by EMILY ORTON
I’m usually pretty stressed out by this point in the holiday season. I hear those Christmas gremlins knocking, but I’ve managed to keep them at bay so far. Maybe I’m learning my lesson. The last couple of times Karina (our oldest college kid) came home for a break she’s said, “I have more food in my kitchen than you do.” My cupboards were empty and my schedule was full. “It seems like you’re gone a lot these days,” Karina said. I had good excuses. I had a writing deadline for our book proposal. Also, we were preparing to leave town for a couple of months. We needed to get to the finish line and clear our cupboards.
Towards the end of October I started thinking about Christmas. We were camping in Yosemite National Park. We had no electricity and no running water. We did have a terrific fire most nights. There is something about a fire that creates togetherness. I don’t know if it’s because we’re all facing each other. Maybe it’s because we’re warm. Possibly it’s the soothing activity of adding kindling or pine cones and watching them flare up then burn away. I don’t know what it is, but sitting around the fire our kids would start talking. They would leave the doors to their hearts wide open and I was amazed at the kinds of things that came out of their mouths.
Eli wanted to play a game of questions. He asked, “What is the last thing you want to see before you die and why?” I recently heard that parents spend about 7 minutes per day in quality conversation with their kids, not “Get on your backpack” or “Stop bugging your sister.” But we gave each other a couple of hours around each of those fires. “How can we keep this campfire magic after we get home?” I asked Erik. We started brainstorming.
We already do one thing that creates that campfire feeling. We call it Week in Pictures. This was Erik’s brainchild. We gather on our couch in front of the TV and take turns putting our photos up on the screen. We start with the youngest, Lily, she usually has about a hundred selfies, and we work our way up to Erik. We see the pair of shoes noticed on the subway or a meme captured or an activity participated in. We get a peek into each other’s lives. Ten years ago I was skeptical when Erik said we’d be looking at family photos on TV’s someday. I bought 10 giant photo albums. Erik was right though. Now, Week in Pictures is one of my favorite ways to use technology to connect.
This year, I wanted to bring that campfire magic home for Christmas so I asked each person in my family how they would feel about having a theme: Christmas Presence. This year, we’re not going to worry too much about gifts that need wrapping. We’re going to focus on making sure that we give presence –that our offerings say, I see you. I hear you. I know you. I love you. I've included a list of ideas below. My hope is that we’ll wake up Christmas morning and have that campfire time when we’re truly present for each other.
When the kids were little, there were definitely years when I worried about bulk. I wanted them to have enough items to unwrap that it would take some time. This year, it’s all about the time and not so much about the wrapping. I imagine we’ll have some dessert masquerading as breakfast and take our traditional pajama walk through the park. But I hope most of the morning will be spent reviewing memories, laughing at inside jokes, sharing music and feeling seen, heard, known and loved.
Ideas for Christmas Presence
Digital Christmas Countdown images (your own or from the internet) overlaid with countdown
Customized Music Playlist You Rock, Songs That Make Me Think of You, Chill Songs, Great Songs I Forgot to Mention When You Lived at Home…
Customized Video Playlist Awesome Human Tricks, Long Boarding Basics, Comedy Sketches to Make You Smile When We’re Apart…
Digital Photo Album My Favorite Pictures of Us, Only in New York, Ironic Art Photos, Silly Photos of Us, Places We’ve Gone Together, Places We Want to Go...
Hand Drawn Portrait or family portrait
Video Chat Play Dates
Brush or Braid My Hair gift card Pssst, Orton kids..if you're reading this: hint-hint.
Let’s Walk Together gift card
Let's Play Your Favorite Game gift card
Let’s Bake Together gift card
Second Chance gift card good for an unlimited number of second chances to get things right in our relationships
Read Aloud video of yourself reading a poem or children’s book aloud
Library Books I admit you have to be the kind of person who feels comfortable giving or receiving library books as a temporary gift. Luckily, we are those kind of people. Check out books you know the person staying/living with you will love or laugh at and wrap them up. If they don’t finish them during the Christmas break, you can always renew.
If you think this post would encourage someone, please consider sharing.