Like all parents, my husband and I have tried to give our kids happier childhoods than our own. In many ways, I think we've gotten it right. For example, we don't make our kids meditate, filling the air with what we tell them is "sandalwood incense," or serve them bricks of first-wave Moosewood soybean-and-cheese casseroles for dinner.
But we just can't seem to get holidays right. The winter family outing of my childhood, for example, often included a wondrous, snow-dappled lesson on the evils of greed. One time, at a festival in Vermont when I was 7, my little brother and I wheedled and whined for a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Miraculously, my parents gave in. We boarded the sleigh and entered the snowy woods. I watched as the horse's hooves made indents in the deep stuff. Even the big droplets of blood looked so pretty, like bittersweet berries marking our path.
Wait, big droplets of blood? The horse was bleeding. His blood spread into the snow behind us. Why was this poor horse bleeding? Suddenly, it struck me: it was my fault. I had begged. I'd been greedy. And now the horse was going to die.
We haven't been able to create that kind of special learning moment --- a touchpoint, if you will --- for our kids. Not that we haven't tried. Once, when they were preschoolers, we took them cross-country skiing. Of course little kids can learn to ski, but that didn't mean we'd spring for equipment they would outgrow in one season.
"It's fun to run along beside us," we told them, sliding along. "Pretend you're horsies!" The children put on a big show of falling down, as if wading through hip-deep snow is so hard. Then, instead of getting credit for our thoughtful lesson about humility and gratitude, we got dirty looks from people skiing by. We scraped the snow off the children's faces, coaxed the blood back into their extremities and left. Opportunity lost.
Even personal holiday rituals today pale in comparison with those offered a generation ago. Whenever I felt blue, like after the bleeding-horse incident for example, I would flop under the Christmas tree. Too young for "sandalwood incense," I discovered my own special treat. I'd lift some strands of lead tinsel off the tree and coil them onto my tongue. I'd suck them while they were still juicy and then, when they started to break apart, crunch on the little minerally bits.
Our children find no such comfort in tinsel because the lead kind, banned in the 1970s, was replaced with bland plastic tinsel. And our Christmas tree's only other meager offerings are the earthy handmade ornaments that replace yesteryear's glass ornaments. True, those glittery balls were made by oppressed workers in unsafe conditions. But they were damn pretty.
I suppose the kids could chew on the organic flax star ornament made in Sri Lanka, or take a bite out of the angel ornament carved from oven-baked mud in Palau. It'd probably even be good for you, but who'd want to? Neither offers the seductive poisonous tang as a juicy-chewy mouthful of lead tinsel.
You'd think Christmas morning would be a homerun, but even on the Big Day we manage to disappoint. Our childhood Christmas mornings featured soundtracks of acres of wrapping paper being torn noisily torn off. Today, when our children open gifts all you hear is the sad, silent sound of reusable, homemade drawstring holiday bags being tugged open. True, these bags are good for the planet, blah-blah. But, as with other aspects of today's silent, compassionate, bloodless holidays, they are a distant second to yesteryear's orgy of waste and guilt and questionable substances.