I can’t believe there are only five days left until Christmas. I’ve done all the basics. Most of my cards have been mailed. I bought ornaments for the kids and left everything else to gift cards. Not very original or creative, but sure saves on postage. And my grandchildren are so far away that I can’t possibly keep up with all that they have or don’t have, need or want.
Christmas is the best and the worst of our holidays. On the one hand it’s a time to celebrate Christ’s birth and be generous to our friends and loved ones. On the other hand we feel such a sense of obligation to do so many things, that it sometimes robs us of our joy. We often expect much more from ourselves and from others than is necessary or even possible. So we find ourselves on December 26th broke, exhausted, and relieved that it’s over.
It didn’t really occur to me until today, but there is great wisdom in my title. Ready or not, the holiday will still come. Whether we do all the things we planned or not, we will still celebrate in some way. We will still enjoy our family and friends. We will still manage to give a few gifts and get more than we need or probably deserve. We like to think that the holiday just won’t be the same unless we do everything on our list. We like to think that someone will notice if we don’t keep all the traditions we’ve always had. But the truth is that most of us are so focused on our own “to do” list, that we don’t even notice if others fall short of their goals.
So what really matters? It’s different for each person and I think that is the key to moving past “survival” and on to enjoyment. Do what is important to YOU and your family. Prioritize. This is not the time to keep up with the neighbors or other family members or even what you did last year. Ask yourself a few questions.
What really brings you joy during the holidays? For me it’s hearing from friends and family and knowing they are still alive and reasonably well. The older I get, the more I value my health and the health of loved ones. Cards and letters and phone calls are much more important to me than gifts.
What truly brings a tear to your eyes or tugs at your heart? I love to watch the reactions of children. School parties, church musicals, parades…these are the blessings of the holidays.
What tradition is the most important to you? It’s just not Christmas without a tree. I tried it one year. Just had a little table tree because we were actually celebrating somewhere else. But I needed our tree. The tree isn’t special by itself- it’s the ornaments. As I unpack each one and remember other Christmases and other people it gives me a sense of continuity and community. I’m part of something much bigger and that gives me a sense of peace.
Who is important to you? We all have problems with neighbors or co-workers or family members. Christmas isn’t the magic holiday that will make those problems vanish. Christmas is a time to cherish those who are important to us year round and be a little more tolerant of those who aren’t. However, I’m not saying we should suddenly be phony either. If there is a situation you can’t tolerate, then don’t put yourself into it. I’m just getting stubborn enough to say “Hey, I don’t spend time with them during the year because our relationship is over. Don’t ask me to pretend for the sake of some holiday tradition.” I can forgive, but don’t ask me to eat, drink, and be merry!
Finally, try to remember why we celebrate. Christ chose us. We don’t deserve his love, but we get it anyway. We don’t deserve his gifts, but we are blessed anyway. We certainly don’t deserve his forgiveness, but he is always ready to give us another chance. We’ve turned Christmas into a frantic marathon of shopping, cooking, and responsibilities. It began as a simple celebration of the perfect gift. Ready or not, Christmas is here. Because it's not really about us.