When I was a kid, Christmas day seemed to last forever. Just the time it took for my parents to get out of bed, come to our rooms, and give us permission to sprint for the living room and see what Santa had left seemed like a whole day. And after that there were still presents to unwrap, breakfast to eat, wrapping paper to clean up, and toys to assemble and test, all before 10 a.m.
Afterwards, we would get dressed and go over to my Granny and Grandaddy’s house for Christmas lunch, where my Granny would pretend not to notice as we children hovered around the stove and stole fried okra almost as quickly as she could make it while my parents set the table. After we ate, we usually went for a long walk along the creek, trying in vain to skip rocks as masterfully as our Grandaddy.
Even then, it was still only mid-afternoon. When we got home my parents would sometimes take a nap while we played with our toys or read our new books, and usually we would see a movie on Christmas night and go to bed happy and exhausted.
As an adult, however, Christmas day seems like a lightning-fast blur. I can’t even piece our Christmases together the way I could as a child, because it all seems to happen at the same time, like a whirlwind instead of a day. For years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to slow things down so the day is more like the Christmases of my childhood … But as it turns out, that might not even be possible. It’s not Christmas that’s changed, it’s me — according to NBC News, children and adults experience time differently:
“Children’s working memory, attention and executive function are all undergoing development at the neural circuit level,” says Patricia Costello, PhD, a neuroscientist and program director at Walden University. “Their neural transmission is in effect physically slower compared to adults. This in turn affects how they perceive the passage of time. By the time we are adults, our time circuits are done wiring and we have learned from experience how to correctly encode the passage of time …” “How can we stop that feeling of things going too fast, of missing out on our own lives? It comes back to learning new things,” says Costello. “Are you learning a new skill? Are you cooking something different? Introducing novelty into your life when you can will make the memories stand out and stretch time in a way.”
What’s interesting about this is that I didn’t really notice Christmas day speed up until after my first few kids were born and we had established a family Christmas routine. It took several years to do this, since I’m not naturally routine-oriented, but once I began doing the same thing every year (from making the same foods to playing the same Christmas music), the day seemed to fly by.
It’s the same with my general sense of time passing. I didn’t notice the passage of time seeming faster until after college, when I was staying at home with my young children. Paradoxically, the days seemed eternal while the years seemed to rush by — that is, until this year.
This year has been different. We moved and I started a new job — one that required (and still requires) an enormous amount of learning. I’m still learning things every day about my work, and not only is my memory improving, but time literally seems to be slowing down. 2018, from start to finish, genuinely feels like the longest year of my life. Not in a bad way, just in the sense that I really feel every single one of those 365 days.
So with Christmas tomorrow, I’m going to apply this lesson and shake up our Christmas traditions. Some things are sacred (like Christmas bread), but others aren’t. I’ll try a new recipe, find new Christmas music, and maybe introduce my kids to a new Christmas movie. Or maybe I’ll bring back a tradition from my own childhood and take them for a walk along the creek behind the house where my Grandaddy lived and teach them to skip rocks. I think they would love that … and I would, too. Merry Christmas!
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