When the leaves on the trees blow away and my scarves & chunky sweaters come out, I traditionally think of Christmas….tasks.
Yes, Christmas tasks, especially shopping. I wish I could say that I think of celebrating Jesus’ birthday but usually, it’s the list;
- items to purchase
- food to make
- events to host
Instead of anticipating my Savior’s birthday, I plan, gather and spend. Yet, I wish it were different. Even though my Christmas’s are fairly toned down, I still get caught up in a season I find very distracting, taking my eyes off the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.
My Christmas Reset
This is probably why I found Christmas of 2014 to be so refreshing – and how it recalibrated my priorities. This particular year we had the privilege of spending Christmas in the Midwest with our son and his family on the occasion of his wedding. With the purchase of airline tickets for 4, a rental car, shuttles, taxis, hotels, food on the road, wedding expenses….presents for each other were low on the list.
There we all were, sitting on the floor of a tiny apartment, eating our first home-cooked meal in a few days, a strand of lights taped to the wall illuminating our dinner. The trappings were thin, to say the least, but we were so happy. It was the five of us together again. We’d spent more time apart than together in the last few years and these 3 days were precious to all of us. Most of all, we wanted to reconnect, to hear the stories we’d not shared on the phone or texted. But it was still Christmas so inevitably, “What are we going to do about gifts?” was asked. Despite our meager residence that night, we were surrounded by more retail than our hometown. Two malls were only a few miles away and those were surrounded by miles and miles of more.
None of us knew what to do about gifts. Thankfully, that wasn’t important to us, especially in light of just being together. Someone came up with an idea that worked so well for us, we encourage others to do the same: one gift per person, modest budget.
We hit the mall and my husband and I went to buy for our kids and our kids went to buy for us. It was clear the point wasn’t to find the best gift, we were having fun just searching together. The kids had to get sneaky when we showed up in the same store and a text or two about what Dad might like was sent but overall, we had a blast. Between the 5 of us, we were done in 20 minutes and headed back to the apartment to find a corner to wrap the presents. When I think back to the day, our gifts were meager, but each of us remember it as the most fun we’ve had Christmas shopping.
Reclaiming What It’s All About
Open up any woman’s magazine this time of year and you’ll find gift ideas, how to throw the perfect party, ways to “get through” the stress, recipes galore, and even ways to simplify. Even though we try to keep it simple, we still rarely do. One more item for that stocking, so-and- so got me something so I need to find something for them. I get it. And frankly, that can be really fun too!
But sometimes, circumstances force us to do Christmas a little differently. Life still carries on at Christmas – someone’s in the hospital, the flu wipes mom out or a j ob is lost. Thankfully, that baby in swaddling clothes remains our constant. The joy of togetherness after miles of travel, the grace to weather a financial storm, the fortitude of managing family stress…Jesus gets the credit for that. He doesn’t care much if we spend $70 or $7,000. What He cares about is our hearts, glorifying Him and celebrating His life through loving the people we’re with.
Maybe it’s cliché, but it’s really the people who make our holidays so sweet. When I was younger I didn’t appreciate nor fully understand the doe-eyed look my mom gave us kids when we were all home for Christmas. By the time her youngest was 17, it was our last Christmas together as the five of us. 20 years later, she died on Christmas day. Nothing underlines the importance of your people than losing one, or having them absent either physically or emotionally. Now I get it. Just my family’s presence is enough for me. Sure, we’ll still exchange gifts, but their gift to me is just sitting in the living room watching the big game, making a mess in the kitchen while making cookies or wrapping presents. I’ll soak it all in, just as I did when we were miles away from our home, sitting cross-legged on the floor. It filled me with joy and gratitude then and it does today, too.
The Lord opened my eyes in 2014 to how I’m so richly blessed. Blessed not materially, but in people. And even that Christmas when we lost mom, people were there, supporting, listening, encouraging. No one said they couldn’t because it was Christmas; they knew what was most important.
In times of plenty, when all is right with the world, and we’re comfortably celebrating around a beautiful tree laden with gifts the same applies – we’re rich in people. It’s then that my best gift to my Lord is acknowledging my gratitude to Him through the joy I experience with my family and with others I love. It’s a gift back to Him that I can give every day. Maybe we’ll have another lean Christmas, maybe a more sumptuous one. Perhaps one season there may be a quieter, lonely Christmas or one that makes my house full to overflowing. Either way, I’m aware that the best gift from my Savior is His life and the lives He gives to share our life with. And no matter where I am or who I’m with, I’ll look at them doe-eyed, too.