holiday traditions

Trust Me, You’re Doing Enough For The Holidays

Even if you don’t feel like it, your kids are experiencing magic. I promise.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

Growing up, my parents were big on the photo op of me at different holidays. My childhood scrapbook is basically a flip book of me at different ages with the same background and a different outfit — there’s me coloring Easter eggs, carving pumpkins, and sitting on Santa’s lap.

I have fond memories of these times with my parents, who had both the time (my dad was a schoolteacher with holidays off and my mom stayed at home) and the energy (I was the only child they had at home at the time) to partake in them with me.

So it’s no surprise then, that all these decades later, as a working mom of four kids, I feel like I’m not doing enough.

I think only one of my kids has ever visited Santa. They’ve never been to a Christmas tree farm to cut down their own tree (another thing I did every year). They have intermittently carved pumpkins and colored Easter eggs — at Grandma’s house.

Every time I try to plan something around the holidays, we’re tired by the time the weekend rolls around, or someone is always sick and it just doesn’t happen.

There’s one tradition I’ve been determined to make stick, though: our city’s Light Up Night celebration, which I’ve loved attending since I was in college. There’s a gingerbread house competition, fireworks and twinkling Christmas trees everywhere you look, a beautiful and sparkling start to my favorite time of the year. When I had kids, I thought: this will be our family tradition.

It started off well enough. When my first child was 5 months old, his dad and I bundled him up in a bunting with little bear ears and headed downtown for the festivities. We kept it short — the baby enjoyed the lights, downed a bottle, and we were home for bedtime. As each of his little siblings arrived, we kept up a short-and-sweet trip every year, and it was mostly smooth sailing with kids who were too little to have many opinions as long as they got a candy cane out of the evening.

Two years ago, things started to go downhill.

In 2021, we bundled up our last newborn in the same bunting her brother had worn eight years prior and trekked downtown. The event was re-finding its footing after a year off due to COVID, and the schedule was limited. I suggested we go to the big tree lighting scheduled for 5 o’clock, something we would normally skip in favor of other kid-friendly activities, and head home shortly after. Big mistake.

First, the mayor was late, delaying the countdown. Then one of my kids started complaining that the hot chocolate was “too hot.” Another kid dropped their cinnamon roll and started crying. The mid-day fireworks show began directly above us and echoed so loudly that it sounded like bombs going off. When the tree lighting finally happened, my kids declared the whole thing underwhelming.

Still, one bad year didn’t deter me. Last year, I promised the kids we would not make them wait for any tree lightings or position ourselves directly under fireworks, and off we went. But before long, everyone complained their feet hurt from walking, the older kids complained there was “nothing to do,” and the hot chocolate, while a more appropriate temperature, was “not chocolatey enough.” (I tasted it — the kids were right). Defeated once again, I hustled everyone into the first restaurant I saw and ordered dinner for everyone and a cocktail for me. Maybe, I thought, I just wasn’t cut out for holiday traditions.

But this year, a few weeks ago, I tentatively mentioned to my oldest boys that Light Up Night was coming up. “Light Up Night!” my oldest exclaimed. “Yes!”

“Yes!” His little brother echoed. “I love Light Up Night! Can we get hot chocolate this year?”

“Sure,” I answered, my heart warming. And as they chattered with excitement, I realized I too looked back fondly on our past trips, despite the mishaps. My kids love talking about the one year a security officer let them sit on his motorcycle. We’ve come to laugh about the reason they dropped the cinnamon roll the other year — a pigeon flying overhead pooped on the container, making the afternoon a full-on comedy of errors.

Even if we’re not baking cookies from scratch or wearing matching pajamas on Christmas morning, we are making family memories. It doesn’t matter if they don’t look like the ones I grew up with. It doesn’t matter if they’re not perfect. My kids’ traditions may not be what I imagined they would be, but they’re going to be something they look back on and cherish in their own way. Bad hot chocolate and all.

Lauren Davidson is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor focusing on parenting, arts and culture, and weddings. She has worked at newspapers and magazines in New England and western Pennsylvania and is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in English and French. She lives with her editor husband, four energetic kids, and one affectionate cat. Follow her on Twitter @laurenmylo.