be older and more able to explore the joys of the season. For the first time in my adult life, Christmas is more than a nostalgia trip, reliving the glowing days of pure happiness that I experienced as a child. It feels new again as I gaze upon the tree through the eyes of my child.
As a Christian, this has been a revitalizing revelation. Because, of course, at its religious roots, Christmas is unquestionably a child’s holiday. I distinctly remember where my spouse and I were last year – living in a rental home after selling a house and still waiting to close on our new house. We didn’t have room for our big tree, and so all we had in ways of decorations was a small tabletop tree squeezed into the overcrowded living room. And I remember clearly one night, while my spouse was watching TV in the dark next to the red glow of that tiny tree, calling out to me in that drafty house, “I feel a kick!” It was the first kick of her pregnancy, and suddenly it felt overwhelming to me how strongly I was anticipating the birth of our child. Displaced and in transition, we both felt in that moment the power of hope for the promise of a child, and I swear to you I have never felt the Christmas story so deep in my bones.
You don’t have to be a parent to experience the anticipatory joy of the Christmas story. That’s why there are so many movies about adults rediscovering their childlike wonder and enthusiasm; that’s why adults sing songs about Rudolph and Frosty and Santa. Everyone – parents, children, married couples, single adults, young and old – knows what it feels like to anticipate something new and exciting, something filled with hope and promise. As a new parent, I’m experiencing all those things in new ways now, mostly through the eyes of my beautiful little girl. The hopes and dreams I have for her break my heart for how strongly I believe in them. I know expectations are bound to be disappointed along the way, but hope is different than expectation. Hope is what happens in love, what happens when joy takes over our self-interest and focuses on others. It’s what happened to Scrooge and it’s what happens to each of us when we let the mystery of the season come over us. I have hope that I can love my daughter and watch her grow. I have hope that whatever God is doing in our lives, that it’s going to be amazing. I have hope that joy is lasting, and that I can experience that anew as a parent. I have hope that I can be like a child again, but new this time. How incredible it is the joy that a child can bring to us!