My Teenager Stopped Pining Over The Christmas Catalogs And My Heart Hurts

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
Irina Wilhauk/Shutterstock

When I was a kid there was nothing quite like grabbing the mail and finding the Sears or Service Merchandise catalog. I would pore over them for days, painstakingly circling everything that I wanted for Christmas. There were toys, clothes, and the most fancy electronics that the 1980s had to offer. It was a childhood right of passage and I have the fondest memories of it.

My children are the same way, but now it is Target and Amazon and Lego and American Girl. The thrill is still there. They love to analyze each page and hunt for new and amazing treasures. I will find things circled with four separate initials beside them, so I know to tell Santa who wants what. But this year, there are only three sets of letters in those books. My oldest son very unceremoniously gave up the Christmas catalogs this year. And to tell you the truth, my heart is a bit broken.

He is a teenager now, and the fairy tale magic of the holidays has long since gone away, but he is still a kid. At least in my heart he is. But that kid doesn’t need to circle things in a catalog anymore. Instead, he’ll text me a link from Amazon with the new AirPods that he wants, or just tell me that he’d like cash because he is saving up for a new gaming system. Sure, it is simple and efficient and it takes much less effort to coordinate when I can just click and add something to my cart, but it feels cold. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas.

My house isn’t void of all Christmas magic. I still have believers, so we have an elf that comes to visit every night and leaves little notes behind. But, Rex was his elf. He named him after his favorite “Toy Story” character. It just doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but those Christmases came and went so quickly. Whey does it all go so fast? He may no longer buy into the elf game, but he plays along for the sake of his younger siblings. I am truly grateful that he isn’t a Grinch who wants to ruin it all.

When he was little, I used to decorate the house the night after Thanksgiving once he had gone to sleep as the first bit of seasonal magic. Rex would appear with a note that he made a special stop to bring some holiday cheer. The look on his face when he came down the hall was priceless. I will never forget those big green eyes taking it all in. Things have changed over the years and now he will help me decorate the tree. He even indulges my love for Hallmark movies playing in the background. I’ll take it.

He doesn’t look for Rex when he gets up anymore. He doesn’t talk about visiting Santa or look for his sleigh on Christmas Eve. But his sweet, innocent Christmas seasons live on in my home during the holidays. I have a special tree that is made up solely of memories. There are ornaments from family vacations, anniversaries, and other happy days. My favorites are the ones that my children have made. I have little hands that have been cut out and turned into Santa and his beard. There are tiny fingerprint reindeer all with their name and the year written on them. Cherished handmade beaded candy canes and ornaments with their school pictures on them adorn the branches. Those are my treasures.

As my children get older, I will always have my keepsake tree with its beautiful colored lights to brighten me up on a cold December night. Knowing that there was a time when they were all caught up in the magic of the holidays, and that I helped to make that happen, will continue to bring me comfort.

When your kids outgrow the elves and reindeer, the man in the red suit, and circling things in the Christmas catalogs, it can feel like the magic is gone. But it doesn’t have to be. Maybe it just needs to evolve. Perhaps it is time to usher in new traditions and create updated holiday memories? Last year I introduced my two oldest boys to “Christmas Vacation.” They loved it. They were particularly fond of Clark’s rant near the end. Yes, the language is flowery, but it is nothing that they don’t hear all the time and it made them laugh. They have already asked when we are going to watch it together this year. That warms my heart.

The Christmas catalogs for this year are sitting on the table in the living room and have already been dog eared and marked, ready to share holiday wishes with Santa. My oldest son still likes to build his LEGO sets with his dad. I may grab that book and toss it on his bed, just to see what happens. I’ll even throw in a fresh Sharpie maker for old time’s sake, and a note from Rex telling him that Santa’s watching and looking for ideas. Who knows? Maybe there is just a snowflake’s worth of magic left hiding behind the ear buds and iPhone … just maybe…