Christmas used to be a super big deal at our house. I always went all out with way too many Christmas decorations, we baked cookies and made candy, we visited nursing homes, we went caroling…
Oh, and the traditions ~ I incorporated every tradition I ever heard of into our Christmas celebration, and even invented a unique, and very touching tradition of my own. Each year, we bought a nativity set and mailed out one piece per day to a specially-chosen family along with carols, coloring pages, and Christmas devotions related to the nativity character. For instance, we might mail out one of the wise men with the music to “We Three Kings,” a brief story explaining the meaning of each gift which was presented to Baby Jesus, etc. So each day, the family would have a package in their mailbox ~ starting with a single lamb, cow, shepherd, … leading up to the arrival of Mary on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, we bundled up and drove to the family’s house to carol and deliver the Baby Jesus figurine personally. It was always so fun to watch the recipient family’s expressions as they FINALLY figured out who was sending the Nativity one piece at a time for the past two weeks!
Our family devotions were extra special too. Each evening, we turned on the Christmas lights, lit all the candles, sipped hot cocoa or cider and munched on popcorn while I read Christmas stories and we sang carols together. Every year, we received a new “Christmas Around the World” set from World Book which contained a book explaining the Christmas traditions from a particular country, plus, carols, recipes, crafts, and a unique ornament from that year’s featured country to hang on the tree. Over the years, we learned about Old Russia, Belgium, Portugal, France, Mexico, Findland, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, the Ukraine, Germany, and many others.
Early in December, we mailed out hand-addressed Christmas cards to around 500 friends, relatives, sponsors and subscribers to our newspaper. Each card included a recent family photo and Christmas letter. Each family member predicted how many cards we would receive in return ~ and every afternoon, when the mail arrived we would read through the cards and Christmas letters. We always ran out of room on our crocheted Christmas card string which hung in the kitchen ~ so would then use magnets to stick the remaining cards on the refrigerator. After Christmas, we counted all the cards to see who came closest in their prediction ~ and for a prize, that person got to be right ~ the sort of recognition that we all wanted ~ LOL!
We had company often, and so many friends brought us fruit baskets and gifts for the children … Wow ~ it truly was a season of outpouring of love and friendship ~ all centered around the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We all looked forward to the month of December with great anticipation.
I’m pretty sure that if back then, I had somehow received a glimpse of Christmas-to-come ~ I’d have been greatly saddened and horrified. This year, the kids are spending Christmas vacation with Warren ~ they’ll be gone until after the New Year. We did put up a tree and some of the decorations ~ but we certainly didn’t go all out, and we haven’t sung any carols or done any Christmas shopping (yet!). It took me about a half hour to do the Christmas cards this year ~ and I didn’t even use up all the cards in the box of 18.
I offered to sing this Christmas song with Pastor Heather which I still kind of like because to me, it makes the point that all the heavenly ideals really must be made manifest “in the flesh” to have any real meaning ~ but, that didn’t work out since kettle season kept Heather too busy to get together and practice.
One friend from our homeschool days brought us cookies and we’ve received three or four cards in the mail (including the one from my dentist ~ hey, I’m counting it!) ~ and an anonymous someone gave our family a Walmart gift card. Sweet.
I had plans to visit my dad and his family (including my grandmother and Uncle Ron) in Arkansas, but that trip didn’t work out and has been postponed ~ probably indefinitely~ so I’m quite disappointed about that. I did give cards and small gifts to all my friends at the Salvation Army last Sunday after church, and I got a present for John ~ which I’m hoping doesn’t give him a headache. Mimi is snowed in ~ so probably won’t be seeing her on Christmas Day …
So, I was thinking that I should maybe be depressed this Christmas. Especially considering that the purpose of Christmas ~ to celebrate Jesus’ birth ~ is something that’s not really registering for me anymore. I truly expected that a situation like this would make me extremely down and unhappy.
I am surprised, though, to discover that I am actually quite cheerful and even joyful this Christmas ~ not despite the circumstance ~ but because I have a very different perspective these days in which, while I can appreciate the good memories of Christmases past, the loss of all that does not dampen my enthusiasm for all the positives which have come as a result of the changes in our family situation. It’s like the difference between the sentimental appeal of the picture-perfect Christmas celebrations down in Whoville before the mean ol’ Grinch stole Christmas ~ and the morning-after realization that if you take everything away ~ down to the last Christmas crumb too small for a mouse to eat ~ there’s still something about Christmas that is meaningful and enduring, and we go ahead and celebrate anyway.
What is that “something”? Well, I admit that I don’t actually know ~ yet ~ and possibly never will. That’s okay ~ I no longer need to have things all figured out. I can live with ambiguity and mystery. And here’s the cool thing: If I do end up getting depressed before this Christmas holiday is over ~ that’s okay too. What a relief to not have to always be happy or to continually be examining myself to discern whether I’m doing everything right. I can just be.