As winter sets in and the days grow shorter and colder it isn’t hard to imagine how fervently our ancient ancestors harbored the expectation of the sun’s return. December has long been the month of expectation. Think of all the expectations of salvation and eternal life that are laid at the feet of Jesus whose birth is celebrated this month. Then there is Santa Claus who brings expectation right into our own living rooms. Expectation and December are used to traveling hand in hand.
The spirit of anticipation and expectancy can be heartwarming and exciting. It can also be overwhelming if you are the one who feels you have to meet the expectations of all those around you. If we feel more of the burden than the joy of this holiday season maybe it’s time to set some new expectations for ourselves and our loved ones –expectations that are in the service of things that matter- things that can actually nourish our souls. Author John Cummins reminds us that, “we can resolve to keep these days of winter loving and leisurely this year, with more giving of ourselves and less giving of things. Let there be peace, good cheer and open hearts. Let there be time for children, for friends, for family, for strangers and for those we have almost forgotten.”
In my book there are two essentials for really enjoying the holidays. First we have to simplify—it is so important to make that long Not-To-Do list! Second, a sub-set of simplification, don’t let it be all about presents! I like gifts as much as the next person and the giving and receiving of gifts can be a fun part of Christmas– as long as presents are only one part of the equation. (Our family draws names for a gift opening party on Christmas Eve and those are our most anticipated gifts – both to get and to give.)
Although it was hard for my younger kids to believe, I think my older kids are starting to get the BIG picture; that the real wealth of the season cannot be bought in a store. The real beauty of the holidays are things like decorating the house and having friends over for dinner, walking in the neighborhood to see the all the Christmas lights, singing Christmas carols, cozy family snowed-in evenings around the fire, watching holiday movies, all the wonderful foods that come with the season…… We will miss all these things if we spend our whole holiday season jostling with the shopping crowds. Every now and then I will hear the lamentation from one of my college sons that they are, “too old to get anything good for Christmas” (our Christmas budget could never stretch far enough for what they have their eye on these days.) But I know they know that mom would still love this time of year if not one single present found it’s way under our tree, so they can enjoy it as well, if they so choose.
I close with these sage words by William Sullivan, “Christmas ages not with time, for it utters the profound persuasions of the human heart and these, being forever renewed by mysterious contact with the eternal ideals, never grow old and cannot die. In Christmas we find assurance that the invincible hunger for our souls is not a mere torment never to be assuaged, but anticipation destined to victorious satisfaction!” In other words, there is good reason to believe that your holidays will be merry and bright! God bless us everyone!
Janen Wright, Director of Faith Formation