This past weekend I took a day trip to Branson, Missouri, home of the Ozark mountain amusement park, Silver Dollar City. For those unfamiliar with the area, Silver Dollar City is built around the theme of an 1880s farm town.
With a few thrill rides for the kids and some musical theater shows for entertainment, Silver Dollar City is an opportunity to step back in time and fondly remember a simpler life.
While I enjoyed meandering the streets of the old-fashioned town, admiring the artisan workers and their crafts, I especially liked visiting during this time of year. Nobody does Christmas like Branson.
Every building is outlined with festive lights, and Christmas Carols play over loudspeakers, joyfully announcing the Christ child’s birth. I left the park in a better mood than when I arrived, excited to return home and embrace the holidays.
On the three hour drive back to Kansas, I reflected on the day’s activities. Yes, I enjoyed visiting the past, viewing the idyllic life of a less stressful era. People seemed to smile more with little rushing about and harmonious peace filled the air.
But I would not want to return to that lifestyle.
I’ve grown accustomed to the modern conveniences of the 21st Century. I like my washer and dryer, which allows me to complete a week’s worth of laundry in just a couple of hours.
I enjoy my dishwasher, microwave and convection oven. I cannot possibly live without my computer and internet access.
No, as much as I admire a simpler time, I would never choose to go back.
So why do I hold on so tightly to my own past? I have a way of romanticizing how life WAS rather than embracing how life IS – especially this time of year.
In our household, November and December were steeped in holiday traditions, mostly involving food. Typically, I began cookie baking before Thanksgiving and kept them in the freezer – impromptu snacks for the kids and their friends.
We are an empty nest now with no children around to share sweet treats, and our figures certainly don’t need them. My baking days are now limited to a single afternoon.
During past Thanksgiving weeks, I would make a double batch of sausage balls and monkey bread for the holiday breakfast. We all sat around in our pajamas watching the Macy’s Parade. I especially enjoyed pouring over the newspaper ads as I carefully planned my Black Friday schedule.
Now I bake only a single batch as my husband and I, along with the basset, watch the parade. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to surprise children with Christmas gifts. We now give them much-appreciated gift cards.
Decorating Gingerbread Houses was an annual event. I would make one house for each child and we would often invite at least one other family to join us.
The smell of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg would fill the house for days. The candy houses remained a part of the household decorations until January first, when the kids devoured them.
Now that the children live out-of-town and have full-time jobs, it is difficult to coordinate schedules to include this old family favorite. We have great intentions, but follow-through is difficult.
Christmas morning was always magical. After waking up and reading Luke chapter 2 together, we would all head downstairs to see what Santa brought. No matter the family finances, Santa never failed to disappoint, and the smiles of delight made the sacrifice worthwhile.
Christmas morning is no longer magical at our house. It has moved elsewhere. My eldest creates the magic at her house for her daughter, and the other children spend Christmas with their in-laws.
It is easy to think back to the way life used to be and long for the days when we were all together. But to do that would negate the joy of the present.
I am grateful my children are now happy, independent, flourishing members of society. My job as Mom the disciplinarian has now transitioned to Mom the friend.
In addition, I am grateful for the opportunity to focus on self-care. I gladly sacrificed money, time, and resources while raising my children. But sometimes at the expense of my own needs.
The empty nest phase of life allows me time (and a bit of extra money) to pamper myself. I can now pursue my creative interests without embracing the guilt of ignoring them.
Lastly, this new season of life allows me to focus on the needs of others outside the immediate family. By giving to Toys for Tots and the Angel Tree Ministry, I spread the tradition of Santa magic throughout my community.
Our family of five is now a family of nine, with the hope of more on the way. This growth and change means the joy of Christmas is no longer about the presents, but rather, about our presence.
We relish time together. And while it may look different than it did in the past, it is no less precious.
In this season of transition the one tradition that remains unchanged is our love for one another.
©2016 Molly Totoro
Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.