It’s 5:30 AM on Christmas morning.
Everyone in my house is asleep after two weeks of intense Christmas shenanigans. Intermingled with all of the various family gatherings, we’ve juggled plumbing issues, side hustles, year end paperwork, and a broken refrigerator.
I wanted magic and memories, and I got it…right along side a new hole in our hallway to fix the leaking pipe and four loads of bedding cycling through the washer.
Part of me wants to put on It’s a Wonderful Life and curl up on the couch with my blanket and milk the remaining seasonal sentiment for all its worth, but the other part of me would rather get an unmedicated root canal…so I’ve opted to leave the tv off.
I have such a love/hate relationship with Christmas these days. And by love/hate I really mean that I just feel guilty for hating it all so much.
It doesn’t seem right that someone who loves Jesus can slip so easily into the pits of despair on His birthday, but if it were all about Jesus, perhaps some of the rest of it wouldn’t stress me out so much anyway.
A baby that was born in a manger did not expect us to celebrate his life through credit card debt and choreographed LED lighting on our houses.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the twinkling lights of a tree, and I get true, authentic pleasure from giving gifts that warm people’s hearts, but I feel as though I spend so much time trying to fit what is into my picture of what was that I’m always left feeling a bit empty at the end of the night.
I get to the bottom of my favorite mug poured to the brim with hot cocoa only to remember that it was just warm milk and chocolate flavored sugar.
I sit in the middle of a floor strewn with wrapping paper and sparkling new toys and look over to realize that my kids are playing in an empty box.
I’m the seven year old that has been told time and time again by her friends that Santa isn’t real, but still desperately clings to the idea that maybe, just maybe, he could be.
Speaking of, I found this little gem when I was digging through some old photos the other day.
There are so many things about this piece that make me smile. First of all, the fact that I graded it myself, meaning I was probably playing school on Christmas break, and gave myself an A. Ever the overachiever. I’m still grading myself on a regular basis. Also, the idea that even at seven I was trying to wrap my head around the mystery of the season.
I can remember having conversations with my mom and dad about Santa Claus.They never pushed the issue on me, but they always gave me just enough reason to believe.
I grew up in Indiana, but we always…and I mean ALWAYS…went home to Missouri to spend Christmas with my extended family at the Farmhouse. So for Santa to come to our house meant that he had to come on a night other than Christmas Eve. In order for this to happen, Santa would have to take on this God-like omniscient, omni-present kind of thing if we took it too far, so my parents kind of left it up to me as to whether or not I wanted to get into the whole Santa thing.
Of course I married a man for whom Santa was the Cornerstone of his Christmas faith. Same house. Same day. Every year.
As a result, we spend our Christmases here in Texas now. One, so that our Christmas Eve baby can celebrate his birthday at home, and two, so that Caleb and I can stay up way too late putting together toys and eating a plateful of Santa’s cookies so that our kids, who still don’t know the days of the week or how to tie their shoes, can believe that a fat old man that lives in the North Pole flew his magic reindeer to our house.
I really wanted to “out” Santa this year. I have a really hard time reconciling that we are intentionally lying to our kids about this mysterious character while we’re also trying to instill important lessons about faith in a God they can’t see. Won’t they be confused when we tell them we were just kidding about one but the other is totally legit? Either way, I lost the debate this year, and my husband gets another day of giving Santa credit for all the work I did.
But let’s not give the Santa debate more credit than it’s due. This melancholy thing that sets in every holiday season encompasses way more and requires way more thought management.
The Christmas songs that blast on every PA in the country have the same general theme.
Oh the holidays are so beautiful and wonderful and not quite perfect because someone isn’t here.
Through the years we all will be together… Unless of course we’re not because the fates didn’t allow and now we’re miserable and we’ll drink too much egg nog and fall asleep in dirty socks.
For me, the challenge of Christmas is to take this commercialized, steroid version and strip it down to its simplest form. I’m not just talking about the churchy “Jesus is the reason for the season” cliché…true as it may be.
But I’m talking about the meaning of holiday traditions. The “us” part of things. Doing life together. Living in relationship with each other. Telling stories. Making memories. Sharing wisdom. Crying together. Laughing together. Dancing and drinking and sneaking kisses under the mistletoe when our in-laws aren’t looking.
We’re hard wired for that stuff. We want our lives to add up to something. To count. To know that we make a difference in someone’s story.
And Christmas, being that it falls right before the start of a new year seems the perfect time to gauge that. But when we get all amped up on Pinterest and start scrolling through all of our social media feeds, our measuring stick for real value gets all out of whack. The magic of Christmas can’t happen when you’re in performance mode. You can bring out the new china for family members you haven’t seen in years, and wear your brand new pashmina to the office Christmas party, but unless you’ve taken the time to hear and be heard, then the greatest story of all goes untold.
It’s like flocking the ground with fake snow and then trying to build a snowman.
God wrapped himself in flesh and bones and came to the earth as a baby, not so that He could outshine and impress us, but so that He could be with us. Immanuel.
That kind of presence—that kind of with—transcends the miles that separate our homes or the years that separate our memories.
Being with one another in that way means that regardless of who has passed away, or split up, or had babies, or changed jobs, or moved across the globe, we carry a part of them in our hearts. They’ve been a character in our story, and a part of the reason we’re where we are today.
Believing in all of that is sometimes harder than believing in Santa Claus. So I’m not mourning the fact that Santa doesn’t exist. I’m mourning the naiveté that could believe so fully.
I’d love to go back to simpler times when people made ornaments out of eggshell cartons and tied up their hair with tinsel.
Or maybe just go back to a time before I knew the gut-wrenching ache of loss.
And there’s a part of me that would love to have to cut my hair to buy my husband a watch chain only to find that he’s sold his watch to buy me a barrette.
I’m not caught up in the notion that lack is romantic, but I am beginning to wonder if excess doesn’t take a bit of the shine off of a season that would sparkle well enough on its own.
If I can’t go back to a time when things seemed easier–more basic, I at least want to know that the meaning of it all still matters. That families will stay in tact and children will grow up grateful and secure. That bellies will get full regardless of whether or not there was a perfectly filtered picture posted on Instagram before the ham was sliced.
I’m not sure how to hold tight to that ideal these days…but, hey…“weird things happen.”
I choose to believe.
………… May you continue to find magic in the tiniest meaningful moments from now until the end of the year. And may you go into 2019, dear reader, with the courage, grit, and tenacity it takes to be fully and actively a part of your own story.
From my home to yours….Merry Christmas.