I love Christmas, have from my earliest memory. I readily admit to getting wrapped up (pun intended) in the spirit of the season, merry-making galore.
Before moving to the Flathead, during the months of November and December I would spend days adorning my parent’s house with lights, so much so that when I flipped the switch the rest of the neighborhood dimmed.
From there I moved indoors adding more lights to the pre-lit Christmas tree and dressing our mantels and banisters and doorways with pre-lit garlands. I truly believe we are God’s light in this world and this was my most visible way to shine that message brightly.
Always alive in me was the real reason for the season, the coming celebration of the birth of my Lord and Savior. My parents made sure that Christ was in CHRISTmas long before that became a popular seasonal saying. The merriment of the season however just reinforced the goodness that was to come. As a child, Santa always had a special place in our family – and he still does. I will never forget the time Santa (supposedly, a co-worker of my Dad’s) stopped by our house when I was about four. Somehow he knew about the temper tantrum I had thrown over not picking up my building blocks. From that night on I made certain my room was always clean (still do!)
My family has a strong Scandinavian heritage and I learned at a very young age the art and technique of making lefse and krumkake, traditional holiday food offerings found in any Norwegian home. I was rolling perfect rounds of lefse by the time I was five and have been eating it with delight ever since – a fact of which my grandmother would be immensely proud.
Our home was always filled with music,piano, guitar, and good old fashioned records! I started Christmas caroling and singing in choirs in my teenage years -I loved bringing the message of good news in song to the hearts of people I would never otherwise know. Never much of a party thrower or goer, my Christmas goodwill was focused on spreading cheer to those far and near, through gifts, acts, words, and music.
I can remember being ever so excited when the Sears and Roebuck’s Christmas catalog arrived in the mail.As youngster living in the high and wild town of Rock Springs , WY the nearest department store of any magnitude was in Salt Lake City – a good days drive away. Catalogs were king! I would spend hours dreaming over Lego playsets, race car tracks (I was a bit of a tom-boy), the Fisher Price barn that mooed when the doors opened, the house, and the city parking garage with car elevator which when added to my barn set up made no sense then or now but was sure cool! The latest board games like Candy Land and Life (I never did get Connect Four or Battleship) and the first electronic games – Lite Brite, Merlin, the Simon Memory game, and who can forget Superfection, all came to life in the catalog! I rarely received most of what I asked Santa for, and when I did get something like those games, their impact would have to suffice for two or three Christmases. While I delight in a bit of nostalgia as I look at these games from 30 plus years ago, these relics of my childhood Christmas wish lists are not what I remember most fondly.
In truth, what I savor most are memories of sitting in the quiet by the fire with just the Christmas tree lights on after Christmas Eve services; the Life Saver Sweet Story book that Santa placed in my stocking every year along with an apple, an orange, and a note telling me what a good girl I had been and how proud he was of my hard work in school; the old fashioned cinnamon striped ribbon candy and Brach’s Royal candies that sparkled in the candy dish; lighting the angel chime candles before every dinner; and my delight in putting out the Nativity scene on top of the console stereo while singing along with Arthur Fiedler’s Boston Pops Christmas records.
I remember sitting at the kitchen counter on the gold upholstered barstool coloring in my Santa and Friends coloring book or cutting snowflakes while Christmas carols were sung by Lawrence Welk as Mom cooked dinner. I remember sitting by the fire cracking mixed nuts with Dad. I have a treasured collection of Snoopy Christmas ornaments for every year of my life since they started making them. It is an entertaining walk down memory lane as I hang the 40 some ornaments on the tree each year. I remember every red or green or red and green velvet Christmas dress and the ordeal my Mom went through in sewing or later buying them for me. I knew I was grown up when I finally got to wear black velvet on Christmas Eve and I still feel that way to this day!
My dogs were always a source of Christmas calamity and hilarity – from eating the pre-lit Christmas tree to getting more gifts from my co-workers one year than I did!
Looking back, I long for what now seems like such a simple but wonderful way of celebrating the holidays. I long for my childhood wonder and acceptance of the way we did things, because that is how we did things. I don’t recall my parents being as stressed out around the holidays as we allow ourselves to become today.
These days we have become a very expectant society when it comes to celebrating the holiday’s. Social media posts of families gathering to beam at the camera remind us that this is a happy time of year; of dressed up snowmen in front yards reminding us of how old we have gotten; of sumptuous recipe after recipe appearing in our friend’s Pinterest lineups making our Pillsbury sugar cookies, green bean casserole, and sage stuffing look positively blah; of group shopping parties and kitchens a bustle with cookie baking fests.
Advertisements tell us we are going to “Win the holiday” by patronizing such and such retailer; “You got this!” they exclaim as a family stands back and admires perfection personified in Christmas lights. Who doesn’t want to “win the holiday” but in reality, who can? For the longest time, I tried but I always ended up feeling defeated and depleted.
All these images of happy traditions have a way of coloring our own expectations of happiness around the holidays. It is indeed a wonderful time of year in which we focus on making and spreading joy, a time I cherish and look forward to. But I have also experienced the emptiness inside after too much money is spent, all the presents are given, and life just goes on the next day. I have felt my heart break when my high expectations of the perfect family gathering go up in the smoke of a blazing argument or are dampened by the stress of over-extending and over-committing my life to every activity that comes my way. I have felt the cold sting of loneliness at a time when love sparkles in the lives of all those around me. I have felt the let down when my own celebrations don’t measure up to the grand gatherings of friends and acquaintances.
These are the dual realities of the holidays that approach. A time when both joy and sadness, quiet and commotion compete for a presence in our lives. My own experiences with both the light and dark aspects of the holidays have heightened my emotional sensitivities and my empathy for others who struggle at his time of year.
Perhaps that is the truth God wanted me to see after all the years I spent wrapped up in the busy-ness of the season. The true joys of the season are not found under trees or in shopping carts or even along glowing roof-lines. In this joy-filled yet broken world filled with traditions and terror, caring and competition, winning and whining, the joy we seek can only be found in our hearts and the hearts of others. When we share God’s light and love with those of every walk we encounter, be it the hungry at the shelter or the stressed out Mom in line behind us, that is where we find joy. When you hold the door to the post office open for a package laden distressed style maven and they sputter their surprised gratefulness, that is joy. When your landlord offers to pay half your heat bill out of the blue for the months of December and January, that is joy multiplied. By releasing ourselves from celebration expectations we can find joy in actively and expectantly waiting for the One who is coming whose true light will shine in the darkness and bring peace to our hearts.
Let your light so shine just as His light shines in the darkness.