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.