Husband & Wife Articles


Adults Need Christmas, Too

Traditions are not just repetitions when they renew us

Rebecca Ryskind Teti

We put up our Christmas tree this past Sunday, and it got me thinking about how the same activity can be both old and new simultaneously. Dennis and I have been married 20 years, and this is our twenty-first Christmas tree together. The first we put up in his apartment the December he proposed. I remember how austere (pathetic, really) his bachelor tree looked with just some garland and six glass bulbs he’d brought with him when he moved from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. My mom and I remedied the situation. She gave me a few of my favorite childhood decorations and we made salt dough ornaments for me to take over and fill in the empty branches. It was still quite spare, but an improvement. Many of those homemade pieces are hanging on our tree today – though they’re quite brittle now and we seem to lose one or two each year.

Author Rebecca Ryskind Teti (second from left) and her husband, Dennis (fourth from left), are shown with their four children and extended family members.

After 21 years, we have the opposite problem: more ornaments than tree. Those original glass bulbs have survived four toddlers somehow. Our daughter’s godparents used to send annually an exquisite work-of-art tree-trimmer. Our most gorgeous pieces have come from them, and we think of them fondly and pray for them as we place these attractive ornaments. When the kids were little we used to purchase Christmas ornaments as souvenirs, so we have Christmas fish from the beach, a bear from Michigan, a festive rebel soldier from Yorktown. There’s a cowboy hat because I went to school in Dallas, a cigar for my husband, ballet slippers for my daughter, all sorts of musical instruments, and all the crafts the kids did when they were little: applesauce and cinnamon molds of toddler hands, popsicle stick crèches, woven ojos de Dios, and paper ornaments made at school.

Our first tree took all of three minutes to decorate for all the ornaments we had. There were years Dennis did the lights and most of the decorating because I was miserably sick in pregnancy, and many years when the preponderance of decorations ended up on the bottom branches because our munchkins were hanging them (some discreet post-bedtime redistribution was necessary). Last Sunday my husband and I hardly did anything but watch as the kids dressed the tree – with improvements! Our eldest son put the lights on a timer controlled by a telephone app so they’ll go on at a steady time each evening; our daughter has definite ideas about balance of color in ornament placement; and the younger boys added their jokey touches to the décor: Lego vehicles and nerf guns are nestled deep in the tree’s branches.

Watching the kids take over the tree trimming, it struck me that soon enough my Advent decorating will take on a John the Baptist quality, with my ornament collection decreasing so that my kids’ can increase. In time I will be the one relinquishing my treasures in order to jump-start a new family’s Christmas traditions. I also thought how wasted were my anxieties as a new wife and mother that our celebrations would be inadequate, that we would somehow fail Christmas because I didn’t do it right. Traditions, I now see, are something we grow into gradually, exactly as we have grown into being a family. There are necessary stages and a certain amount of trial and error to pass through to forge a life together. You don’t get only one shot at it, you keep trying until you learn how to live it.

They say Christmas is for little kids and in a certain sense that’s right. Our 17-year-old will never again light up for a present the way he did when he was 3 and we got him one of those Flintstone-style cars for him to pad around the yard in. When we had four little ones under the age of reason and I was exhausted all the time, I wasn’t sure I would truly enjoy Christmas again except vicariously.

Now, however, as I approach middle age and the joints begin to hint at the aches that will soon settle in, and I find I’m less able to simply will myself to do things as I could in my twenties, I feel the need for Christmas more than ever. As I slouch into the confessional with the same old list of sins – the one I was sure would be conquered by now—I’m more palpably aware of my need for grace, for a Savior. I rejoice to see the kids taking up the Christmas traditions we’ve handed to them. But increasingly, I see Christmas is for me, and am so grateful for that little Child who makes all things new.