As a child, I never had to work at feeling the Christmas spirit. It always seemed to possess me of its own accord, usually around mid-September.
Now that I'm an adult, though, I often find that the holidays have sort of snuck up on me, like tax day or my annual physical. These days the things I enjoy most -- having all my kids home, getting a few days off from work, knowing my December AmEx bill won't arrive until January -- seem to have little to do with Christmas itself.
If you aren't quite feeling it this year, perhaps because of recent events in the news, here are some things you can do in order to regain the mood.
Take in a pageant. One of the best ways to invoke the holiday cheer is to attend a Christmas pageant, choral concert, or similar event. And the Sunday night before Christmas is usually a good time for these.
Holiday programs always help me recall some of my fondest Christmas memories, such as the time my 2-year-old threw up on the Three Wise Men during a live nativity. Who knew frankincense was so absorbent?
Enjoy the lights. Another long-standing family tradition that never fails to get me in a festive mood is driving around looking at Christmas lights. That is, if the term "festive mood" can be used to describe the shock, awe, and occasional confusion with which I view the efforts of various local lightsmiths.
Without being overly critical, let me put it this way: you've heard the saying, "less is more"? Well apparently, when it comes to Christmas light displays, "more is more." Certainly the neighborhood architectural review committees, those supreme arbiters of curbside taste the other 11 months, are strangely silent during December.
So I guess the rest of us should take our cue from them and just enjoy the lights, in whatever size, shape, color, and quantity we find them.
Wear something Christmas-y. Speaking of festive, there's nothing that says "I've got the holiday spirit" like a bright red sweater with a bold Santa Claus pattern. Of course, that kind of sartorial decision also makes other statements, such as "I'm a pathetic momma's boy whose wife picks out his clothes." But never mind that. It's Christmas!
Hold your children close. As you watch your kids rip into their presents this year, remember those parents in Newtown, and others in our own communities, who would give anything to be wondering right now why their child is playing with the box instead of the expensive gift. Say a prayer for them, add a word of gratitude for yourself, and give your kids a big hug, whether they want it or not.
So there you have it: four strategies guaranteed to restore the Christmas spirit. Better hurry, though. There are a limited number of live nativities left for your toddler to throw up on.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and the author of Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility. E-mail Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter@rjenkinsgdp, or check out www.familymanthebook.com.