Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. Some years have been abundant, some lean, some more stressful than others. But something in my heart has always resonated with the fact that despite the mixed history of Christmas (and mixed feelings about it today); despite it being basically a made-up Christian alternative to pagan solstice celebrations; despite the fact that there’s only a 1-in-365 chance that Jesus was actually born on December 25; despite the over-commercialism of modern times, and despite the now-political-incorrectness of it; despite all that, the Christmas season is still a special time. It’s still a time of year when people attach more weight to the non-tangible qualities of compassion, love and hope (some more than others, but still). Just the very appearance of holiday decorations, and the emergence of the same old Christmas songs–these things remind us that something’s different, special. And it’s still a time when we believers reflect on just how significant it was that God sent His Son into the world.
This has been brought home to me afresh because this Christmas has been a bit unusual for our family. This year, for the first time ever, there was no Christmas tree set up in our home. No Christmas lights. No decorations. No Christmas presents. No Christmas shopping. No cards. Basically nothing in our immediate frame of vision to remind us that this was even the holiday season.
I won’t tell you now why Christmas was like this for us this year–however, I PROMISE that the secrecy and vagueness are coming to an end, and all the stuff I’ve been working on will be explained in the next post (and yes, the two are related). For now, just suffice it to say that Christmas this year could have been very much a non-event for us at best, and a real downer, at worst. Christmas this year could have been like any other day.
But today is Christmas. And it isn’t like any other day. It’s still special.
Yesterday, Christmas Eve, the Wild One made an observation that had already been going through my mind: despite the fact that this year we could not give gifts or even decorate, we still feel the meaning of the season. The festive-ness is still there, the sense of joy and gratitude. We still found joy in the moment. And to be honest, because we didn’t set up any expectations of Christmas this year, we are actually enjoying it more, because there has been no sense of disappointment.
It’s very much like the story How the Grinch Stole Christmas, in which the Whos in Whoville still gathered to sing on Christmas morning, despite having all their gifts, decorations and roast beast taken from them. Their joy wasn’t deterred in the least. That’s akin to what I’m feeling right now. Take all that stuff away, and the spirit of Christmas remains–if you tap into it. NOT having all that stuff this year has really reminded me that Christmas stands for something more–because the “something more” is really all we have to remind us this year.
I’m not saying it’s always easy. Lots of people have a difficult time for different reasons at Christmas. Sometimes it’s because tragedy doesn’t know when it’s a holiday. One person I know is currently spending his Christmas in the hospital next to his wife, whose brain cancer caused her to have a stroke two days ago. Some people are alone. Some people are discouraged. I completely get that some people don’t want to be reminded that it’s a holiday, whether it’s because of a crisis or because of the failed expectations. I understand how in so many ways, admonishments that Christmas is a “matter of the heart” or a “state of mind” appear trite in those moments. All I can say is that for me, it’s still something deeper. It’s not about what happens to us, or whether all our expectations are met, or how much goes right or goes wrong, or how much money we have, or how many gifts we give or get. Even in the darkest of moments and in the subtlest of ways, I believe that observing Christmas–and more importantly, the hope it represents–is always a choice. You don’t have to embrace it, but it’s there if you want it or need it. And in my experience, when I choose to embrace it, it’s still special.
So for Christmas this year, we’re spending our holiday in one of our favorite places any time of year: the movies. Our Christmas Eve was spent watching a late-night, 3-D showing of Star Wars. This morning, when I get done blogging here at the Starbucks (bless ’em for being open at Christmas), I’ll go home, wake my family, maybe make some breakfast, and we’re off to see two more films today. It’s all we expect, it’s all we want, and we’re completely content with it.
Because Christmas is still special, no matter what.
Merry Christmas, everyone.