Christmas holds many memories for me. As a child, I experienced the anticipation and excitement that is common to most children. Lying in bed on Christmas eve, unable to sleep, listening for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof, imagining what kinds of wonderful presents there might be in the morning. Coming downstairs while it was still dark, to find stockings hung over backs of chairs (we had no mantle to hang them from), usually my dad’s work socks, filled with candy and nuts with an orange in the toe. Seeing my parents’ bedroom door closed in the days leading up to Christmas, knowing my mom was in there wrapping presents in red and green and white tissue paper. My mom up long before us Christmas morning, busy in the kitchen with stuffing and pies. The table set with Christmas themed serviettes and mom’s best dishes, and always a Jell-O salad. The living room linoleum, having been coated with paste wax by mom, brought to a gleam with the electric floor polisher. Decorations hung all around, and of course, the lovely aroma of the Christmas tree filling the air.
There are also memories that aren’t so pleasant. Realizing how hard my mom worked, and how tired she was throughout the whole day. She tried to make the best Christmas that she could for all of us. Memories of when my dad was laid off from his job, and my mom bringing home a bag of toys from the department store where she worked part time. Him telling her she had to take them back, as we couldn’t afford them.
At some point I began to feel guilty about my presents, as they represented her hard work and sacrifice, and I would have rather gone without than see her go through the anxiety and exhaustion every year. Memories, too, of that sad feeling when the day was over. You wanted it to last forever.
When I grew up and had my own family, I think I was more exited than my kids were. I was likely the last one to fall asleep, as I anticipated their joy and excitement in the morning. Hours spent shopping, and wrapping, and planning, and cooking and cleaning. I looked forward to Christmas, but also dreaded it. There was always the pressure to “make” a good Christmas, as though it was all up to me, and in many ways it was. Still, it was a good time with family, and always that indescribable Christmas spirit in the air.
After God saved me, Christmas became something else again. The first time I heard Christmas Carols as a believer, I wept. It was as though I was hearing them for the first time, the words so rich with meaning that I had never grasped before. Christmas became more about Jesus, and less about gifts, though I loved the giving, and the getting too. The best part was sending out cards with scripture, hoping that God would use them to draw friends and family to Himself. I carried on with all the traditions the same as before, only with a new joy in my heart.
Then about 6 years ago, I looked into the origins of Christmas. I discovered that it was originally a pagan feast day. As I investigated one after the other of the roots of most of the Christmas traditions that we observe, I became increasingly upset, and convinced that I should have no part in this pagan holiday. I even wrote a letter to the elders at my church, and an essay on the whole subject.
It was most upsetting to me to come to service one Sunday around that time to see a Christmas tree displayed in the baptismal tank, with curtains pulled back, making it the focal point at the front of the church, almost as an object of worship. Adding insult to injury was the fact that tiny gold crosses were used for ornaments on the tree. I came very close to turning around and leaving, and considered marching to the front and drawing the curtains across to hide the tree. I did stay for the service, but questioned one of the elders about it. I don’t think I was the only one that was upset; the tree was gone the next Sunday.
Those years ago I stopped having a tree, sending cards, or giving presents, save for my grandchildren, which I have been almost ashamed to admit to, given my strong opinions on the whole thing. I don’t put up lights, or any decorations. I have felt in many ways that I would love to take Christ out of Christmas, rather than put Him back in. What has He to do with all of these things? Trees, and presents, and eating and drinking to excess, office parties where His name is never mentioned unless it is a curse or used in a joke, where the women dress in the most revealing outfits they can get away with, and the booze is flowing. What has He to do with buying gifts that no one needs, and going into debt to do it? The churches are filled at Christmas, but these once a year “believers” aren’t there to worship Him, they don’t know Him. Church is just one more tradition that they use, part of the Christmas Spirit that has nothing to do with Jesus.
Every year we go through the same thing. We groan at the thought that Christmas is coming. We have to get ready for Christmas. In my mind I have a picture of Christmas: it is a huge tree with a Santa Head, dangling to do lists of shopping and cooking and cleaning and wrapping. It looms over us all, holding us hostage to its traditions and demands.
For me all of the joy went out of Christmas those years ago. Since then, I have dreaded it, knowing I would have to answer the age old question dozens of times “are you ready for Christmas?” I then explain that I don’t do much shopping, and that it is mostly about having my family around me and celebrating the birth of Christ.
But I miss it. I miss Christmas. The stirrings of Christmas spirit are trying to take over, it seems. I miss knitting and sewing and baking home made gifts. I miss buying and giving gifts to my family and friends. I am weakening, bit-by-bit, year-by-year. In the past two years, I sent out cards again, since it is one time of year that people will be more tolerant of the Christian message. I am now buying gifts for my husband, children and grandchildren. Christmas Carols have a certain power to soften my heart, and I have a growing desire to share Christ with people. Maybe because I see them rushing around in a frenzy of activity, and I know that the Christmas that they celebrate is not based on the “peace with God and good will toward men” that I now have in my own life.
I tend to be black and white in my thinking. I have been quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater in many areas of my life, and Christmas is a major one. So here I am, slowly making my way back to a balance of grace and truth. I don’t think I am giving in to pressure from without; I hope it is not a case of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” I believe that it is simply my growing toward grace, and away from an attitude that has been unnecessarily and even detrimentally dogmatic.
I have been thinking about my attitude toward all things Christmas. I realize that it isn't so important what "I" think about it, as how I react to others at this time of year. Do I display the love and grace of Christ? That is what matters. Christmas seems to be here to stay, and I am coming to the conclusion, as I usually do with all struggles in my Christian walk, that it is not tradition, or situations, or other people, that God must change, but rather it is my own heart.
I was going through some old notebooks last night, and came across this entry in one of them. At the time, I had been a Christian for three months. Thought I would share with you. (Keep in mind that I worked full time when I wrote this)
AREAS TO WORK ON
Organization of Time/Tasks · Housework not getting done – laundry, cleaning, cooking · Not enough quality prayer time/study time · Not enough exercise time · Not enough sleep (sometimes) · Not enough time for people · Not enough time for “would like to’s” = Always feeling behind = Frustration = Anxiety
Sharing the Gospel
Being a Good Witness
Selfishness, Vanity, Pride, Laziness, Complacency, Doubts, Shyness = Knowing I have a long way to go
HOW TO FIX
Stop procrastination – do something! Make a list of things that I have to do.
August 31/95 Today I really wanted to begin to be organized. If the 4 things on my “to do” list, I completed one, and half completed 2. I guess it is a step in the right direction just to make a list. I will try again tomorrow. Having the desk to read and write at really helps.
Work was unusually hectic………I wanted to be calm and efficient, but as usual I ended up feeling rushed and frazzled. No doubt the result of trying to do things on my own, as usual. Today I got into gossip again, and I should have stayed to help Donna with the faxing, but I wanted to get to the 4:45 class at the gym, which I didn’t enjoy a whole lot. But I need to exercise if I want to lose this extra weight.
I hope that this writing every day helps me. I just feel so rushed at work, that when I get home, I don’t even want to think. Tonight I didn’t do much. Katie is going camping, and I don’t want her to go, of course. But I have asked God to keep her safe. Worrying is a hard habit to break. I know I need to spend more time in prayer, and would like to do it in the morning, but can’t make myself get up. Something else to pray for.
Today, as usual, I tried too much on my own, and didn’t trust enough. Something else to pray for. Will try that idea of using index cards.
Dear God: how could any of us even begin to comprehend Your greatness. You know every thought of every person. You have our lives planned before we are born. You can do all things, made the universe, control everything. Yet you still love us so mercifully and patiently. There is nothing or no one to compare You to. You defy description. I am constantly amazed at what you have done for me. That you care so much, have so much patience, when I am continually failing. The harder I try, the more I fail. I am sorry for trying on my own so much, trying to understand and figure things out. Deep down I know you are in control and have a perfect plan. Why must I be so stubborn? My heart wants to bend, but my feeble human mind still clings to the ridiculous notion that all I have to do is try harder and I will have it conquered. Why can’t I just look back and see what you did, and realize that if You can do that for me, You will of course be faithful to follow through. I am so thankful. Thank you for showing me the way. Help me in all these areas. You know that they are. I want to know You more. I am so grateful to you, Jesus.
Reading this now, and typing it out, I could weep. Because of how pressured I felt back then to “perform”. Because I was my own worst enemy. Because, truth be told, I haven’t changed a whole lot. Because I could write all the same things today. In fact, I could add quite a few items to the list. I’m still not organized. I still beat myself up for it. I still am making lists that are impossibly long. I am still making new resolutions, on a regular basis, to “do better.” I am still aiming for a bar that I set myself. And it makes me sad (no wonder I’m depressed!)
No doubt you smiled at the picture of a new Christian trying to “get it all right.” I was quite naive back then. I don’t know what my excuse is now. Seems I am still trying to get it right. I am still apologizing to God, yet knowing that I should rest in His grace. Old habits die hard.