Christmas Eve morning. I am jammed into a baking schedule that would make Julia Child wave her kitchen towel in surrender. Every Christmas song in existence is on rotation on Pandora. My house is ablaze with candles, garland, poinsettias, freshly cut pine, and fervor.
This is my annual Christmas Eve dance. I like to call it: Let’s Do All the Christmas-ey Things at Once!
The dance usually goes off without a hitch. One year there was a small mishap due to my over-zealous plans to watch both Scrooge AND It’s a Wonderful Life after wrapping a kazillion oddly shaped toys, so I knew I had to stay up very late to wedge in all the Christmas zeal. I slammed a couple Mountain Dews, watched my movies, cried with joy for both Ebenezer and George, and found myself unable to fall asleep until five am.
I just love Christmas Eve. I love the music and the glow of the tree and the crazed behavior of my children who have had cinnamon rolls for breakfast, sugar cookies for lunch, and will soon experience the total nuttiness of fudge and popcorn for dinner. We do it right on Christmas Eve. There is something in the anticipation of this night, the lights, the glow of it all, the Hope that we will be celebrating tomorrow, the Almost Here of it. It is a magical night.
This year, right before bed, both boys were instructed to write their names on paper hearts. They asked very little questions and complied because they were up for anything. Presents are happen-ing tomorrow. At this point, I could ask them to go clean the cat box, and they would do so while singing “Away in a Manger.” There is a lot of power in those presents under the tree.
Breathlessly, we placed the paper hearts in a pretty red box, and I tied it up with a satin ribbon. “What’s this for?” Henry finally asks, as we place it under the tree.
“You’ll see tomorrow, honey. Now, it’s time for bed!” And off they go, two tiny bundles of meltdown, for once quite willing, but entirely unable, to go to sleep.
And then, here it is, Christmas morning. Here is the glorious Reason for It All. I am awoken by the thumping of a small child on my stomach, as the other darling boy bludgeons my husband over the head with a pillow. “Get up! Get UP! It’s Christmas MORNING!!!” As if we didn’t know.
Jesus is here. And, as the morning passes, we totally forget about Him. There is an onslaught of battery-eating presents and shiny paper and chocolate. I sit in my robe, watching and smiling as my children work their way through wrapped up stuff upon stuff, and I feel just a little bit… empty.
Jesus is here. And, as the morning passes, we totally forget about Him.
It’s very hard to say this, but I think I have to come clean: Christmas morning is okay. It’s like a solid 7.5 on a 10-point scale. I’d take it over Groundhog Day, to be sure. But, really? It’s always a bit of a letdown. Once the wrapping paper has been cleared away and my house has been re-decorated with a Toys Are Everywhere theme, I pour myself my twelfth cup of coffee, and head up to my room for a moment alone. I need to talk to Jesus and apologize to Him. And the discus-sion goes like this:
Me: “Happy birthday! I got you nothing. Absolutely nothing. As for me, I have some stuff. I have a whole lot of candles this year. The husband must have really honed in on that ‘I like can-dles’ comment and so, I have a bunch of them. It’ll look just like a Catholic church in here. You might like that? Anyhow, I am kind of overwhelmed. I don’t feel happy.”
Jesus (No, He doesn’t do an audible voice for me, sorry. I’m still waiting on that.): You know, I came anyway. In spite of your feelings, I am still here. I always will be. Go light a candle. May-be it will help you remember how close I am.
Me: I love You. Can’t we just have Christmas Eves?
Jesus: It doesn’t work that way.
The thing is, life is not all Christmas Eves. Life is not all joyful anticipation and towering plates of sugar glazed cookies and eighteen different versions of “Mary, Did You Know?” We are well aware of this, especially if our year has been especially difficult or tragic. Also, life offers up on-ly one Christmas Day a year. So, as much as it is planned and waited for, it is just one day.
The real issue is, Christmas isn’t a feeling, drummed up by The Hallmark Channel and Josh Groban and your great aunt’s recipe for Swedish Tea Ring. It isn’t a feeling at all. It was an event. It was an actual day, and not even one that we have accurately pinpointed on our calendar. So very often, we expect the feeling. We forget the event.
It was the day that Jesus was born. It is a very big deal, but it happened whether or not we feel like it.
It was an event. It was an actual day, and not even one that we have accurately pinpointed on our calendar. So very often, we expect the feeling. We forget the event.
At our house we have a Santa that sits by our tree, and if you press his fat little hand he chortles, “The MAGIC of CHRISTMAS is in your HEART. Ho HO HO.” He is rather scary and it is just possible I have used him to freak out my husband, late at night. When my kids are fighting or being generally Ebenezer-ish, I press his hand and hope for a moment we will just recalibrate ourselves and, you know, feel more like Christmas.
Santa has all this feeling stuff attached to him too – the magic of the holiday weighted down by our expectations. We tie our Santa dreams up with our Jesus beliefs and wrap them all up together, hoping that somehow the elves and Je-sus could be, you know, hanging out together on Christmas Day with no issues. I tie myself up in these longings each Christmas by watching The Polar Express and humming along with Groban to “Just Believe.” Trussed up with all this glitter and twine, our Christmas becomes a rather difficult present to unwrap.
This Christmas morning as my house slowly sinks under the weight of all the toys, I don’t really care all that much about the Santa bit anymore. I rather want jolly St. Nicholas to pack himself away with all the decorations and head back up in the attic for another year.
But Jesus gets to stay. Thank goodness. He had asked me for years to come into my life, and my heart, and I was 28 when I finally let Him in. I am grateful for what He has done with the place.
Christmas night, I made a chocolate cake from a box and found some birthday candles. I actually used frosting from a can. I figured Jesus would not mind. My family sang “Happy Birthday” to our Savior, and then we unwrapped the little red box, forgotten and far back under the tree. Char-lie drew back the cover and both boys gasped because, of course, it was empty. I told them, “The best present we can give Him, all this year, is to simply love him.” The boys are solemn. I look at them both and realize, this moment is also for me. Of course. Most of the lessons I orchestrate for my boys end up being for me. I am pretty sure this is because of our nearly matching maturity levels, but I am still accepting of the learning curve and the lesson.
“Boys, this year, let’s keep it simple. Just love Him and love others. Those are our marching or-ders, okay?”
One boy nods and runs off to find his toy sword because he knows this is a military assignment, and so it is fun. The other stays with me and grasps the ribbon. I give him a long hug. We have Christmas in our hearts, yes. And thank goodness, thank You, sweet Lord, we gave our hearts away. To You.
And it is a true and magical thing.
In the Bleak Midwinter
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.
“In the Bleak Midwinter” -Christina Rossetti
(Jars of Clay recorded my favorite version of this carol)