Every time we say “Christmas,” our little one points at the Christmas tree. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas being short this year, and our own lives being fairly scheduled, we went and got our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Though it seemed a little early at the time, we (okay, I) also got out the Christmas children’s books and the Christmas carol piano book. We learned the ASL (American Sign Language) sign for “Christmas” and started pointing out all the other Christmas-related things as they emerged in our home and city—stockings, decorations, carolers, ZooLights!, Santas, and so on. Still, for weeks, every time we said the word “Christmas,” our Little Bean pointed to the tree in our living room. Every time she does this, I smile. She thinks Christmas is already here, actualized in the tree. The sparkling, decorated tree with the ornaments that she likes to pull off (the Big-Bird-playing-the-drum ornament in particular)—to her, that’s Christmas. And whenever this little communication occurs (I say “Christmas,” she points: “tree!”), I am jolted again into realizing: it is here. Everything that matters to me about the season is already happening, already around us. Instead of “the elephant in the living room,” there’s a 6-foot-tall decorated tree with glittering lights, silently proclaiming: “I’m already here.”
I believe that all the holidays celebrated at this time of year are, basically, about the solstice. In the midst of the darkest time of the year, we long for light and community. And so, we have holidays. With holidays come celebrations—lights, rituals, gatherings, feasting, community, songs, stories. I savor all these things at this time of year. It truly isn’t the day itself that is special to me—though I lament every time another store decides to open earlier on Thanksgiving, because we take so few days off anymore as a country and a culture. So that it is a shared day off for many, many people (not all, I know) makes it stand out. I do wish that someday we could make the solstice the actual day off, though I’m sure it’s heretical to someone to say so. Only some days do I feel like debating the literal-ness of biblical stories. At Christmastime, as a Unitarian Universalist minister anyway, I also long for time off, for time to not debate theology but savor symbology, the mementos we give each other to convey our love, the foods we make and time we spend together because we are glad to.
It is an amazing, marvelous thing to watch a small child making sense of the world. I see her making connections, putting two-and-two together, all the time. During these last few days before Christmas, I see her noticing the lights on other houses, the red so many people are wearing, the Santa hats, the presents, the decorated sugar cookies. I experience her starting to recognize the songs, and going along with unfamiliar outings to get-to-know new friends, thank our mail carrier, connect with communities-in-need through our congregations. And oh, how she is loving the special, extra-playful time with her grandparents! It’s a little abstract for a one-and-a-half-year-old, but somehow, I strive to convey to her that all of this is Christmas. All of this is Christmas. Just like that tree is decorated with a hundred ornaments, each of which has a story—so are our lives full right now with all this extra wonderment. And this is Christmas. All of this is Christmas. May the season be sparkling, stunning, and surprisingly simple for you as well.