For my baby's first Christmas, I had visions of pretty garland, shiny gifts and a bright, sparkling tree dancing in my head. But then reality stepped in.

Growing up, Christmas was a huge deal in my home. My sisters and I spent hours obsessing over the catalogs that crowded our mailbox and circling the toys we wanted in heavy black rings (adding stars and exclamation points to the ones we really, really wanted). We pestered our mom nonstop for weeks about what we were getting for the big day, so much so that she finally broke down and instituted a new tradition where we could open one gift on Christmas Eve. The morning of, we'd watch our clocks until they struck 6 o'clock, then we'd bum rush our parents' room and wake them up by demanding gifts. Norman Rockwell it wasn't, but the holiday was ours and I loved it.

So when my own baby was born, I had visions of pretty garland, nicely wrapped gifts and a bright, sparkling tree dancing in my head. This was in September, when I received a "Baby's First Christmas" ornament in the mail. This was also a week before our son gave up on sleeping through the night, a phase that lasted a staggering 18 months and upended every aspect of our lives. By December 25, my husband and I were in anything but the holiday spirit. We were cranky, tired, and exasperated -- we couldn't even muster the energy to buy a tree. All we really wanted for Christmas was a dark room, a warm bed, and 48 hours to catch up on sleep.

I wish I could say that we rallied the day of, that we at least hung a stocking and sang a Christmas song to our kiddo. Instead, I remember us snuggling on the sofa with our boy, watching the yule log on TV, and trying to spin our bare-bones day to excited (and well-rested) family members as something magical. We swore that we'd put more thought into the holiday next year.

Still, part of me felt like a failure. I read the articles about starting traditions, saw the awesome crafts I could make for him, remembered the parts of my childhood holiday that were most meaningful. And yet I didn't do a single one of them. My role in the holiday had changed—from receiver to giver, from wide-eyed child to magic-making mom—and I was too tired to realize it.

My guess is that I'm not alone. In fact, just this morning, I called my best friend Dana, a wildly creative mom who's constantly coming up with cool things to do with her two kids. I asked what she did for her first-born's inaugural Christmas, figuring that if anyone was going to make it special with a capital S, it would be her. Instead, she giggled and said she only remembers that her father built a doll-sized crib for her daughter and even tracked down a Cabbage Patch doll for it. "We were too tired to do anything else," she says.

So I've too decided to cut myself some slack. Sure, Joshua's first Christmas wasn't the storybook day I had pictured, but it was reflective of who we were at the time: overwhelmed, sleep-deprived new parents who were just trying their best. Looking back, that's much sweeter than anything I could have wrapped up in ribbons and bows.

Tell us: What are your plans this holiday season?

Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+

Image of baby in Santa hat courtesy of Shutterstock