I’m back! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, because I did. But now, it’s on to the next holiday.
I am a major fan of the Christmas season.
I am one of those weirdos who decorates the entire house the weekend after Thanksgiving.
The tree is up. The lights on the front of the house are up (thank you, darling hubby!) There are Christmas tchotchkes*** all over the house. They are everywhere: on tables, in front of the TV, on the piano, hanging from doorknobs, on the countertops. If you can see it, I have something placed there to remind you that it’s Christmas.
Part of the reason that I love the holiday is that it is the best high holy day of the Christian year. Every pastor has their favorite Christian holiday, and mine is Christmas.
I have a lot of fond memories of Christmas from my childhood. The tree went up soon after Thanksgiving, and my mother decorated the entire house. Every room had some sort of Christmas decoration, even the bathroom. The last week of school before Christmas vacation, I’d come home and the aroma of nut breads and cookies would hit me the minute I walked through the door. Christmas music would be playing in the background, and my mom would be busy working in the kitchen. My mom loved the Christmas season, and she seemed to delight in planning all the delicious treats she would make for the holiday. Some of the treats were for our family, and some were to give away as gifts. My father always joined her in the treats-to-give-away department, making homemade chocolate covered caramels and chocolate nut clusters. One year he even made cherry cordials with just a drop of cherry liquor in them. My grandfather loved those so much I think he ate almost the entire batch all by himself.
Once the baking was done, the gift wrapping would begin. This was back before gift bags became popular, so everything had to be boxed and wrapped and of course you can’t forget the ribbon and bows. My parents were master gift wrappers, and my mom even knew how to make her own bows! My dad specialized in curling ribbon and would spend hours making spectacular displays of curly fluff for every package he wrapped.
It might sound like we were trying to make our house into something out of Home and Garden magazine, or like we were trying to impress everybody with our amazing display of Christmas spirit.
That wasn’t it at all.
In my family, Christmas was about extravagant giving to others.
When I was a little girl, I was dazzled by all the cookies and the gifts and the decorations. As a little girl, Christmas was all about what it could be for me and I loved every minute of the holiday.
I think I was 12 years old when I began to understand the holiday at a deeper level, when I began to move towards my parents point of view. They always said that Christmas was about the giving. You know: It is more joyful to give than to receive. As a child that made no sense to me at all. My dad would help me choose a gift for my mom, but I had no money; while it was nice to choose a gift for my mom, I didn’t really have any skin in the game, you know? It was the same way when my mom would help me buy my yearly gift of slippers for my dad. What changed was that I started babysitting when I turned 12, so I was able to contribute some money when my parents helped me buy Christmas presents, and that’s when I started to change my point of view.
Then I got my first real job at 14 years old. I saved enough money to buy gifts for my family without any assistance (unless you count the ride to and from the mall). I went Christmas shopping for my parents all by myself. That was my first real foray into the frustration of finding meaningful gifts for each person on my list. It was also the first time I spent December filled with anticipation to watch other people open their gifts. For the first time ever, I was more excited about what I was giving to other people than I was about what I might receive. That year, Christmas Eve was almost unbearable for me because I was so anxious for my parents to open their gifts. Previously, I had resented having to wait until Christmas morning to open gifts because I wanted my gifts now. That year, all I wanted was for my mom and dad to open their gifts so I could see if my gift had made them happy.
There are a lot of complaints about the commercialization of Christmas, and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, I don’t believe that Christmas has become tainted to the point that it fails to be all about the coming of the Christ child. If you take a good close look at Christmas, and the preparation for Christmas, it seems to lift up what Jesus and his disciples taught us over and over.
All those decorations that we put up remind us that it is good to have reminders of the things that bring us joy. So often we end up focused on what is dissatisfying, upsetting, or failing…and we end up consumed with negativity because we choose to focus on everything that’s wrong. At Christmas we take an entire month to surround ourselves with things that remind us of family, friends, and celebrations both past and present. For some people that can bring up sadness, but usually that’s because the people they love are far away or have passed on…and tears shed over love are never the wrong answer.
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8
All that shopping and baking and cleaning and cooking…have you ever prepared for your first baby? Oh yeah, you’ll do a lot of shopping and baking and cleaning and cooking! Babies are an exercise in preparation for a major life changing event, and the birth of the Christ child is a major life changing event. Christmas, the way we celebrate it currently, is an accurate reflection of preparing for the birth of a child in every way. It is beyond appropriate to spend an entire month (or more) preparing your home for the entry of the Christ into the world, preparing your heart with excitement for all that is to come. All that work only serves to remind us that this is no small event and thank goodness, it is something we celebrate again and again, inviting ourselves to let Him into our hearts again and again.
“For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end.” Isaiah 9:6-7a
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
Think about it: the majority of what you do during the Christmas season is done for others. You buy gifts for others. You bake cookies for yourself, sure, but also for others. You spend time planning a delicious meal for others. So much of what we do at Christmas is focused on creating opportunities for others to feel joy, for them to feel honored and loved. We consider their wants and their needs and tailor their gifts and the meals we make specifically to make them happy. Christmas takes us outside ourselves and our own wants and asks us to focus for an extended period of time on the needs and wants of others. Do you think this might be why we are kinder to each other in public during the Christmas season? Do you think this is why we give more to charity during this season? Perhaps this is why we are more prone to random acts of kindness during this season. Christmas is the ONE HOLIDAY OF THE YEAR that is all about everyone else but ourselves…and look at what it does to us! If we could behave all year long the way we do during the Christmas season, what a different world we would live in.
“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” Romans 12:11-13
To me, Christmas feels like a taste of the Kingdom, a moment when our hearts turn in the right direction. We find ourselves focusing on the good, taking joy in the coming of the Son, and turning our hearts to serving others over self. Secularization may have changed Christmas somewhat, but it has failed to change it at the very heart, and failed to change the truth of the Bible that lies beneath it: that God has called us into a community of love and service to one another through the birth, life, and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ.
Turns out, the Kingdom is among us and within us after all, and not even the power of common culture or the mighty dollar can wipe it out.
“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” Luke 17:20-21
Enjoy the season and may I be the first to wish you a very merry Christmas!
*** a tchotchke is a small object that is decorate rather than strictly functional; a trinket or bauble.