If you were to finish this sentence with just one word, what you that word be?
To me, Christmas is __________.
Christmas is…overwhelming? Exciting? Traditional? Celebratory? Overdone?
There are so many words to describe Christmas, because it’s celebrated in so many different ways. It may have meant something different to you as a child than it does now as an adult. Or maybe it’s changing yet again as you have children of your own and in-laws and obligations and a calendar bursting at the seams. You no longer have three weeks off at Christmas to eat cookies and watch Home Alone and sleep in and somehow it feels…different.
Maybe your family dynamics have changed. Maybe you have multiple Christmas celebrations to attend, some of which you’d rather just pass on. Maybe home feels different, or is very different. Maybe the way you’ve traditionally done things isn’t the way things are happening this year.
This year I find myself hanging on the word “tradition”. So much of Christmas seems to celebrated by looking in the rear-view mirror, doesn’t it? It’s recreating what happened in years past. It’s going to the same house and eating the same meal and watching the same movies. It’s fondly looking back on warm memories made around a brightly lit tree and in the cozy homes of family and friends.
Ask anybody what their “Christmas traditions” are and they will have stories to tell about what Christmas usually looks like for them.
Even Christmas songs are geared toward what has happened before. About going home, and hanging the same stockings and decorating…and missing most those who aren’t around. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know that something about Christmas brings a deeper ache, a stronger feeling of missing them that floods your heart with memories around the holidays. There’s one less chair at the table and one less gift under the tree. You notice, more now than before. Traditions are changing and things are…different.
And marriage, I’m continuously learning, absolutely changes things, too. You’ve got two people who grew up in two different ways with different holiday traditions, different ways of doing things, different likes and dislikes of the season, different families that get combined into one Christmas experience. It can be tricky.
Take gifts, for example. To me, they are exciting. They take planning and thoughtfulness, but I love the challenge. And I absolutely love picking out the just the right gift for someone. Adam…hates it. The whole event is stressful and overwhelming, and he would rather just write checks to everyone he knows to avoid the whole shopping-searching-buying-wrapping process all together.
And I can get stuck thinking there’s a “right” way to do Christmas, whether it be how we spend our time (there’s so few days in the Christmas season! We can’t waste a single one!), our money (of COURSE a Christmas carriage ride after the Nutcracker ballet is worth it!), which family gatherings we attend (Christmas breakfast is ALWAYS…) or how we go about gift giving (stop buying me presents while I’m standing right there! What, do you want me to wrap my own gifts too?!), I’m pretty sure it HAS to be done a certain way. And that way is usually deeply rooted in tradition…my tradition.
If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for a Christmas disaster, I don’t know what does.
Giving up some of my traditions to begin to make room for our traditions isn’t as easy for me as it should be. Or even simply letting some traditions pass by this year is tough, too. Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones (they get blamed for a lot these days), but I’ve had quite a few meltdowns this year over the holidays changing and things feeling vastly different than years before.
I tether my heart to all the sentiments and the traditions so tightly that I completely lose focus of Christmas…of the manger…of the Hope of Advent and the reason we have new life and new reasons to celebrate at Christmas. We aren’t stuck celebrating in the rear-view mirror…Christmas is so much more than how we’ve celebrated in years past or even the excitement of Christmas morning.
And it’s sad…so so sad, that it took a children’s cartoon to remind me of to that….
Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came with out ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
– Dr. Seuss
I am forgetful. And at times, materialistic and ungrateful. And I can completely overlook the meaning of why we celebrate. I can be my own Grinch, letting my joy be stolen when feeling robbed of my traditions. Which is a shame, because there are so many wonderful things happening in my life, within my little, growing family, and in new traditions to be made and new celebrations to be had that I simply don’t want to miss them.
This Christmas, in spite of the pieces that are missing, may you feel a sense of wholeness. May your broken heart be comforted, not just by memories of year’s past, but by hope.
Your hurting heart is not alone.
May you find gratitude and fulfillment in a God who packages miracles in the mundane. A God who laid Hope in a manger, who sent Redemption in the most unlikely of ways. A Redemption that changed our history and our future.
A Hope that gives us grace and forgiveness when we deserve it least, and anticipation of promises to come when we need them most.
Blessings to you, in celebrating traditions both old and new, this Christmas and every Christmas to come.