As we’re roaring headlong into the Christmas week, the sleigh rattling and our to-do lists a mess of indecipherable scribbles, it’s time to take stock.
Why are you driving yourself crazy anyway?
Christmas can be hard.
If you’re mourning someone, Christmas is sad.
If you’re traveling to see family in the midst of a pandemic, Christmas is stressful.
If you’re entertaining hoards of people, Christmas is oodles of thankless work washing sheets and filling the dishwasher.
But, of course, Christmas transcends these things, even for mourners, travelers and hosts. Heavy expectations hang on the boughs of the Christmas tree and in many ways, Christmas delivers.
Christmas is bounty and generosity, wrapped in paper and bows.
Christmas is sparkling lights and fun holiday sweaters.
Christmas is beautiful music. (Truly, the music this time of year amazes me. You can hear a piece a hundred times, and then someone performs it in a way that takes your breath away. One year, I literally wept at the beauty of an opera singer’s rendition of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” a hymn I’ve sung so many times I’ve memorized the words. But she made it different.)
Right now, in the moments before the big event, think about why you’re celebrating at all. What is the moment that justifies all the hub-bub for you?
Is it the candlelight Christmas Eve service?
Is the look of delight on a toddler’s face when they realize they really were good this year and Santa deigned to leave gifts under the tree for them?
Is it being surrounded by family at the dining room table after all the people and the food are there and everyone—including you—is finally enjoying the cooking and the company?
Whatever your moment is, name it now and prepare. Make that moment your Christmas prayer.
If it’s church, prepare by meditating on those well-known verses in Luke and plan to arrive early for a few minutes of quiet reflection.
If it’s Christmas morning, make a list of everything that needs to be done the night before (wrapping gifts, grinding coffee beans, figuring out the video camera) so you don’t forget at the end of a hectic Christmas Eve.
If it’s the family thing, be intentional about getting out of the kitchen and into conversation in the dining room (or wherever your family gathers).
All the other stuff is just window dressing. Don’t let cluttered laundry rooms, unwritten Christmas cards or unmade cookies get you down. If you’ve nailed the important thing, you can let the rest go.
That said, don’t let your expectations ruin the real and actual moment for you. Because sometimes Christmas church is crowded and hot, sometimes the kids on Christmas morning are ungrateful and sometimes family members aren’t very good company. Savor those strange additions to your Christmas experience without letting them be unwelcome. In the words of John Lennon, let it be.
I remember spending one Christmas Eve a long time ago now tweeting lines from Die Hard, the movie my Beloved and I watched after church and sushi because I was pouting over a familial slight and simply couldn’t take the melodrama of It’s A Wonderful Life. Spending Christmas that way wasn’t so bad, and now sushi on Christmas Eve is de rigueur. I accepted the moment for what it was and found contentment, if not meaning, in it.
That is my wish for you, dear readers: May you be fully present in your Christmas moment and overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for being a part of it.