When Holidays Look a Little Different

I wrote this post early last month, for a writing prompt issued by DSDN. They didn’t end up running the posts from that prompt, but I decided I might as well post it here anyway, since I wrote it. Here you go!

Halloween and Thanksgiving have passed, and many of us are staring Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa in the face. It’s supposed to be a magical time of year, with children nearly crackling with excitement and families engaging in tradition to build lifelong memories. But what about when that doesn’t happen? What if your child doesn’t really “get” holidays? What if he or she has no interest in participating in traditions or gets overwhelmed by the inevitable chaos that comes with the holidays?

This is the reality in our house—at least so far. Our youngest son, Sam, has Down syndrome and is five years old. He loves cars, trains, and planes, Mickey Mouse, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He likes a lot of things that any other young child likes. But he couldn’t care less about holiday traditions, and he has pretty much no interest in gifts. Last year, it took him a week to open all of his Christmas presents—and that’s not because he had a ton. He had a few from us and a few from grandparents and aunts and uncles. He opened one present Christmas morning and would’ve been happy to sit and play with that all day. Every few hours, we would encourage him to open another. Sometimes he would, and sometimes he would stomp a foot in four-year-old defiance and yell “NO!” I’m not about to force a child to participate in Christmas, so we honored his emphatic no and just let the presents sit until he was ready to open them.

Understandably, the people who carefully and thoughtfully picked out presents for Sam wanted to see him open them and hoped to see his excitement at a new toy or book. And I’ll admit it was rather stressful to have to explain several times that Sam isn’t a big fan of the Christmas hullabaloo. But, as I say about many things, “It is what it is.” Thankfully, we have an understanding family who, although perhaps disappointed not to see Sam open gifts, respected that it’s all a little overwhelming for a kid.

Sam also has no interest in holiday movies, holiday songs, or holiday treats. I don’t think he understands the concept of Santa, and although we do Santa in our house, we haven’t pushed it on Sam. (His big brother has enough excitement for both of them.)

Honestly, Sam’s ideal Christmas would probably involve eating bacon and goldfish crackers all day while watching repeat episodes of Thomas and Friends on his iPad, reading some books, and harassing our cats and dog. In other words, it would look like many other days.

As a parent, I think most of us look forward to building the fond family memories of holiday traditions, and I’ll admit that there have been times I’ve felt a bit of regret that Sam doesn’t seem to have a real understanding of the holidays, despite being in kindergarten already. But I try to laugh off what I can, shrug off what I can’t, and go with the flow. I’ve also learned to find joy in what he does like about the holidays. He loves being part of routine, and part of our holiday routine is turning on the Christmas tree lights each night. Last year, every day Sam would run over to the Christmas tree, announce “Light!” and press the button to turn on the lights. Then he would throw his hands up in glee and stare at the tree proudly for a moment before running off to do something else. I cherished that little routine of his, and I missed it when we took the tree down. I hope he’ll do it again this year!

He also enjoys looking at Christmas lights on houses, so we spent many evenings driving around neighborhoods, looking at lights. And he would stare out the car window in wide-eyed wonder at the beautiful, colorful displays. I cherished that.

And more than anything, Sam loves a day of stay-at-home snuggling. So, last Christmas, as our house filled with the smells of Christmas dinner being prepared, I cherished his happiness at the fact that our whole family was home all day, just relaxing and enjoying each other.

This year, I plan to cherish the same things. And if Sam “gets” Christmas more this year, great. But if he doesn’t, I will hang onto the pieces that he loves, and I will make those the pieces that I love, too.

And somewhere in the weeks that follow, he may or may not open his presents.

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