Oh Christmas, my favorite holiday. Well, it was my favorite holiday until last year. I have a fondness for the lights, the music, and the parties. This season brings wonderful feelings of love, joy and hope. It also brings an impossible amount of pressure. The panic hits me every year in mid-December. But last year was the worst.
As I sat in the parking lot outside of our local mall, an unseasonably violent thunderstorm unleashed its wrath. I clutched my phone in one hand and a battered Christmas list in the other. My mom was the unfortunate one on the receiving end of my tearful phone conversation. “I hate everything about this holiday, Mom. I’m serious. I can’t think of anything I like about it. I’m a terrible gift giver, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone. I will never live up to anyone’s expectations. I didn’t take my kids to the zoo, the museum, or Christmas caroling. We didn’t bake cookies, not one cookie. Who am I kidding? I don’t even know how to bake cookies. I hate baking cookies; I just feel like I should do it anyway. Everyone bakes cookies except me! I’m outside this mall, and I know I’m going to buy the wrong thing. I just can’t get my children and my grandchildren all the things everyone else can. I wouldn’t want to if I could. I just want to spend time with them. I just want to slow down. I think it’s supposed to be simpler than this. I don’t feel any love, I don’t have any joy, I can’t hope for this to be better.” I finally paused to take a breath.
My mom waited a moment before answering. “I think you’re right. Don’t do all the extra stuff. Don’t worry about someone else’s expectations. Who cares what kinds of presents others are giving? You know that’s not what this is all about anyway. You don’t need to think about what everyone else is doing. Just enjoy your family and celebrate the way that is good for you.” My mom is a smart lady.
“Thanks, Mom. Sorry about that.” I hung up the phone and sat there alone for a long time. I was pretty tired from my mini tantrum.
What is it about Christmas that has me feeling so empty?
I’ve been asking myself that a lot recently. My focus is often on classroom parties, food allergies, gift lists, IEP reviews, and countless other frustrating tasks. I flop down on the couch at the end of each exhausting day and compare our holiday to what I see on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram. I close my eyes each night, antsy with anxiety and can think only about getting to the day AFTER Christmas. I’m surrounded by a façade of perfection and have no hope of actually attaining it.
That day the rain continued to beat against the window, and I turned the volume up on the Christmas radio station. That’s when I heard the words I needed to hear. “A thrill of hope—the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” I let tears fall and sang every word from memory. I sang out loud and didn’t even look around to see if anyone was watching. My voice caught on those words again, “a thrill of hope.” We celebrate Christmas because it is a day set aside to remember the birth of our Savior—a baby, sent to a broken world to restore its glory, a child sent to be a unique kind of king. The first Christmas began in poverty and obscurity.
The first Christmas took place in a barn. The first to celebrate were shepherds, cows, and sheep. Those who came around Jesus on that night knelt before him, in reverence. They did not scramble to find the perfect gift. They did not try to outdo the shepherd standing beside them. They did not worry about what presents the child might receive after they left. They gave the gift of utter simplicity. They fell to their knees in awe. I knew what I had to do. I turned the key in the ignition and left the parking lot without buying one more thing.
I went home and embraced my family and the holiday. I stopped buying presents and started focusing on relationships. I accepted that I may not be the mother or grandma who spoils her kids with gifts, but I could be the mom and mimi who spoils her kids with time. The next day I got the opportunity to spend the day with my granddaughter. We read Christmas stories together, went for a walk, and played in the backyard. She climbed up the couch to pull ornaments off the tree, giggling at her own resourcefulness. My heart was filled with love. The following day our family had the opportunity to help our friends move into their new home in the city. My children painted the walls, ceilings, and my hair. We met new friends and laughed till we cried. When it was time to pray a blessing over their home, my heart was filled with joy.
On Christmas Eve we ate turkey soup, visited neighbors, and worshiped at the loveliest, simple service. We hugged old friends and shed tears of joy as we sang about the story of the first Christmas. We closed with “O Holy Night,” and as we sang the melody, the words surrounded me, “a thrill of hope—the weary world rejoices!” My weary soul rejoiced, and my heart felt hope!