My church had our Ladies' Christmas Tea today and the speaker - a dear sweet friend of mine - spoke about finding the joy in this season when you're not feeling very joyful. Her words really moved me today, as I am really struggling this season. A year of severe financial problems has sucked the joy out of much of my life ... Christmas being the ultimate kick to the belly. I've spent most of today deep in thought and wondering just what Christmas means to me - and what I want it to mean to my children.
Growing up, Christmas wasn't about religion or family. It was a series of formalities that had to be followed precisely. The tree had to be put up the weekend after Thanksgiving. I wasn't really allowed to help until I was older, lest I hang the ornaments haphazardly and the tree would not look symmetrical. The tree itself was also very formal - all red decorations, most of them glass. No handmade reindeer or wreathes, nothing that signified a first Christmas. Cards went out the following week. No notes of love or updates on achievements, just a formal signature of the family name. The gifts were all wrapped with precision, bows just right. The table was always set in Christmas china. Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole always played in the background. While there was the customary present mayhem on Christmas morning, the rest of the day was spent quietly watching parades and football games, visiting family or friends, and then a quiet evening reflecting on the day. The tree came down on January 2, and Christmas was boxed up for another year.
When I became a Mommy, I became overwhelmed with the need to make Christmas MEAN something. It took me a very long time to figure out just what I needed. It wasn't until after I became a Christian that I discovered just what Christmas really meant to me. I think I'll reiterate what my friend shared today, because I just couldn't say it better if I tried. God spoke the universe into existence, He spoke the word into the hands of profits, and then He spoke His very own being into the world in the presence of His Son.
No tree, garland, or mistletoe could do that justice.
My husband didn't come from a very tradition-filled family, either. It has been a real struggle for us to shape what traditions we want for our children. On one hand, we have nothing from which to draw from. On the other, we both know exactly what we DON'T want. No formality or stuffiness. No rigidity. Christ. Joy. Love. Cookies.
I don't wrap any presents and put them under the tree until Christmas Eve. I stay up all night, watching sappy movies, drinking flavored coffees, and wrapping presents. I also assemble some of those insane toys. I've learned that if you wrap the box and put them under the tree, the child in question has come unglued and/or uninterested in the present before you undo those six zillion plastic tie thingies and get the batteries in. Forget. That.
We let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve and it is always brand new pajamas. Learned this one from my very dear friend who laughed today when she found out we stole it from her. They love seeing what we've picked out for them every year, and I love the pictures the next morning where they look cute, they tops match their bottoms and they're not stained or too small.
We'll get them several small random items - usually dollar store finds - and a Christmas stocking, but we only do ONE gift per child, and one gift for the entire family. (Sidebar, not only are we facing financial crisis this year, but so many other families are as well. January credit card bills are no laughing matter.) When they are older, I don't want them to mark the years by what they received, I want them to remember what they gave and what we did.
This year has been especially hard for me. For the second year in a row, we are living in a home that is just too small for a tree. With all the changes I've made from my childhood, I have to admit my tree is still my favorite part. I've spent years searching out the perfect ornaments - everything is bedecked in candy canes and trimmed with red and white. But I became determined that I was not going to let a lack of space stop me. I bought a big roll of metallic green wrapping paper and a gazillion bows. We cut a tree-ish shape out of the wrapping paper (arts and crafts is NOT my strong suit) and covered it in bows. It actually looks fairly cute. Definitely a little ghetto, but cute. Is it ideal? No. Have I already demanded a huge tree with the return of my candy canes next year? Yes. But for this year, I'm content just giving us something to visually signify the season.
I am determined to enjoy Christmas this season. I vow to be present for my children. I'm going to read about the birth of Christ. I'm going to recite 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. We're going to sing carols off-key until we're hoarse. And we are going to pray. For ourselves. For others. And, for the first time in a very long time, we are going to experience Joy.
Joy is more than just fluffy bunnies.