‘Tis the Season…… To Take Back the Holiday
December’s real gifts, custom and celebration, come to us in cherished memories. December is the month of miracles. A time to reflect on the miracle of birth, the miracle of Light coming back after the longest, darkest night of the year, the miracle of our own existence and close relationships. Charles Dickens was one Unitarian who brought back Christmas when it was going out of style in his writing of, A Christmas Carol. In it he says why he thought the season was to be valued in these words, “Christmas is a good time, a kind forgiving, charitable, pleasant time, the only time I know of in the long calendar year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut up hearts and to think of other people below them as if they were really fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on their journeys.”
Christmas would not be Christmas without the giving of gifts and I happen to know the best gift out there that you can give your loved ones and yourself this Christmas season. Ready to hear this? It is the gift of yourself –fully present in the moment for those you love. But, you say, December is, hands down, the busiest time of the year! So allow the miraculous to happen—although, as with all miracles, it is going to take some higher thinking. To be able to give and receive this gift entails making a conscious effort to cut back and simplify.
I come from a religious culture whose women, especially, were obsessed with creating a Norman Rockwell Christmas, even if it meant wrapping gifts until three o’clock in the morning on Christmas Eve and spending most of December with a splitting head ache (while being witchy to everybody around them.) They were Santa, they decorated every inch of their homes inside and out, they drained their bank accounts while fighting the crowds to find the “perfect gift” for every friend and relative, they hosted and attended myriads of Christmas parties, pageants and recitals, made elaborate homemade goodie plates for all the neighbors and sent out Christmas cards to everyone they had ever known in this lifetime,— and all this on top of work, doctor’s appointments, and other obligations that regular life demands. These women utterly threw themselves on the altar of sacrifice, taking our materialistic culture to a whole new plane so that their families might enjoy a “perfect Christmas”– that somehow always fell short of expectation. (I know because I talked to many of them after the fall out of battle.)
This is not the kind of giving of self that I am advocating here. With such examples in my life I came to dread the approaching season when I became a mother and so did my husband. Then the miracle happened. We decided if we were going to do Christmas we were going to do Christmas our own way. Together we took a conscious step back from this crazy three-ring circus and talked about what kind of holiday season we would actually look forward to and want our kids to remember in years to come. That was an easy question for me to answer. The kind of Christmas season I wanted then, and still want now, is one that replenishes the soul. A season that focuses on the important things– like family, love, and generosity of spirit. So together my husband and I mapped out a plan. (Yours might look a lot different according to what you want to keep and discard but here was our strategy.)
First, we decided we would choose only one or two favorite parties to host or attend during the month so we could spend more time at home with each other and the kids. Second, we determined to be done with any obligatory Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. If I found myself in a store with Christmas shopping crowds it would be because I wanted to be there alongside my children in order to help them buy a gift for someone or purchase something for somebody from the angel tree. We dropped out of all gift exchange circles with our extended families because they stressed us out and choose to buy only for our own kids and parents this time of year.
When the kids were young we had them write their request letters to old St. Nick in November. Then, before Thanksgiving, my husband and I took one day (and one day only) to go Christmas shopping. We kept lists to keep things as fair as possible, found what we found, didn’t find what we didn’t find, and treated ourselves to a nice lunch in the middle of the day. After that one shopping day the spending money side of Christmas was over and the kids knew it. I wrapped the toys when the kids were in bed that evening, put them in a garbage bag, hid it in the garage and that was that. Half the time we couldn’t even remember what was in those wrapped presents by the time we set them out on Christmas Eve- it certainly wasn’t the focus– but I honestly don’t remember anybody being disappointed.
By sticking to our resolve, as soon as we cleaned up the Thanksgiving dishes, we were free to enjoy the true gifts of the Christmas season. There was time to bundle up and take chilly walks or drives to admire the neighbor’s Christmas lights. There was time to decorate lavishly (which I love) and have friends over to the house for dinner, (which I also love.) There was time to warm up by the fire in the evenings and try different hot drinks of our creation. There was time to read Christmas stories by our lit up tree, to bring out the puzzles and board games, to do some holiday baking for neighbors or just get in our pajamas and watch a movie together. We came to call the time starting after dinner “tree time” and it is this that we all miss most when Christmas is over because it truly has a magic all its own.
Helen Keller said, “More important than getting what we want, is enjoying what we have.” It’s more fun as well. I encourage everybody to write a hefty “Not To Do List” this year, make sure you aren’t trying to “buy” Christmas, and take back the miracle of the season for the sake or your family, your friends and your own spirit. Here is to a very merry Christmas indeed.
Janen Wright– Lifespan Faith Development Director