My friend Elizabeth (a.k.a. "Muddy Boots") has a thoughtful post about what is commonly referred to as the "Christmas spirit." She writes about the challenges her family was facing at this time last year and the resulting impact on her outlook, making it difficult for her to embrace all the "holiday" festivities.
I know what she means. A few weeks ago I asked my husband in complete seriousness if we might forego decorating this year because the thought of it filled me not with anticipation but with dread. It's not that I was feeling particularly negative or down at the time (although I have had my share of that in recent months) but that in my exhaustion (resulting from one of the more difficult years we have had in some time) I just couldn't "wrap my mind around" all that "needed" to be done. And the more I thought about it the more I truly believed I might be better able to reflect upon and prepare for the Nativity of our Lord if I just didn't have so darn much to do.
I think I caught my husband somewhat off guard with my question because I have always been one to desire the full Christmas "experience": the cards, the decorations, the food and the gift-giving. When I was younger that's what I thought Christmas was mostly about because in my experience the outward observance of Christmas was all the Christmas there was. But having in my adulthood come to a fuller understanding of the Gospel, I now understand (like the "Whos down in Who-ville") that Christmas comes with or without all the trappings and that in fact the "to-do" list can distract us from the heart of the celebration. The irony is that in my willingness to consider a Christmas without decorations, the decorations became not something I have to do but something I want to do.
So we will go out next week to chop down a tree, and we will bring it home and decorate it, and I will be glad we did. But I may not open every Christmas box that is stored away in our garage, unpacking decorations and trying to find places for them all just because we have them. And our holiday correspondence may be an Epiphany rather than a Christmas letter. And as much as I would like that letter to include a family photo, our dear ones just may have to keep "Christmas 2006" on the refrigerator for one more year. Because I think I have finally realized that if our Christmas celebration becomes law-driven ("I just have to get this done") it ceases focusing on Christ and ends up being all about us. And then we truly do miss the point.
So this year I'm letting myself off the hook and leaving Christmas up to Christ. Regardless of what I do, He will come, and when He does, that will be Christmas.