Oh, Christmas. How I wanted you to be different this year. To have more meaning, more thought, more purpose. I wanted you to live up to the warmth of the Norman Rockwell painting. To the wonder of Twas The Night Before Christmas. To the peace of the Nativity.
I wanted to FEEL you, Christmas. In my heart and in my brain and in every fiber of who I am. And yet I woke up the other morning and realized you were about to pass me by if I didn’t do something about it.
Perhaps, dear Christmas, I have put you on a pedestal.
Most years, the day after Christmas finds me a little sad and disappointed. Yes, I loved spending time with family and friends and walking the dogs at night past the house lights in the neighborhood while listening to Harry Belafonte. I enjoyed watching all of the Christmas specials like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the Grinch. I went to Christmas parties and baked cookies and gave to charities. But part of me spent the entire season looking past my loved one’s shoulders, hoping to see the perfect Christmas coming around the corner.
So this year, I decided to help put together a retreat called “Too Much Christmas” for one of our church groups, in an effort to find ways to add more meaning and less “doing” to this Christmas. But, instead of taking Christmas off the pedestal, I unknowingly built the pedestal higher. Like, a lot higher. Baby Jesus probably has a nose bleed. If there were any lemmings at the Nativity, they would be leaping to their deaths right now.
And I had such great plans!
I was going to pick something to purchase from the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Catalog to give as a family, and my family was going to LIKE IT and think it was COOL and know we were the best family EVER. (Really – check them out. It is a pretty cool charity).
I was going to start not just one, but TWO new family Christmas traditions – one for just Dave and I and one for us and the kids. No idea what – but I was going to “go big or go home”.
I was going to suggest a new activity for the Conard family Christmas, where we all brought a small notebook with our names on them, cutely decorated according to our personalities, and everyone would write wonderful, smarmy things in them about each other
I was going to sit with Dave and my two adult children on Christmas Eve and read the nativity story from Luke (2: 1-20) and then from Matthew (2:1-12), somewhere between leaving Grandma and Grandpa DeGroots but before I went to midnight mass with my parents.
I was going to have a baking day with my friends, and we would all gather round in my kitchen and laugh and make cut outs and eat chocolate and talk about how this was the best Christmas EVER.
In reality, we decided to sell our house about two weeks after that retreat, and I have prepared for none of the items on my list, as instead I have been preparing my home (and my heart) for its new family. I have been feeling sad and confused and certainly not in the Christmas spirit.
So I trudged off to work that morning, crabby and grumpy. It didn’t help that it was a Monday. Are there any good Mondays? I thought, as I walked thru the biting wind. I frumped my way thru the morning, and by 2pm, when I went to work out with my friends, I was pretty happy the day was almost over. We worked out hard (I’m still sore, three days later), and as usual, I was able to forget about everything for a while, except just making it thru the next set.
I don’t know what happened, but when I got back to my desk, I realized I had Christmas right in my possession, all this time. Maybe it was the endorphins or maybe that I only had another hour to work, or maybe clearing my mind opened it up for me to hear God’s voice. Probably it was all of those things. But suddenly, I felt okay about not being in the Christmas spirit.
So what if we are not the perfect family having the perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas? So what if the only decorations I have out this year are my tree and my Nativity? So what if I feel crabby on Mondays and it’s too cold to walk the dogs and see the lights? So what if I am sad about leaving my home of 15 years on one hand and excited to move on to the next chapter of our lives on the other? So what if Christmas day comes and goes and I don’t feel any different than I would on any other given day?
In truth, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because I realized Christmas is in the everyday, just as Christ is in the everyday.
When Christ was born, he came without ribbons. He came without tags. He came without packages, boxes, or bags. He came like all children come – with pain and blood and fear and wonder. He came with a chorus of angels heard only by the smallest of audiences, a few shepherds out in the hills. His parents worried about all the things new parents worried about. Was he warm enough? Was he hungry? Did he have all ten fingers and toes? Surely they were wondering if he really was the son of God or if they had just imagined the whole thing. He must have seemed so….normal.
And that’s what I learned. I am going to live in the spirit of Christmas “present”. To live, feel, breathe, love, weep –with all of who God made me to be – every single normal moment of every single normal day of every single normal year – no matter what comes. No strings attached. No “it has to be this way” or “we have to go here” or “I am supposed to feel this way”. No more over the top expectations out of people or events.
So this is my promise to myself: Just for today, I choose to live in the moment, even the crappy moments, because it is the moments that make up who I am. Just for today, I choose to be present, to look all situations in the eye, because the present is where my loved ones are. Just for today, I will embrace and accept my life, whether I’m in the valley of darkness or the mountain top of joy.
Each day is a gift. Each day is Christmas. Christmas doesn’t ‘come’. Christmas just ‘is’.