As Christmas approaches, my inbox has been filled with newsletters and links to articles outlining how to enjoy the holiday season. Since when do we need step-by-step instructions on how to make the most of what is arguably the best holiday ever? When, exactly, do we make that cross over from wild, wide-eyed and excited children to the slumped-over, grouchy and resentful adults of the holiday season?
Of course, the irony here is that everyone I know understands exactly what needs to happen in order to avoid this annual holiday trudge. Each year, my friends and I talk about the desire for a simpler Christmas, a time for reflection, worship, family, and creating memories for our children. And, every year, we gripe and complain about the overwhelming duties that begin to hound us every Thanksgiving and don’t let up until well after the New Year. One more Christmas comes and goes in a blurred flurry of Wal-Mart shoppers and exasperating obligations. We know what we should do, but we just refuse to do it.
Why is that? We’re rational, intelligent adults. Many of us solve problems for a living. Why, then, do we repeatedly fail to solve this one? To solve this problem, we must fly in the face of normalcy, and for most of us, that’s either too much trouble or too frightening to even contemplate. If we refuse an invitation, miss a scheduled event, don’t participate in every Santa activity in town, don’t buy a gift for every person we’re afraid might buy one for us or don’t send the best and most perfect goodie bags to our pre-schooler’s class Christmas party, then we aren’t fulfilling our obligations as a mother, a Christian, an American, a friend, a human being, etc. We feel that if we don’t do everything just right, our kids will somehow be short-changed, that their Christmas experience will be lacking in some way.
But here’s the truth. Kids don’t care about any of that. All of the worry and obligation we feel is based on adult expectations, and which adults, I’m not sure since all of the adults I know hate the holiday trappings as much as I do. Basically, what we see as necessary during this time of year is not real and, in the end, is irrelevant and meaningless.
You know what I like about Christmas? I like Bing Crosby. In fact, besides our Candlelight Communion at church, if I didn’t have anything at Christmas but Bing Crosby, I would feel perfectly content. For me, all I really require is a real Christmas tree decorated with handmade ornaments, some of them mouse-eaten; a warm dinner around a table with family; a church filled with friends, their faces lit by candlelight, and singing “O, Holy Night!”; making gingerbread houses with Harper Lee and Isaac; those sugar, peppermint sticks that Pap always gave me when I was little; and Jimmy Stewart shouting, “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!”
I bet if you asked your kids, they’d give a similar list. It might not include Jimmy Stewart or precious pre-school ornaments, but I bet it would be just as simple and easy. For Harper Lee, her favorite things include an old wooden music box that we only take out at Christmas, decorating the tree, and her Grammy’s Christmas cookies. Isaac is still fairly new to this, but so far, he seems most enchanted by the idea of Santa in the chimney and gingerbread trucks. Their expectations are seemingly small when compared to the frantic bustle around us, but I think that may be misleading. It is the expectation that this holiday is all about how much we can buy and how much we spend on each other that is low. We diminish our Christmas experience when we insist on buying into the commercialized idea of Christmas we have come to know as real.
My expectations for this holiday season are pretty high this year, and that’s why I’m buying less, turning down a few invitations here and there and spending time reading the Christmas story with Harper Lee and Isaac rather than dragging them through the aisles of every department store I can find. Bing Crosby was dreaming of a Christmas “just like the ones he used to know,” and so am I.