My children go to a large school. To make the annual holiday concert a little more manageable, they divide the school in half and perform two separate shows, one on Wednesday and one on Thursday. It works well, as each show lasts only about 45 minutes, meaning no one has to sit still for that long. There are downsides, though, and I experienced one this year. As luck would have it, in the first year my little ones were at the same school, their classes ended up performing on different days. This means that I got the full hour-and-a-half long show, just in two installments.
As any parent can tell you, the holiday concert is a bit of a mixed bag. It combines unintentional humour, extreme earnestness, boredom and nostalgia, delivered by performers of varying talent levels. However, the truth is that you’re not there for the show, you’re there for your child. You file into an overcrowded elementary school gymnasium, which is either stifling hot or freezing cold, and sit on an uncomfortable folding chair behind someone who almost immediately blocks your view by holding up their iPad to take video. You do it for that moment when your kid catches sight of you as they wait to perform, and flashes a million-dollar grin. And for that moment, later, when they talk about the performance and you say, “I saw you, baby. I was there. I saw you, and I had such a good time.”
I guess you could say that you do it for the children. Think of the children.
Even still, every year without fail I find myself wiping tears out of my eyes at least once. That mix of warm holiday feeling and nostalgia creeps across my consciousness almost unnoticed, until it starts spilling out of my eyes in fat drops. In that moment when I try to unobtrusively wipe my tears away I’m thinking about my own childhood, and what it felt like to be a kid at Christmas. I’m also thinking about my babies, and how fast they’ve grown, and how very soon all of this will be over. How very soon I’ll be all finished with elementary school holiday concerts. And how, when it’s over, I’ll actually miss it.
This year my tears came while I was watching a group of first graders sing. Neither of my own children were in the group – my kids are in grade three and kindergarten. I didn’t actually recognize a single child as they stood on risers in front of me, wearing pajamas and Santa hats, some singing exuberantly, some half-mumbling the words while they shifted from foot to foot impatiently. I recognized the song, though. It was “Old Toy Trains” and it triggered a memory from my own childhood, when I was one of those kids on risers singing my heart out for the parents. The bittersweet pain of it all filled me in that moment, and I started to cry.
At Christmastime, more than any other time, the past mingles with the present for me. This is a time of tradition and ritual. A time of remembering what was, and seeing it happen again in this new generation. It’s a time of mystery, wonder and goodwill (at least when I’m not looking for a parking space at the mall, anyway). As I see it through the eyes of my children, and the eyes of the little children singing at the school concert, I can’t help but be overcome by the emotion of it all.
I don’t know what will make me cry at next year’s Christmas concert, but I have no doubt that something will. At this point it’s become a holiday tradition for me, like setting up the Christmas tree or wrapping the presents. It’s how I express all of the emotions I feel at this time of year, when they’re too big to be contained by my body. All the little miracles of the season, filling me up until tears run down my face.